In loving memory of the Queen of Thumri: Girija Devi (1929-2017)

Renowned thumri singer of Seniya and Banaras gharanas, Girija Devi passed away on 24 October in Kolkata on Tuesday evening at the age of 88 after a cardiac arrest at the Birla Heart Research Institute after ailing with several health problems during her last few years.

This year has been extremely mournful for the world of Indian Classical Music and its patrons. We first witnessed the sudden exit of Kishori Amonkar, followed by Dhrupad singer Sayeeduddin Dagar, Sitar maestro Abul Haleem Jaffar Khan and finally Sarangi maestros Ramesh Mishra and Dhruba Ghosh.

Girija Devi was one of the most prominent figures representing the Banaras thumri gharana which was greatly revived by stalwarts like Siddheshwari Devi, Rasoolan Bai, Badi Moti Bai, Mahadev Mishra alongside Devi. Having started leaning music form the age of five or six under her own father who was a harmonium player, and formally continued to learn and master a variety of styles under Sarangi maestro, Pandit Sarju Prasad Misra and Srichand Misra of the Seniya gharana. Her public debut was at the Allahabad All India Radio in 1949 after marrying businessman Madhusudhan Jain when she was only fifteen years of age. Since then, she grew on to becoming one of the most synonymous names with thumri and more specifically with the Purab Ang style of thumri.

She had an envious list of awards that lauded her voice and career as a thumri singer like Padma Shri, Padma Bhushan, Padma Vibhushan, Sangeet Natak Academi Award, Sangeet Natak Academi Fellowship, Maha Sangeet Samman Award, GIMA Lifetime Achievement Award, and a few others besides the innumerable number of felicitations and titles that were bestowed upon her in praise and reverence to her immense talent and the richness of it.

With her strained efforts to popularize thumris, and how she selflessly devoted her life to the mastery of this art form, there are close to none who could have represented this culture in a better way than her to present day audiences. Girija Devi’s final exit has left an irreplaceable void in the world of Indian Classical Music and more particularly in the world of thumris. Hoping that her students and the elaborate recordings of her talks and performances keep this tradition alive, The Score Magazine humbly bids one the greatest gems of Hindustani Music, goodbye. Appa-ji, you will truly be missed! Thank you for everything!

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