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Thumbs up for thumri
In Heart to Heart - Remembering Nainaji, thumri singer Vidya Rao talks about how Naina Devi often bemoaned the fact that few singers opted to focus exclusively on thumri. While many artistes learned thumri, most of them sang it to round off a performance. Few cared (or dared) to devote an entire performance to thumri, says Rao in her book on the thurmri maestro.
Now, of course, things have changed.Naina Devi would be happy at the number of thumri festivals being organized every year. As Savita Devi, daughter of the famous singer of this genre, Siddheshwari Devi, says, "Thankfully, despite film and Western music holding sway, I see an appreciation for this gayaki (form of music) in a number of youngsters. "
Savita Devi will be part of the ICCR's Thumri Festival that promises to bring alive three gharanas of this style - Benaras, Patiala and Lucknow. The Benaras gharana will be represented by Savita Devi, Purnima Chaudhury and the oldest surviving woman vocalist from this tradition, Girija Devi, specially known for her purab-ang gayaki. Girija Devi will present a rich repertoire of semi-classical genres like kajri, chaiti, tappa, khayal and hori.
Purnima Chaudhury, who spent 30 years in Benaras and who has now made Kolkata her home, is happy with the audience turn-out at thumri fests. "Because there is a lot of emphasis on words and poetry, the bhav (expression) and romance of thumri touches people's hearts very easily, " she says. Student of Pt Mahadev Prasad Mishra of Benaras, who now seeks "valuable guidance from Girijaji", Choudhury will present thumri in bol-banao, the rhythmic bol-baant and a kajri taught by her guru - Hamare saanwariya nahin aaye sajni, chhayi ghata ghanghor (Dark clouds hover, and my lover hasn't yet come home).
"The idea for the festival, " says ICCR's Suresh K Goel, is to "highlight the importance of gharanas in thumri. The tradition which started in Delhi has travelled to Lucknow and from there to Benaras, Gaya and Kolkata, developing into the three major gharanas being showcased here. "
Considered to be the most embellished and stylised, the Benaras thumri had elements of folklore and literary nuances added to it. It became the most authentic and celebrated form. The principal feature of the Patiala gharana thumri was the inclusion of the tappa beat from Punjab to it. Called 'Bandish ki thumri', the thumri of Lucknow follows a faster taal cycle, usually the teen taal or the ek taal and was more suited to the Kathak dance.
Eminent Hindustani classical vocalists such as Pandit Ajoy Chakraborty and daughter Kaushiki, Mazhar Ali Khan and Jawaad Ali Khan, grandsons of Ustad Bade Ghulam Ali Khan will represent the Patiala gharana. "Khayal gayaki is what our great grandfathers, Ustad Ali Baksh Khan and Ustad Kale Khan introduced to the world of music, " says Jawaad Ali who is "happy that this genre is gaining audiences worldwide, not just through film music. The ang (essence) of thumri of all traditions is the same. What makes them stand apart is the way it is sung, " he says.
And what is the name of Pt Birju Maharaj doing on the programme? Can a Kathak performance be part of a thumri festival? "Why not?" asks vocalist Kumud Diwan who will also be performing at the festival. "We all know that kathak and thumri are inseparable, both have the same aesthetic. The word 'thumri' is derived from the Hindi word 'thum' representing the music made by anklets and 'thumak' or dance steps. No wonder, no kathak performance is complete without a thumri-bhav. "
Apart from Birju Maharaj, Uma Sharma will also be performing. "You can't imagine how delighted art aficionados are feeling about this. It's almost after a gap of three decades that these two great artistes will be performing on the same evening, " says Diwan, disciple of Pt Chhanulal Mishra of the Lucknow gharana. Having done extensive research on the tradition of thumris of Gaya, she will present bandishes credited to artistes of the early 20th century like Dhele Bai, Jayaram Tiwari and Ramuji Mishra, including the famous kajri Bhagal jale re Kanhaiyya.
For the uninitiated, the tradition of thumri goes back to the 19th century when it was given due patronage by the landlords from the areas around Lucknow, Benaras and Gaya. It, however, reached its peak in the court of Nawab Wajid Ali Shah, the last ruler of Oudh, who was himself a poet.
ICCR's Thumri Festival will be held at Kamani Auditorium, Delhi, from August 27-29
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