Girija Devi, the “thumri queen” and noted Indian classical vocalist, died on Tuesday evening in Kolkata. The 88-year-old singer was admitted to BM Birla Hospital in a critical condition after suffering a heart attack earlier in the day and died around 9 pm.
Even at 88, Appa ji, as she was fondly known, was a formidable force with a scintillating voice to be reckoned with. As one of the luminaries of Seniya and Banaras gharanas, and a legendary exponent, perhaps the last, of thumri, tappa, chaiti and khayal – forms of Indian classical music – she leaves a deep void in Indian classical music.
Girija Devi was born in 1929 in Varanasi, where she took lessons in singing from vocalist and sarangi player Sarju Prasad Misra in her early childhood. She immersed herself in the art since she was a child and started singing for radio, and later at conferences when her husband denied her permission to perform for the Nawabs at the time.
The “thumri queen”, as she was known, exhilarated audiences with her performances, which often included eminent personalities such as Sarojini Naidu, Jawaharlal Nehru and Dr Radhakrishnan.
Girija Devi was awarded the Padma Bhushan, Padma Vibhushan, Padma Shri and Sangeet Natak Akademi awards over her expansive career and continued to perform up until a few weeks before her demise.
Her powerhouse performances show why she will remain an unforgettable star of Indian classical music.