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India’s ‘Thumri queen’ Girija Devi dies at 88

The renowned classical singer was a regular performer on All India Radio and Doordarshan

  • Image Credit: Ramachandra Babu/©Gulf News
  • Legendary classical singer Girija Devi performs during a programme in Varanasi on April 21, 2017.Image Credit: IANS
  • Singer Girija Devi.Image Credit: IANS

Iconic Indian classical vocalist Girija Devi died in Kolkata on Tuesday following a cardiac arrest, hospital sources said. She was 88.

“She was brought in a critical condition on Tuesday afternoon. She passed away around 9pm,” a BM Birla Heart Research Centre spokesperson said.

Besides receiving the Padma Shri in 1972 (India’s fourth highest civilian honour) and the Padma Bhushan in 1989 (third highest civilian honour), the veteran was honoured with the Tansen Samman by the Madhya Pradesh government, as well as the Sangeet Natak Akademi Award in 1977. She was known for singing Thumris, a type of music.

Singer Lata Mangeshkar mourned Devi’s death, recalling her good relationship with the singer.

“I am deeply saddened at her demise. I had a very good relationship with her,” Mangeshkar tweeted in Hindi.

“She was a very good human being. I pay my respects to her. May her soul rest in peace,” she said.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi said Indian classical music had lost one of its most melodious voices.

“Girija Deviji’s music appealed across generations. Her pioneering efforts to popularise Indian classical music will always be remembered,” he said.

Singer Shubha Mudgala said her death was a “colossal loss for Indian music”.

Veteran lyricist Javed Akhtar said: “Girija Devi was not only a great classical singer but a national treasurer. We are poorer with out her.”

Bengali actor Prosenjit Chatterjee tweeted: “Deeply saddened at the demise of eminent classical singer Girija Devi. Thumri lovers like me shall mourn her forever. Rest in peace, Girija Devi.”

Her death marks an end of an era, remarked sarod maestro Amjad Ali Khana.

Rajasthan Chief Minister Vasundhara Rajea and her West Bengal counterpart Mamata Banerjee also paid homage to the legend.

“Saddened by the demise of legendary artist Girija Deviji. With her passing India has lost one of its greatest classical music icons,” Rajea tweeted.

Banerjee described the classical singer as one of the finest exponents of the genre.

Ghazal exponent Pankaj Udhas said her death has “left a void” in the Indian classical music while singer Kumar Sanua noted her demise as “an irreparable loss for Indian classical music”.

Durga Jasraj, daughter of classical vocalist Pandit Jasraj, said: “It’s a monumental loss. We don’t have anyone after her who specialises in Thumri-Dadra. She was not just an erudite musician, she was also a huge star who regaled audiences for decades around the world. Words fail to describe the loss of treasure the world of music has suffered.”

On Friday, both Girija Devi and Pandit Jasraj were scheduled to share the stage for an in concert and conversation session at the MTV India Music Summit 2017 in Jaipur, with writer Prasoon Joshi.

Santoor player Abhay Rustum Sopori recalled his personal interactions with Devi.

“Girija aunty was a legendary vocalist and a wonderful person. I feel blessed to know her personally and in my many interactions with she shared her experiences of life which is like a treasure to cherish and absorb.

“We honoured her with SaMaPa Vitasta Award for her lifetime contribution to Indian music in 2006 and I remember having requesting her to let a young musician accompany her to which she agreed when I said that he is exceptionally talented. I was humbled to see her humility,” Sopori said, adding that she will always stay alive with her “magical voice resonating somewhere forever”.

Born in 1929 in Varanasi, Devi received her first training in vocal music from Sarju Prasad Mishra, and honed her skills under the guidance of Chand Mishra.

An outstanding exponent of Thumri, Tappa, Hori, Chaiti, Kajri, Tarana, Sadra, and other forms of Hindustani classical music, Devi was groomed in the tradition of the Benaras and Seniya gharanas.

She was celebrated for her extensive repertoire of rare traditional ‘bandish’.

Lauded for renditions of Khayal with astounding clarity and control, the stalwart was a regular performer on All India Radio and Doordarshan with numerous CDs and audio cassettes to her credit, according to Sangeet Natak Akademi award citation.

She performed widely within the country and abroad.