Girija Devi was a renowned semi-classical Indian singer.She trained in Khayal, Tappa, Gajari, Thumri, Thula among many Hindi music. She specifically worked on Thumri singing tones according to the situation, winning applauds and getting designated as the Queen. Born on 8th May 1972 she sang for more than 82 years. She died on 27th Oct 2017. Let us look at her inspiring life
Girija Devi was born in Varanasi into a zamindar family. Her father was deeply interested in music and learned it from a profound teacher. Originally from Uttar Pradesh, her father moved to Bengal to learn music, becoming a part of Seniya and Benaras gharanas.Watching her dad practice and listening to music made her deeply attached to it at a small age of 5. She used to spend all her time with her father. Her father taught swimming, horse riding and singing. He made her practice in the morning after bath and took her to Guru for further learning.
Girijaji had siblings. When she was young her older sister had a son. He started calling her Appa as he was learning to talk. Soon everyone around her i.e family, friends, teachers started calling her Appa. She preferred being referred as Appa too.
Learning singing continued till she reached the age of 17. She then got married and had a child in the first year of marriage. It was the only one year gap in her life without music.
She couldn’t bear the fact that she did not learn and practice singing. Her husband who was 20 years older to her understood her passion for singing. He was a music enthusiast himself. His only condition for her was to not perform in a closed audience like in front of the Rajas and Maharajas. Accepting the terms she only gave public performances from schools to concerts. Her mother and grandmother were also not happy with her decision to pursue music too because it was not considered respectful for a woman to sing in public during those times. Even the women around were not that comfortable of her choice. She chose to learn simple music too and sang them which is sung during events like marriage or function for a pregnant lady. This got her accepted.
She never took a step back from her household responsibilities. She cooked, cleaned, took care of her children all while doing her Sadhana. In one of her interviews, she funnily recollected how she used to burn rotis thinking about music. She cooked for everyone whenever possible. She was always grounded and never had arrogance because of her accomplishments.
Performing in All India Radio:
She slowly got famous for her deep voice and beautiful singing. She was interviewed for 2 hours and got selected to sing on AIR All Habari. It was a huge accomplishment then. Her payment was 90 rupees and first class tickets were covered with this money. The payment was same for every other famous performing artist during that time. This kickstarted her courier of public concerts on huge platforms. She got the chance to perform and watch accomplished singers on the same stage. Her audiance had included freedom fighters, prime ministers and cheif ministers.
In 1980’s Girija Devi taught music in ITC Sangeet Music Academy, Kolkata and in Bananas Hindu University, Uttar Pradesh during 1990’s. She believed that the student teacher relation was more like the family where students were given motherly love and were treated strictly during practice. She had a decorated students from various fields like doctors, teachers etc.She has also released cassets of her music.
Girija Devi believed in continuous Sadhana. Even on her last performance, she said that even though she had practiced and learned her art for over 80 years she always found something new to learn. She used to say that even a lifetime is not enough to learn an art and its practice can be started at any age be the person old or young. Even at her old age, she did her morning practice to strengthen her voice as much as possible. Her aim was to sing till her last breath which she did.
She had started performing internationally too on her fans being worldwide. Girijaji was awarded PADMASHRI in 1972, Padma Bhushan in 1984, Padma Vibhushan in 2016 among many.
Her Message :
Even after all the fame and respect, Appaji was humble and loving. She always preached that those interested in one art should stick to it and spend all their lives learning and practicing it while respecting the Guru.
Girija Devi teaches us to find our strengths, passion and work on it until the end. The path of learning has no end and there is something new to absorb every day. If the interests are right boredom never appears in the path.