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Thumri Queen Girija Devi - end of an era

Thumri Queen Girija Devi - end of an era

By Gargi Parsai

New Delhi, Oct 26 (UNI) Up till when she passed away on October 24, 2017, at the age of 88 years, Girija Devi was regular with her riyaaz, such was her devotion to music.

An exponent of Indian classical and semi-classical music in the Benares gharana, her persona reflected the famed Ganga-Jamuni tehzeeb.She began every conversation by saying how blessed she was to have been raised in Benares, ``the land where River Ganga flows unfettered and the famous Kashi Vishwanath and Maa Annapurna temples are located”. Girija Devi was initiated into music at the age of five by her father Babu Ramdeo Rai, a village landlord, who was extremely fond of music. He played harmonium and later taught music.She lived with her father in Benares and would ritually accompany him to the Ganga ghats every morning.

Though she had three brothers, her father chose to train her not just in music but swimming and horse riding, and indeed brought her up as a son. And yet, she had a fondness for collecting dolls which stayed with her till the end.

As a child of seven, accompanied by her father, while listening to a performance by Ustad Faiyaz Khan, she was so moved to tears.The noted musician told her father that if as a child she could appreciate the ragas to such an extent, she had the talent to become a great musician one day. And indeed, in time she came to be hailed as the “Queen of Thumri”.

Girija Devi gives credit to her gurus, Pandit Sarju Prasad Mishra and Sri Chand Mishra for training her in ``chaumukhi gaayan” (all round singing) in thumri, tappa, kajri, khayal, chaiti, hori, tarane, bhajan, and much more.

Her repertoire includes several popular compositions but she is credited with taking “Babul Mora Naihar Chuto Hi Jaye” to great heights with her inimitable style of singing. And, who can forget the exquisite ``Nayan Ki Mat Maro Talwariya’’ and ``Jhoola Dhire Se Jhulao Banwari’’ woven around rain?

``Appaji”, as she was fondly called, gave her first performance on the Allahabad Radio.So impressed was the Station Director that she was given the same fee as senior artistes like Ustad Bismillah Khan and Siddheshwari Devi. Sitar maestro Pandit Ravi Shankar, who then worked at the All-India Radio in Delhi, gave her a break to perform there.

She had the privilege of performing before the top politicians of the day including S. Radhakrishnan and Indira Gandhi. Playing the singing role of an untouchable girl in the film ``Yaad Rahe” brought her the opportunity of meeting Mahatma Gandhi, Jawaharlal Nehru, Maulana Abul Kalam, Subhash Chandra Bose and Sarojini Naidu.

At the age of 17, Girija Devi married a businessman 20 years her senior who also loved music. After marriage she performed only in concerts, on stage or on radio and television.They had a daughter.

Having received almost all prestigious awards including the Padma Vibhushan in 2016, she devoted herself to engage youth in Indian classical music and preserve her musical heritage. She even taught music at the Benares Hindu University and was a faculty at the ITC Sangeet Research Academy.

Girija Devi’s purity of soul was reflected in her singing. She gave such depth and expression to her rendering that by her own admission it were as if gods came to watch her. Her passing away marks the end of an era.