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Bollywood singer ‘The Nightingale’ Lata Mangeshkar receives state funeral

MUMBAI, Feb 6 (Reuters) – Lata Mangeshkar, one of India’s best-known cultural icons and a singer who defined music for generations of her compatriots, died on Sunday and received a state funeral as politicians and personalities united in mourning.

Mangeshkar, 92, has made a name for himself in the world of Bollywood and his voice has resounded on TV sets, on crackle airwaves and in cinemas for most of India’s three-quarters of a century independent, which earned him the name “Rossignol”.

“I am distressed beyond words,” Prime Minister Narendra Modi wrote on Twitter. “She leaves a void in our country that cannot be filled.”

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Modi joined mourners at a packed open-air public funeral late on Sunday after his body, wrapped in the Indian flag, was paraded through the streets of his hometown of Mumbai on a truck decorated with flowers.

Thousands of people gathered around Shivaji Park, where she was cremated, climbing walls and trees to get a glimpse of the proceedings and pay their respects however they could, despite police erecting barricades and restricting the public entrance.

The government will observe state mourning with the flag at half mast until Monday, the Home Office said.

Mangeshkar died of “multiple organ failure after more than 28 days of hospitalization following COVID-19”, said Pratit Samdani, who was treating her at Breach Candy Hospital in Mumbai, according to Reuters TV partner ANI.

“Generations to come will remember her as a pillar of Indian culture, whose melodious voice had an unparalleled ability to mesmerize people,” Modi wrote.

Other Bollywood personalities and politicians also paid tribute. “The voice of a million centuries has left us,” said veteran actor Amitabh Bachchan. Read more

Maharashtra, Mangeshkar’s home state, declared Monday a public holiday. India’s central bank postponed its monetary policy committee meeting by one day to February 8-10 due to the holidays. The political decision is now expected on Thursday.

The state of West Bengal declared a half-day public holiday and urged the administration to play Mangeshkar songs at key crossing points across the state for 15 days.

The Indian cricket team wore black armbands as they kicked off the first of three days against the West Indies. Former India captain Virat Kohli said his songs have touched people all over the world. Another former captain, Sachin Tendulkar, was among those present at the funeral.

‘A GIFT FROM GOD’

Born in 1929 in pre-independence India, Mangeshkar began singing as a teenager and over a 73-year career has sung over 15,000 songs in 36 languages.

She captivated music-mad Indians with her melodious voice and sheer range, singing everything from patriotic songs to romantic numbers in both films and albums.

The world of Bollywood – where movies were unthinkable without at least six songs and everything from romance to heartbreak was told through a ballad – was where Mangeshkar cut his teeth.

Classically trained, Mangeshkar shaped her voice to the demands of singing for Bollywood films, even voicing songs in her 60s for an actress who was in her 20s.

His songs motivated millions of Indians during the wars with China and Pakistan to pay tribute to the defense forces. Some of his songs are used as prayers in temples, shrines and schools.

“My voice is a gift from God,” she once told an interviewer. “I learned to move with my voice. When I sang a lullaby, I became a mother, when it was a romantic song, I was a lover.”

The only songs she refused to sing were cabaret numbers and songs that had bawdy or racy lyrics, claiming these did not align with her personal values. Mangeshkar, nevertheless, dominated the Hindi film industry for almost five decades until the 2000s, along with his younger sister Asha Bhosle.

Critics have accused her of using her Bollywood influence to limit the entry of newcomers. Such was her influence that authorities in Mumbai in 2006 scrapped a planned overflight after she objected that it would interfere with her privacy.

Known for her soft voice and her sari, her hair styled in two schoolgirl braids, Mangeshkar was awarded India’s highest civilian honour, the Bharat Ratna, in 2001. She was awarded France’s highest civilian honour, the Legion of honor in 2009.

“Music is incomplete without your voice,” actor Amitabh Bachchan said of Mangeshkar in 2019, commemorating his 90th birthday. “He did the work of the saints.”

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Reporting by Abhirup Roy and Shilpa Jamkhandikar in Mumbai; Additional reporting by Rajendra Jadhav in Mumbai, Subrata Nagchoudhury in Kolkata and Devjyot Ghoshal in New Delhi; Editing by Kim Coghill, William Mallard and Alison Williams

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