Noor Jehan

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Noor Jahan
Noor Jahan in Anmol Ghadi
Background information
Native name نور جہاں
Birth name Allah Rakhi Wasai
Born (1926-09-21)21 September 1926
Kasur, Punjab, British India
Died 23 December 2000(2000-12-23) (aged 74)
Karachi, Sindh, Pakistan
Genres Film music, Ghazal, Classical music, Punjabi, Qawwali
Occupation(s) film director, film actress, singer, music composer
Years active 1930–1996

Noor Jahan[1][2] or Noor Jehan[3] was the adopted stage name for Allah Rakhi Wasai (21 September 1926 – 23 December 2000), a singer and actress in India and Pakistan. Her career spanned seven decades. She was renowned as one of the greatest and most influential singers of her time in Indian subcontinent and was given the honorific title of Malika-e-Tarannum (Urdu: ملکہ ترنم‎, the queen of melody).[2] in Pakistan.

Born into a Punjabi family of musicians, Wasai was pushed by her parents to follow in their musical footsteps and become a singer but she was more interested in acting in films. She recorded about 10,000 songs in various languages of India and Pakistan including Urdu, Hindi, Punjabi and Sindhi.[4] Along with Ahmed Rushdi, she holds the record for having given voice to the largest number of film songs in the history of Pakistani cinema. She is also considered to be the first female Pakistani film director.

Jahan was awarded the Pakistan President's Award in 1965 for her acting and singing capabilities.

Early life[edit]

Noor Jahan was born into a Muslim family in Kasur, Punjab, British India[5] and was one of the eleven children of professional musicians Madad Ali and Fateh Bibi.[4][6]


Wasai began to sing at the age of five or six years old and showed a keen interest in a range of styles, including traditional folk and popular theatre. Realising her potential for singing, her mother sent her to receive early training in classical singing under Ustad Bade Ghulam Ali Khan. He instructed her in the traditions of the Patiala Gharana of Hindustani classical music and the classical forms of thumri, dhrupad, and khyal.[7]

At the age of nine, Wasai drew the attention of Punjabi musician Ghulam Ahmed Chishti,[8] who would later introduce her to stage in Lahore. He composed some ghazals, naats and folk songs for her to perform, although she was more keen in breaking into acting or playback singing. Once her vocational training finished, Wasai pursued a career in singing alongside her sisters in Lahore and would usually take part in the live song and dance performances prior to screenings of films in cinemas.[citation needed]

Theatre owner Diwan Sardari Lal took the small girl to Calcutta in early 1930s and the entire family moved to Calcutta in hopes of developing the movie careers of Allah Rakhi and her older sisters, Eiden Bai and Haider Bandi. Mukhtar Begum encouraged the sisters to join film companies and recommended them to various producers. She also recommended them to her husband, Agha Hashar Kashmiri, who owned a maidan theatre (a tented theatre to accommodate large audiences). It was here that Wasai received the stage name Baby Noor Jahan. Her older sisters were offered jobs with one of the Seth Sukh Karnani companies, Indira Movietone and they went on to be known as the Punjab Mail.[4]

In 1935, K.D. Mehra directed Punjabi movie Pind di Kuri in which Jahan acted along with her sisters and sang the Punjabi song Langh aja patan jhanaaN da O yaar which became her earliest hit. She next acted in a film called Missar Ka Sitara (1936) by the same company and sang in it for music composer, Damodar Sharma. Baby Noor Jahan also played the child role of Heer in the film Heer-Sayyal (1937). One of her popular songs from that period Shala jawaniyan maney is from Dalsukh Pancholi’s Punjabi film Gul Bakawli (1937). All these Punjabi movies were made in Calcutta. After a few years in Calcutta, Noor Jahan returned to Lahore in 1938. In 1939, Ghulam Haider composed songs for Jahan which led to her early popularity.

In 1942, she played the main lead opposite Pran in Khandaan. It was her first role as an adult, and the film was a major success. Khandaan's success saw her shifting to Bombay, with director Syed Shaukat Hussain Rizvi. She shared melodies with Shanta Apte in Duhai (1943). It was in this film that Noor Jahan lent her voice for the second time, to another actress named Husn Bano. She married Rizvi later the same year.[9]

Jahan's last film in India was Mirza Sahibaan (1947) which starred Prithviraj Kapoor's brother Trilok Kapoor. Noor Jahan sang 127 songs in Indian films and the number of talking films she made from 1932 to 1947 was 69. The number of silent movies was 12. Fifty-five of her films were made in Bombay, eight in Calcutta, five in Lahore, and one in Rangoon, Burma.[citation needed]

Acting career in Pakistan[edit]

After the creation of Pakistan in 1947, Rizvi and Jahan decided to move to Pakistan. They left Bombay and settled in Karachi with their family.

Three years after settling in Pakistan, Noor Jahan starred in her first film in Pakistan, Chan wey (1951), opposite Santosh Kumar, which was also her first Punjabi film as a heroine and playback singer. Shaukat and Noor Jahan directed this film together making Noor Jahan Pakistan's first female director. Noor Jahan's second film in Pakistan was Dopatta (1952) which was Produced by Aslam Lodhi, Directed by S Fazli and assisted by A H Rana as Production Manager. Dopatta turned out to be an even bigger success than Chan wey (1951).

From 1953 to 1954, Jahan and Rizvi were divorced due to personal differences. She kept custody of the three children from their marriage. News of several affairs followed, including one with cricketer, Nazar Mohammad. In 1959, she married another actor, Ejaz Durrani, nine years her junior.[9]

Durrani pressured her to give up acting,[9] and her penultimate film as an actress/singer was Mirza Ghalib (1961). This contributed to the strengthening of her iconic stature. She gained another audience for herself. Her rendition of Faiz Ahmed Faiz's Mujh se pehli si mohabbat mere mehboob na maang is a unique example of tarranum, reciting poetry as a song. Noor Jahan last acted in Baaji in 1963, though not in a leading role.

Noor Jahan bade farewell to acting in 1963 after a career of 33 years (1930 to 1963). The pressure of being a mother of six children and the demands of being a wife to another actor forced her to give up her career. Noor Jahan made 14 films in Pakistan, ten in Urdu, four in Punjabi.

As a playback singer[edit]

After quitting acting she took up playback singing. She made her debut only as a playback singer in 1960 with the film Salma. Her first initial playback for a Pakistani film was for 1951 film 'Chann Way', for which she was the film director herself ![10] She received many awards, including the Pride of Performance in 1965. She sang a large number of duets with Ahmed Rushdi, Mehdi Hassan, Masood Rana, Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan and Mujeeb Aalam.

She had a great understanding and friendship with many great singers of Asia, for example with Alam Lohar and many more singers also.Noor Jehan made great efforts to attend 'Mehfils' (live concerts)of Ustad Salamat Ali Khan,Ustad Fateh Ali Khan,Ustad Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan and Roshanara Begum.Lata Mangeshkar commented on Noor Jehan's vocal range that Noor Jehan could sing as low and as high as she wanted and that the quality of her voice always remained the same. Singing was,for Noor Jehan,not effortless but an emotionally and physically draining exercise.[11] In the 1990s, Jahan also sang for then débutante actresses Neeli and Reema. For this very reason, Sabiha Khanum affectionately called her Sadabahar (evergreen). Her popularity was further boosted with her patriotic songs during the 1965 war between Pakistan and India.

Jahan visited India in 1982 to celebrate the Golden Jubilee of the Indian talkie movies, where she met Indian Prime Minister Indira Gandhi in New Delhi and was received by Dilip Kumar and Lata Mangeshkar in Bombay. Here is a direct quote from a website in India called 'Women On Record' about Noor Jehan's singing talent,"Noor Jehan injected a degree of passion into her singing unmatched by anyone else. But she left for Pakistan".[12]

Patriotic songs[edit]

During the 1965 India-Pakistan war. Noor Jahan sang many Pakistani patriotic songs enthusiastically, which became tremendously popular. Some of these songs are listed below:

  • Ae watan kay sajeelay jawano, Mere naghmay tumharay leeyay hain
  • Aeh putr hataan tay nahin wikday, Tu lubni ain wich bazar kuray Written by famous Pakistani poet Ghulam Mustafa Tabassum
  • Mereya dhol sipahia, Tenun Rub dyaan rakhhan
  • O mahi chhail chhabilah, Haey neen kernail neen jarnail neen
  • Yeh hawaoun kay musafir, Yeh samandaroun kay rahi, Meray sir bakaf mujahid, Meray suf shikan sipahe
  • Rung laey ga shaheedoun ka lahoo, Yeh lahoo surkhee hay aazadi kay afsanay ki
  • Mera sohnan shehr Qasoor neen, Hoya dunya wich mashhoor neen

Besides this, she also sang famous patriotic song Roshan meri aankhon mein (Written by Poet Late Manzoor Ahmar who died in poverty).The song was for Pakistan TV sung in the 1990s.

Personal life[edit]

Jahan married Shaukat Hussain Rizvi in 1942, the marriage ended in 1953 with divorce; the couple had three children, including singer Zil-e-Huma. She married Ejaz Durrani in 1959. The second marriage also produced three children but also ended in divorce in 1979.

Last years and death[edit]

Gravestone of Madam Noor Jehan,Gizri Graveyard near the Saudi Consulate in Karachi

Jahan suffered from chest pains in 1986 on a tour of North America and was diagnosed with angina pectoris after which she underwent a surgery to install a pacemaker. In 2000, Jahan was hospitalised in Karachi and suffered a heart attack. On 23 December 2000, Jahan died as a result of heart failure. Her funeral took place at Jamia Masjid Sultan, Karachi and she was buried at the Gizri Graveyard near the Saudi Consulate in Karachi.


Year Film
1935 Sheela
1939 Gul Bakavli
1940 Sajani
Yamla Jat
1941 Chaudhry
Red Signal
1942 Chandani
1943 Nadaan
1944 Lal Haveli
1945 Zeenat
Gaon ki Gori
Badi Maa
Bhai Jaan
1946 Anmol Ghadi
Maharana Pratab
1947 Mirza Sahibaan
1951 Chanwey
1952 Dopatta
1953 Gulnar
1955 Patey Khan
1956 Lakt-e-Jigar
1959 Nooran
1958 Choomantar
1959 Neend
1961 Mirza Ghalib


  1. ^ Firoze Rangoonwalla, Indian Filmography, publisher: J. Udeshi, Bombay, August 1970, passim.
  2. ^ a b Ashish Rajadhyaksha and Paul Willemen, Encyclopaedia of Indian Cinema, British Film Institute, Oxford University Press, New Delhi, 2002, pp. 166.
  3. ^ The film poster, Wikipedia article on 1947 Hindi film Jugnu.
  4. ^ a b c "Noor Jahan". Archived from the original on 4 June 2008. Retrieved 29 May 2008. 
  5. ^ Noor Jahan Biography – AOL Music
  6. ^
  7. ^ "Noor Jahan Biography". Retrieved 29 May 2008. 
  8. ^ "G.A. Chishti". Retrieved 30 May 2008. 
  9. ^ a b c "Noor Jahan". Retrieved 31 May 2012. 
  10. ^ 9
  11. ^
  12. ^ 11
  • The Friday Times Weekly-Lahore, Pakistan. 'Madam Ji' on Noor Jehan Nov.2,2012

External links[edit]