An enigma of In­dian clas­si­cal mu­sic who struck a spir­i­tual tone

Hindustan Times (Lucknow) - - Nation - Naren­dra Kus­nur let­ters@hin­dus­tan­times.com ▪ ( The writer is a vet­eran mu­sic jour­nal­ist)

On Satur­day morn­ing, In­dian clas­si­cal mu­sic fans woke up to the news that sur­ba­har leg­end An­na­purna Devi had passed away. Though some were aware that she was in her early 90s and had been suf­fer­ing from age-re­lated is­sues, the an­nounce­ment came as a shock.

The mu­si­cian, born Rosha­nara Khan was given the name An­na­purna Devi by Ma­haraja Bai­j­nath Singh of Mai­har, Mad­hya Pradesh, where her iconic fa­ther Baba Alaud­ddin Khan was the royal court mu­si­cian. She started learn­ing the sitar at the age of five, be­fore shift­ing to the more bass sur­ba­har. Devi was the younger sis­ter of sarod mae­stro Us­tad Ali Ak­bar Khan and the for­mer wife of sitar ex­po­nent Ravi Shankar. To­day’s gen­er­a­tion hasn’t seen her in con­cert, but old­time crit­ics and afi­ciona­dos de­scribe her as an ab­so­lute ge­nius. There are sto­ries that Shankar wasn’t happy she got more ap­plause than him, but it wasn’t more than hearsay.

Af­ter their di­vorce in 1962, Devi stopped per­form­ing in pub­lic, liv­ing as a recluse, and teach­ing only a few stu­dents in whose tal­ents she had con­fi­dence. The ma­jor­ity of them play the sarod: Ba­hadur Khan, her nephew Aashish Khan, Amit Bhat­tacharya, Jotin Bhat­tacharya, Pradeep Barot, Saswati Sa­had and Suresh Vyas, to name a few.

Her flautist dis­ci­ples in­clude Hariprasad Chaura­sia and Nityanand Haldipur. Sitar mae­stro, the late Nikhil Ban­er­jee, also stud­ied un­der her. In an ear­lier in­ter­view to this writer, Chaura­sia had said she “is pas­sion­ate about teach­ing” and be­sides the tech­nique of var­i­ous ra­gas, she “fo­cuses on how to bring in a spir­i­tual el­e­ment”.

Devi fol­lowed the Mai­harSe­nia gha­rana started by her fa­ther. Though they be­longed to a Mus­lim fam­ily, they wor­shipped Hindu deities too. “Her en­tire ap­proach was based on de­vo­tion,” Chaura­sia had said.

The sur­ba­har player later mar­ried man­age­ment con­sul­tant Rooshiku­mar Pandya, and con­tin­ued to teach at her Bhu­la­b­hai De­sai Road res­i­dence. How­ever, for quite some time, she was be­lieved to have dis­tanced her­self from the pub­lic sphere.

As a jour­nal­ist, I tried for many years to in­ter­view her, but with no suc­cess. Hence, there are no per­sonal anec­dotes to talk about. The book ‘An Un­heard Melody’ by Swa­pan Ku­mar Bondy­opad­hyaya was pub­lished as her au­tho­rised bi­og­ra­phy. It sold well and got good re­views, but those close to her felt it was based only on short meet­ings and quotes. Devi never recorded com­mer­cially. But pri­vate cap­tures of her ra­gas Maanjh Khamaj and Kaushiki are avail­able on YouTube, apart from her Ya­man Kalyan duet with Ravi Shankar.

The older gen­er­a­tion was lucky to see her in con­cert. For many of us to­day, she re­mains a mys­tery, an enigma. But the one thing we all know is she was one of the bright­est stars in the In­dian mu­si­cal fir­ma­ment.

HT AR­CHIVE

An­na­purna Devi tarted learn­ing sitar at the age of five.

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