What Lata Mangeshkar is to the world of Hindi film music, Juthika Roy is to the world of bhajans, devotional songs and non-film music.
The legendary bhajan singer was born in Amta, Howrah to Satyendranath and Snehlata Roy on April 20, 1920. Her father was very interested in music and Juthika was ensconced in a musical environment even as a child. Naturally talented, she sang her first song on radio at the age of 7. Her formal classical musical training began under Shri Gyanranjan Sen at the age of 10 in 1930 when her family shifted to Calcutta.
It was around this time that she met the legendary Bangla poet and musician, Kazi Nazrul Islam, then associated with HMV. Mentored by him, this association led to Juthika’s recording two Bengali songs that became popular. Following this, around 1935-1936 Juthika also recorded two Meera Bhajans, Meera ke prabhu and Bhaj le re man gopal that became extremely popular. Through the 1940s and 1950s, when she focused on Hindi songs – especially bhajans, her popularity spread across the country. She was soon considered a doyen of devotional songs.
Most of the devotional and non-film songs that Juthika Roy sang were composed by the famous Bengali music director, Kamal Dasgupta, with whom she also sang a number of duets.
Surprisingly, even at the peak of her fame and popularity, Juthika Roy was not keen on singing for films. Despite her reluctance, the legendary film maker Debaki Bose convinced her to sing 2 songs for his 1952 film Ratnadeep – Main toh Ram ratan dhan payo and Preet kiye dukh hoye. Through her career, she sang for just one other movie – Lalkaar (1956).
It is said that Juthika Roy’s song discs were played every morning by Gandhiji at his daily prayer meeting. She also performed for him at his house. Some sources claim that her bhajans were broadcast live on AIR when Nehru was on his way to hoist the flag on August 15, 1947. She had been given a 15 minute slot. As she was about to leave the radio station, she was requested by the officials to stay back and continue singing until the flag was unfurled, at the Prime Minister’s request.
Leaving an indelible imprint on the world of Indian non-film music, Juthika Roy died on 5 February 2014 in Kolkata at the age of 93.