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Dedication of a lifetime

As a performing artiste, Girija Devi is the finest of the few surviving performers in the Purab ang gayaki.

music Updated: May 31, 2003 18:35 IST

In the arena of Indian classical music, Girija Devi’s name hardly needs any introduction. She started her classical music lessons at a very tender age of five under the tutelage of the singer and sarangi player, Pandit Sarju Prasad Misra and then, after his death, from Pandit Chandra Misra. She made her debut in 1949, when she broadcast a recital from the All India Radio (AIR) Station in Allahabad. She says with a smile, “Since then I’ve never looked back. I was invited to give my first live concert the very next year. And from the fifties I was a constant invitee to concerts in India as well as abroad.”

As a performing artiste, Girija Devi is the finest of the few surviving performers in the Purab ang gayaki. In her huge repertoire of khayal, thumri, gul, naksh, prabandha, dadra, tappa, kajri, chaiti and bhajans, she emphasises the beauty of the lyrics. Her scintillating performances from time-to-time reveal her erudition and versatility as a vocalist.

The veteran singer’s style of singing constantly reminds you of her innovative genius. The brilliance of her taans, in sharp contrast with the persistent wail of the prolonged notes of the upper octave, is the dominant feature of her renditions. In a single glide, she traverses a multiplicity of notes, yet it appears as a single note. She is like a master craftsman at work, executing imaginative embellishments with an exquisite artistry, which is the hallmark of her mainstream gayaki.

Apart from being a performer, her unique talents and specialised knowledge in the pure classical and semi-classical forms made a great impact and were imparted to talented scholars specially selected to suit her style. Some of her disciples include Dalia Rahut, Jayita Pandey and Satyanarayan Misra, the son of her own guru, Pt. Sarju Prasad. She left ITC-SRA to return to her beloved Varanasi, where she was a visiting professor at the Banaras Hindu University (BHU).

“You cannot put a value on what we are doing because we have dedicated our entire lives to the art,” she says, in response to a question on why, within the guru-shishya parampara, instead of accepting the tuition fee offered by her disciples’ parents, she chooses to put the money in the disciple’s bank account.
It may be mentioned that Girija Devi has won the Padma Shree, the Padma Bhushan and the Sangeet Natak Academy Awards of Uttar Pradesh and Delhi. She also served as a member of several important musical committees including the Central Audition Board Committee of All India Radio (AIR) and the Sangeet Natak Academy.

She married a businessman at a very young age, who always supported her passion for music. “Yes my husband has been my help all through. Anything you do, you need a support,” she says. Having performed for more than fifty years, across the world, as also within the country, her aesthetic recitals have truly made her a legend in her lifetime.