Not everyone can sing a thumri effectively. At the recently concluded Thumri Festival, two prominent vocalists were not able to create the magic of the genre the way a lesser singer could
Among top khayal vocalists of the last century, only Ustad Faiyaz Khan was considered to be a chaumukha (all-rounder) singer and was appropriately called Aftab-e-Mausiqi (Sun of Music). Groomed in the Dhrupad-Dhamar tradition, he was virtuosity incarnate when he sang Khayal, Thumri, Dadra and even Ghazal. Among the next generation’s leading Khayal singers, only Ustad Bade Ghulam Ali Khan could handle Khayal and Thumri-Dadra equally well. However, great vocalists like Pandit Krishnarao Shankar Pandit or Ustad Amir Khan hardly ever attempted to render a thumri or a dadra and judiciously stayed away from these genres. Why? Because, great minds that they were, they realised that their musical temperament as well as the quality of voice were not ideally suited to handle these forms. The late Kumar Prasad Mukherjee has quoted Ustad Amir Khan on this point in his memoirs: “Ghulam Ali jaisee thumri to ham gaa nahin sakte, to phir kyon gaayen?” (I can’t sing thumri as well as Ghulam Ali does. Then, why should I sing it?)
Thumri singing is not everybody’s cup of tea. Well-known singer Shubha Mudgal describes the contemporary music scene truthfully in an article: “Virtually all performers of Hindustani classical music, barring those of Dhrupad and Dhamar, include a segment where performers present thumri or thumri-related repertoire. And yet, there is a sharp decline in performers who could be considered thumri specialists. Iconic exponents of thumri have now dwindled to an alarmingly depleted number…”
When Delhi Government’s Sahitya Kala Parishad presented two well-known representatives of the Jaipur-Atrauli gharana on the first day of its three-day Thumri Festival that opened on Tuesday at Kamani auditorium, one was more than a little baffled. Stalwarts of this gharana such as Kesarbai Kerkar, Mogubai Kurdikar, Lakshmibai Jadhav and Mallikarjun Mansur were not known for their thumri-singing as the highly intellectual style does not lend itself so easily to the emotional, delicate and playful thumri. Little wonder that two prominent vocalists, Ashwini Bhide Deshpande and Shruti Sadolikar, were not able to create the magic of thumri as much as a lesser singer Devashish Dey could.
Ashwini Bhide Deshpande flagged off the festival with a slow tempo Khayal-ang thumri, “Sakhi Sawan Aayo Maa”, with a short auchar-like movement and followed it up with another “Sajan Bina Na Lage Jiya Mora”. She concluded her recital with a famous Khamaj thumri, “Barse Badariya”. A very intelligent singer, she chose compositions that were in tune with the rainy season and sang them with aplomb. However, one was left craving for the special flavour of Thumri. Ashwini was provided vocal support by her disciple Shivani Kalyanpur. While Vinod Lele was good on tabla, Vinay Mishra impressed with his handling of harmonium and occasionally received appreciation from the vocalist herself.
Devashish Dey is a vocalist from Banaras, the seat of Purab ang thumri, and has received training in Gwalior and Agra gharana styles too. He began with a Khamaj thumri, “Vyakul Bhaee Brajbaam, Bansuriya Na Bajao Shyam” that used to be sung by Mahadev Prasad Mishra, the guru of Devashish’s guru Pashupati Nath Mishra, with great artistry as well as charm. With the Banaras style bol-banao, he immediately captured the attention of the audience although the voice projection left something to be desired. He went on to sing another thumri, “Chhaaee Ghata Ghanghor”, a composition of Ramdas of Banaras, before concluding his recital with a dadra, “Jhuki Aaee Badariya Kari Kari”, and accomplished the task of “mehfil lootna”. Kishor Mishra and Bhayyanji accompanied him on tabla and harmonium respectively.
Like Ashwini Bhide Deshpande, Shruti Sadolikar too is a highly regarded representative of the Jaipur-Atrauli gharana. She began with a thumri, “Tarpat Hoon Din Rain”, and elaborated it with poise. As she has also learnt from Gulubhai Jasdanwala, a disciple of the legendary Alladiya Khan, and his enormously talented son Manjhi Khan, Shruti sang a Haveli Sangeet composition, “Neha Lagyo Mose Shyam”, that was turned into a thumri by Manjhi Khan whom she described as “a rebel of the gharana”. Her rendering of this was much more captivating. Vinod Lele on tabla and Vinay Mishra on harmonium accompanied her.