Girija Devi demonstrated how even the limitations of age have their limitations
This concert could have easily been called “Glimpses of Greatness”. When Girija Devi, the doyenne of the Purab ang gayaki of Banaras, sang on Sunday at a baithak-style concert organised by the Indian Council for Cultural Relations (ICCR), one was reminded of the Urdu couplet “Khandahar bata rahe hain imarat buland thee”. (Ruins are telling that the building was magnificent.) Well into her 80s , Girija Devi has been a formidable presence on the music scene for nearly six decades, and even now, when she gets into the mood, she sings in her trademark powerful, resonant voice with enviable élan. However, there is a limit to defying age. It’s not possible for even the great Girija Devi to sustain a full concert. Yet, she offers a great many glimpses into her art and one sits through the performance as if under a magical spell.
A true professional, Girija Devi ignored her indisposition and decided to go through with the concert. For some strange reason, she has always opened her recitals with a khayal, perhaps to prove that she is a well-rounded vocalist and not merely a singer of the lighter forms. This time too, she chose an invocation to Shiva, “He Mahadev Maheshwar”, to sing as a madhya laya Bhoopali khayal. Within minutes, she painted an authentic picture of this pentatonic Kalyan-ang raga that omits Madhyam and Nishad. After according Bhoopali a concise treatment that included powerful gamak taans, charming tihais and the works, she moved on to an old thumri composition of Shyamdas Mishra of Banaras. The beautiful thumri “Pardesi balma preet kiye chala jaaye” made use of both Kafi and Pilu. Now Girija Devi was in familiar terrain, and she showed what the expressive art of bol banao (rendering words in a great variety of ways to articulate diverse emotions) really is. It was sheer delight to listen to her, although her stamina was posing a problem for her. There were times when she stunned with her fast-paced ascending and descending taans and showed what she was capable of.
After the thumri, Girija Devi sang a self-composed dadra in Pahadi, “Mat jaiyo Shyam vahi nagriya”, and charmed the audience with her artistry. She was at her expressive best in this dadra and transported this listener back to nearly four decades ago when he had heard her for the first time. Her chaiti “Chait maas chunri rangaee de o Rama” was a real tour de force. She was accompanied by Dharmnath Mishra on harmonium, Jaishankar Mishra on tabla and Kamal Sabri on sarangi. Her students Shalini Ved and Sucheta Ganguli provided vocal support on tanpura.
Last week, Rajshree Pathak, a student of Shobha Gurtu and Sarla Bhide, also presented a programme of thumri, dadra and chaiti. Equipped with a well-honed and strong voice, she began her recital with a Mishra Kafi thumri “Kaise kate ri mori bali re umariya” and gave a good account of herself. She followed it up with two dadras, of which the first one was of very old vintage. She was most impressive when, after rendering a chaiti, she sang a dadra that her guru Shobha Guru used to sing admirably well. However, her last two renderings of Begum Akhtar numbers — a drut dadra and a thumri — did leave something to be desired. Vinod Lele on tabla and Vinay Mishra on harmonium accompanied her.