Known as the Queen of Thumri, Girija Devi passed away on October 24 in Kolkata following a cardiac arrest. She was 88. Girija Devi was one of the foundational figures of Banaras and Senia gharanas and brought thumri from the courts of Nawabs to the public stage. Fondly called as Appa-ji, Devi helped elevate the profile of thumri. She was famous for evoking a sense of desire and pain in her songs.
Here are a few interesting facts about Girija Devi:
1. Girija Devi was born in Varanasi in 1929 to Ramdeo Rai who noticed her talent for singing when she was singing wedding songs for her doll.
2. Her father, who was a harmonium player, taught her after which she started taking lessons in khayal and tappa from noted sarangi player Sarju Prasad Misra at the age of five.
3. At the age of 9, Girija starred in a 1940 Bollywood film Yaad Rahe after which she continued learning under Sri Chand Mishra.
4. Her father saw the “tomboyish” side of her and encouraged her to take horse riding lessons – something that women of her era could have never thought of doing.
5. She got married to a businessman at the age of 15 who, along with her mother and grandmother, was opposed to her singing privately for Nawabs and believed that it was not right for upper-class women to perform publicly.
6. She was never interested in household work and continued to focus on singing even after marriage. There are stories about how she would forget about the chapatis after leaving them on the stove and return to her practice. She said: “kabhi mann nahi laga humara chulhe chowke me”
7. Though Devi agreed not to perform privately, she began singing for radio and at conferences where she was much appreciated. She made her public debut at All India Radio in Allahabad in 1949 gave her first public performance in Bihar in 1951.
8. She studied with Sri Chand Mishra until his demise in the early 1960s and worked as a faculty member of the ITC Sangeet Research Academy in the 1980s and Banaras Hindu University in the early 1990s.
9. Devi sang in the Banaras gharana and performed the purabi and thumri style. She also sang in semi-classical genres of kajri, chaiti and holi which combined her classical training with regional characteristics of songs from Bihar and eastern Uttar Pradesh.
10. She found audiences in notable political personalities like Dr Radhakrishnan, Sarojini Naidu, Jawaharlal Nehru and Indira Gandhi in the early 60s and 70s.
11. A diamond nose-pin was a constant on her face – something that didn’t miss the notice of her audience.
12. After her husband’s demise in 1975, she forayed into devotional singing putting the focus on Purabiya lilt of Nawab Wajid Ali Shah of Awadh in her music.
13. She was conferred with Padma Shri in 1972, Sangeet Natak Akademi Award in 1977, Padma Bhushan in 1989, Sangeet Natak Akademi Fellowship in 2010 and Padma Vibhushan in 2016.
14. Some of her famous songs include Ras Ke Bhare, Barsan Lagi Badariya and Baabul Mora, Naihar Chhuto Hi Jaye in Raag Bhairavi.