By Pankaj Sachdeva

In the recent chartbuster Pasoori by Ali Sethi, a stanza says, “Kaaga bol ke dus jaavein, paavan gheyo dee choori nu.” Let the crows tell me why and feast on sweet supply. It refers to a common belief associated with crows where their cawing is related to the arrival of someone. Here, specifically, the writer asks the crow why the one who was supposed to come has not come till now. It made me think if there have been other songs associated with crows.
Crows are omnivores. They eat almost everything. A few songs have referred to this characteristic of crows. In Naadan Parindey from Rockstar, there is a verse that says, “Kaaga re kaaga re, mori itni araj tujhse, chun chun khaiyo maans. Khaiyo na tu naina more, khaiyo na tu naina mohe piya ke milan ki aas.” Here the singer asks the crow that it can eat all his body flesh but requests it not to feast his eyes because he wishes to see his lover with those eyes. This verse was originally written by a Sufi saint named Baba Farid, who wrote it. In an interview with the Business Standard, the song’s lyricist Irshad Kamil said, “Open page 83 of the Punjab Board Hindi textbook and you will find this poem by Baba Farid in it.” The verse has been sung previously by singers, such as Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan, Kailash Kher, and Sonu Nigam. A few Hindi films have used it before. In Kaga Sab Tan Khaiyo from Piya Milan Ki Aas (1961), the first line of the song is the same verse. It says, “Kaaga sab tan khahiyo, ke chun chun khayio maas, do naina mat khaiyo, mohe piya milan ki aas.” Even Kaga Sab Tan Khaiyo from Himalay Putra (1997) has the same verse in its opening lines.
In earlier days, traders would take the help of crows to find the direction to the coast. They would often release the crow and follow it to reach their destination. The arrival of a crow signaled the arrival of a ship. The women would lookout to see if it was their own husbands or lovers who had returned. And so, eventually, the crow came to be seen as the news bearer of the lover’s arrival. There are many songs in the Hindi films that have portrayed this belief. In Mori Atariya Oe Kaaga Bole from Ankhen (1950), the woman sings about someone who is coming to meet her as she hears the crow cawing on her doorsteps.

In Bhor Hote Kaaga Pukaare from Chirag (1969), the crow is again a messenger of someone’s arrival. The song is about a stage play where a woman talks about a crow cawing, making her think that someone is coming to her house. Bhor hote kaaga pukare kahe raam, kaun pardesi aayega mere dhaam. In Kaaga Mera Ek Kaam Karna from Prem Vivah (1979), the crow is again a messenger where the singer requests the crow to take her message to her lover’s neighborhood. Kaaga mera ek kaam karna, kabhi mere preetam kee gali se tu guzarna. She even talks about writing a letter that it can deliver to her lover. Kya kya kehna ha, thehar yaad kar leti hoon. Bhool na jaaye tu, main chitthi likh leti hoon. Other songs, such as Kaaga Re Jaiyo Piya Ki Galiyan Mein from Bombay Mail (1935), Humre Munder Bole Kaga Sakhi Ri from Babla (1951), and Kaga Re Ja Re Ja Re from Wafaa (1950), have songs with similar themes.
There was also Udd Ja Kaale Kaawa from the partition-based film Gadar: Ek Prem Katha (2001), where the lover asks the crow to take a message to his beloved. Udja kaale kaawan tere munh vich khand paawan. Leja tu sandesa mera, main sadke jaawaanFly away, black crow, taking a piece of sugar in your mouth. Take my message with you, and I will sacrifice my life for you. More recently, there was Kaaga from Mirzya (2016) where Gulzar provides words to the lover who pleads with the crow to bring some water in its beak, where water represents the news of her lover. Else she will die of the thirst. Kaaga re kaaga, piya ki khabar suna na, pyaasi na mar jaaye koi, chonch mein jal bhar laana.
Lyricists typically use the word kaaga to refer to a crow, but the word kauwa is also a crow. However, this word is often used in humorous situations, often mockingly. In Kauwa Chala Hans Ki Chaal from Around The World (1967), the crow is mocked for trying to become a swan. A similarly themed song, Hans Ki Chaal, was also depicted in Jolly LLB (2013). There is also Kala Kauwa Dekhta Hai from Mera Haque (1986). Set in a field, the song is about two lovers (Anita Raaj and Sanjay Dutt) who say there are not afraid of a crow watching their love story. There is also a slightly non-sensical Govinda song Kauva from Fryday (2018), talking about a party of birds and animals thrown by a thirsty crow.
It is also a belief in some regions of India that anyone who speaks a lie gets bitten by any random crow. This has been depicted in a few songs as well. In Bobby (1973), there is Jhoot Bole Kauwa Kate where a woman asks her lover to not speak a lie, or else she will go to her parent’s house. The last film of Hrishikesh Mukherjee as director, Jhooth Bole Kauwa Kaate (1998)also mentions this in its title and its title song.
Some other noteworthy songs mentioning the crows include Aaj Mera Jee Karda from Monsoon Wedding (2001) where the singer talks to the crow as he feels happy because peace has finally come to his life, and he wants to fly away. In Kaga Toh Ud Gaya from Damini (1993), the lyrics talk about the lover pining for her lover. Kaga to ud gaya, mithi boli bol ke. Bathi hu main kab se, ghunghat pat khol ke. In Chil Chil Chilla Ke from Half Ticket (1962), Kishore Kumar entertains fellow passengers on the train by talking about a crow who can play the drums. Jhoom jhoom kauwa bhi dholak bajaaye. In Maye Ni Maye from the saccharine family drama Hum Aapke Hain Koun..! (1994), Nisha, played by Madhuri Dixit, in her iconic yellow dress, sings about a woman who confesses to her mother that she has fallen in love. She says, “Maye ni maye, munder pe teri, bol raha hai kaaga, jogan ho gayi teri dulaari, mann jogi sang laaga. Mother, on the top of your house wall, a crow is cawing that your beloved daughter has become a devotee as she has fallen in love with a saint.
In the anthology film Ghost Stories (2020), there is no song about the crows, but they have been used as a symbol of horror and evil in all the four short films, reminding us why a group of crows is called a murder of crows.
The universe of the Hindi film song is teeming with birds, such as koyals, mynahs, bulbuls, mors, and kabootars. As noted above, it also has built a tiny place for crows in it as well.
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