Ode to the Thumri Queen

By Suanshu Khurana

Pt Hariprasad Chaurasia, girija devi concert, indian express

Written by Suanshu Khurana | Updated: November 30, 2017 12:15 am

Pt Hariprasad Chaurasia (centre) at the tribute concert

Deewana kiye shyam kya jaadu daara… On a cold evening this weekend, when Banaras gharana singer Sunanda Sharma concluded her recital with this famed thumri in raag Gauri Bhairav, those present in Delhi’s Nehru Park were reminded of the most evocative presenter of the piece, Girija Devi.

Draped in colourful Banarsis, her silver mane tied in an oiled plait, she would turn into Radha, miserable because of Krishna’s infidelity. The “Purabiya” lilt in her voice was a clear marker of Varanasi, where she grew up and learned the art form. Sharma sang it as an ode to her guru and thumri queen, Devi, as a part of SPICMACAY and NDMC’s tribute concert, a “swaranjali” titled “Baabul Mora, Naihar Chhuto Hi Jaaye”, a Nawab Wajid Ali Shah poem popularly sung by Devi. It was the last piece she sang at VSK baithak in Delhi days before she passed away.

Fellow musicians and Hindustani classical vocalists Rajan Sajan Mishra spoke of their relationship with Appa ji, while Union minister Ravi Shankar Prasad remembered how she addressed him as bachwa. While Sharma impressed with her rendition of Shori Miyan’s tappa in Persian, taught to her by Devi, folk singer Malini Awasthi was a jarring note in the concert. For a folk singer attempting thumris, she needed to change gears and adapt. But Awasthi went off-key often.

The performance was followed by a beautiful one-hour session by 79-year-old flute maestro Pt Hariprasad Chaurasia, a close associate of Devi, who had also spent his initial days in Varanasi. He breathed life in the melodious evening raga, Bihag, followed by a dhun in Pahari. Chaurasia was accompanied by tabla player Pt Ram Kumar Mishra and his student Haripriya on flute.

In May, Devi had come to the same venue to pay her respects to vocalist Kishori Amonkar, who had passed away a few days before. She had arrived in a wheelchair for the tribute concert, organised by SPICMACAY. Wearing a white cotton sari this time, she gingerly climbed the lofty stage as her students held her hands. She said, “Mujhse chhoti thi, par pehle chali gayi (She was younger than me but left before me).” Devi began a bhajan, Hey Govind, brought straight from the depths of the Ganga, on the banks of which she grew up and learnt music.

Not allowed to sing for Nawabs by her husband in Varanasi and Kolkata, because upper-class women didn’t perform in public, Devi began to sing for All India Radio and at conferences. Thumri found itself on the stage and her audiences included Dr S Radhakrishnan, Jawaharlal Nehru and Indira Gandhi. Devi was awarded the Padma Bhushan in 1989 and the Padma Vibhushan in 2016.

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Via:: Health – Indian Express


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