Annapurna Devi: The light of Maihar gharana peters out

Well-known Hindustani classical musician Annapurna Devi died in Breach Candy Hospital in Mumbai on Saturday. She was 93. According to the hospital, she passed away at 3.51 am

Photo courtesy: social media
Photo courtesy: social media
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Mrinal Pande

A Padma Bhushan award recipient Annapurna was daughter of the founder of Maihar Gharana of music, Baba Alluddin Khan, and sister to well-known Sarod player Ustad Ali Akbar and first wife of eminent sitarist Pt Ravi Shankar. She was 93. Pt Ravi Shankar and Annapurna had one son.

Baba Alluddin Khan’s family belonged to Tripura. He arrived at Rampur looking for a suitable Guru for himself. There he received training under the tutelage of Ustad Vazir Khan. Then he went to the Durbar of the King of Maihar and was anointed the royal singer and teacher of the king. Thus he settled down in Maihar. His famous disciples include his two children- Ustad Ali Akbar and Annapurna Devi. Pt Ravi Shankar, Pannalal Ghosh, Nikhil Banerjee, Sharan Rani Mathur are some of the talented and prominent singers who had the fortune to be trained by Baba Alluddin Khan.

Baba used to practice paying respects to the Goddess Sarasvati and the Kuldevi of Maihar. For him the limitations of religion had no meaning. The king of Maihar himself had named his daughter ‘Annapurna’. Later Baba himself said that she is no less talented than his two prominent disciples Ravi Shankar and Ali Akbar Khan. “In fact I myself have trained her in Dhrupad.”

With the long and tough training in music, Baba taught her this too that music should be dedicated to God with utter delight. “you have patience. So I will impart that music to you which can give you inner peace.” Therefore, he married off his talented daughter to his talented Hindu disciple Ravi Shankar at the time when his elder brother, dancer Uday Shankar was still not very famous in the world of Indian dance.

Annapurna was blessed with a son in this marriage. But as popularity grew, the distance between the couple became steeper. Finally, the marriage broke. Subsequently Annapurna became an introvert and detached herself and her music completely from the outer world. According to the rumours in the world of music, the major reason for it was that she did not receive any encouragement from her ambitious spouse, Ravi Shankar and she too had inherited a reclusive disposition from her father. However, there are a few of her disciples who took her legacy forward like the eminent flute player Pt Hariprasad Chaurasiya, Sitar player Nikhi Banerjee, Bahadur Khan, Ashish Khan singer Vinay Bharat Ram and Gautam Chatterjee.

People who had the good fortune to have listened to her music, say that her music was as harmonious and blissful as this universe is. And it was she who had actually inherited a significant part of her father’s talent and genius. But completely detached from playing the music for the outside world, she remained engrossed in her music and finally like many brilliant and talented women artistes quietly exited this world.

She believed, “Our music is a music of absolute surrender and dedication. If a disciple practises it with all humility and if he has the qualities of patience, dedication and oblation then he will certainly achieve something which is far more important and valuable than what he has given for the music.”

Salutation to the memories of this remarkable artist.

This first appeared in Hindi. It was translated by Pragati Saxena

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