Legendary singer Mohammad Rafi had a 36-year-long career. But till 1991, there was no clarity on the total number of songs he sang. If we go by the articles and programmes on Rafi in the media, this number is somewhere around 28,000. However, this seems unrealistic, as 28,000 songs in 36 years means that Rafi sang an average of 777 songs each year. Out of the 36 years, if we subtract the years between 1970-76, when Kishore Kumar emerged as the most popular singer and Rafi did not get many singing contracts, the average comes to about 1,000 songs a year. This means 2.74 songs per day. This is not humanly possible.
Lata Mangeshkar's name had first figured in the Guinness World Records in 1974 for having sung the maximum number of songs in the world. She was credited with singing about 25,000 songs. However, Rafi was convinced that he had sung more songs than Mangeshkar at that time. So, in a letter to the Guinness World Records in 1977, Rafi challenged the claim. In 1984, four years after Rafi's death on July 31, 1980, Guinness World Records declared that Mangeshkar had the "most recordings". But it also stated: "Mohammad Rafi claimed to have recorded 28,000 songs in 11 Indian languages between 1944 and April 1980." In the 1987 edition of the Guinness Book of World Records, the number of songs sung by Mangeshkar was increased to 30,000, perhaps to surpass Rafi's claim. His name was also mentioned till 1990. But this was based on newspaper articles, not on verifiable facts or any detailed list of songs. But an event in 1991 changed all of that for good.
By 1988, Harmandir Singh Hamraaz of Kanpur, a researcher of film songs, had published the first four volumes of an encyclopaedia of film songs during the period 1931-1970. Hamraaz's fifth volume covers the period between 1971 and 1980, and it was released in Bombay in 1991. Based on the information in the encyclopaedia, the media started printing articles about the actual number of songs that Mangeshkar had sung. There were 4,500 Hindi film songs till 1980 and about 5,250 till 1991. Even if one added her non-filmi and non-Hindi songs, the total would not have exceeded 6,000 songs till 1991.
Guinness World Records took note of this news and asked Mangeshkar in 1991 to prove her claim of having sung more than 30,000 songs. Mangeshkar could not give any documentary proof. She could not point out any song sung by her which had been omitted in the five-volume encyclopaedia either. Consequently, the names of both Rafi and Mangeshkar were deleted from the Guinness Book of World Records in 1991. The title of most songs sung went to, incidentally, Asha Bhonsle, who had sung more than 10,200 songs by then.
Thanks to Hamraaz, it was now easy to ascertain the exact number of songs that Rafi sang in 36 years. It is now established that he sang 4,525 Hindi film songs till his death in 1980, which were more than the number of songs sung by Mangeshkar till 1980. If you add his 112 non-Hindi film songs and 328 private non-film songs that have been documented, the total becomes 4,965 songs. So the truth is that Rafi never went beyond 5,000 songs (if we take into account some songs that were not documented).
However, this does not discredit Rafi in any way. Rather, it goes to his credit that even with 5,000 songs to his credit, Rafi remains one of the most popular singers till date. Incidentally, even Mangeshkar hasn't sung more than 6,500 songs till date.
Increasing the number of songs of their favourite playback singers by fans and the media does not do any good to the singers' reputation. Kundan Lal Saigal sang only 185 songs, yet he is very popular even today. It is high time that fans, music lovers, media, scholars and researchers get their facts right.
Amarjit Singh Kohli is founder chairman of Yaadgar-e-Rafi society
The views expressed by the author are personal