This recording features the celebrated 'Queen of Thumri' Girija Devi treating 2005 Saptak Festival listeners to a remarkable live performance full of lyrical depth, grace and divine magic. Over the twenty five years lifespan of India's premier music festival, Girija Devi has become a regular favourite through her ability to consistently produce memorable recitals packed with an unmatched emotional intensity and energy.
Born in Benares in 1929, Girija Devi broke the mould by learning music at a time when girls were mostly confined to housekeeping. Fortunately, her father acted on her love for music and put her under the guidance of Sarju Prasad Mishra, a sarangiya and vocalist. He first taught her classical khayal singing in major ragas, supplementing this knowledge base with training in light classical tappa and thumri. After his demise, she continued her musical study under Shri Chandra Mishra, a master of vocals and tabla.
After marriage, even with the encouragement of a supportive husband learning music was a struggle. She followed her passion while keeping family responsibilities as a wife. Her routine involved waking up at 3.30am, and practicing her music till 6am before handling household works. Then she continued her practice when everybody left home till dinnertime, and again in the late evening till midnight while the men of the house indulged in card playing. It is a story of an unquenchable thirst for music which has never died.
For Girija Devi music is her daily puja, or prayer. Her performances often leave the audience feeling blessed with a sense of profound fulfilment, and her brilliant renderings of light classical music have tugged at the heartstrings of audiences worldwide.
Girija Devi is the finest of the few surviving performers in the 'Purab ang gayaki' nurtured by the Banares Gharana. In her huge repertoire of vocal styles including khayal, thumri, dadra, tappa, kajri, chaiti and bhajans, she has always strived to emphasise the beauty of the lyrics. This recording gives us glimpse into the breadth of her versatility as a vocalist.
Over the years, Girija Devi has collected a string of titles and awards including some of the highest civilian awards bestowed by the Indian Government, namely Padma Shri, Padma Bhushan honoured in 1989.
In this performance she first presents Khayal in the popular Raga Malkauns, an evening melody. After a short improvised Alap, an elaboration on the notes and main phrases of the raga, Girija Devi sings the main khayal composition of the recital, set to Vilambit Ektaal, a slow rhythmic cycle of twelve beats. A word of Persian origin, Khayal literally means "imagination," and demands improvisational flexibility from the singer as well as careful attention to nuances of intonation, phrasing and rhythm. The subjects of khayal texts range from praise of kings or seasons, the pranks of Lord Krishna to divine love and the sorrow of separation. The texts contain rhyme, alliteration, and play on words. However, the primary focus in a khayal performance is less on the textual or lyrical content of a song than on abstract musical values. Thumri (track 4), is regarded as the most poetic and romantic form of Indian classical music. Deriving much of its content from the Krishna cult, thumri expresses the emotions of devotion, mystical love and viraha, the pain of separation. It is thought to have first developed in the nineteenth century court of Wajid Ali Shah in Lucknow, a poet and great patron of the arts. In his court thumri flourished alongside Kathak dance, and the association between the two is still strong today. Changes in the political system led to the establishment of two strains of thumri; one under the patronage of landlords in Lucknow, the other in the holy city of Benares. The status of thumri as a light classical form is somewhat misleading. For thumri the voice must be flexible and the singer must have a thorough grounding in the rudiments of classical raga
music in order to deal with the skilful ornamentations required to achieve its full effect. The language of thumri text is usually Brij Bhasha, spoken in a particular area of Uttar Pradesh and associated with the legends and stories of Krishna. The songs are mainly themed on romantic love as symbolic of spiritual love.
Dadra (track 5) is a separate vocal form that is sometimes hard to distinguish from Thumri. It tends to be simpler in structure and is usually only sung in either a 6 or 8 beat rhythm. Girija Devi here sings a dadra composition in Raga Pilu, a favourite with thumri singers because of its scope for improvisation. The recital is concluded on a spiritual note with a devotional Bhajan (track 6) set to the most auspicious Raga Bhairavi, traditionally performed by artists to conclude a concert performance.