When I heard that the legendary singer Girija Devi of Banaras had passed away in Kolkata, I was filled with grief. It’s a great loss for the world of music especially thumri, the genre she excelled to the extent that she became an institution during her lifetime. Girija was the only lady in my life who tied me rakhi every Raksha Bandhan.
We performed together on several occasions, from recording our duet, to the Sarod Vocal Jugalbandhi for a London-based record label called Navras record. She has left many disciples to continue her legacy. She carried an entire era with her. Her smile was infectious. She enjoyed her paan all the time. Thumri is the fastest dying art form. Some musicians are dealing with the grammar only, some are busy with literature and very few understand the meaning of thumri. It’s on the level of absolute poetry. Girija Devi belongs to Banaras gharana but she became an institution or gharana in her lifetime. Fortunately, she left many disciples including Sunanda Sharma, Malini Awasthi, among others will carry her legacy forward. She sang on my wife’s 50th Birthday and that magical performance was my surprise birthday gift to my wife Subhalakshmiji. She was the student of Rukmini Devi Arundale. Didi, as I affectionately called her, made an album for Navras record with her vocal as I played the sarod.
We gave many live concerts together. On her 80th birthday she invited me to perform in Varanasi. After my concert, she felicitated me with lots of flowers and a shawl and requested me to play my sarod with her thumri. We both performed for two hours. India will always miss her. It’s also my personal loss too. May her soul rest in peace. When we honoured her with our yearly Haafiz Ali Khan Award in the Court Yard of the sarod gharana Gwalior, Girija Devi refused to accept any cash which was part of the award. She said in Hindi, “Is ghar ko hamein sirf dena hai, lene ka haq hamara nahi hai.” Which means, “We have to only offer and give and serve to this sacred gharana. We are not allowed to take a penny from here.” Girija Deviji had a great reverence love and respect for my ancestors and guru. She was a spiritual musician totally committed and dedicated to Ma Saraswati and music.