For The Love Of Thumri

I have been meaning to write this for some time. What prompted me today, was my success in finding a particular composition– Balam Tere Jhagde Mein Raiin Gayee (Sung by Shubha Mudgal – Album: The Versatile Shubha Mudgal).

And what I wanted to write about was my love of Thumri. I owe it to Mrs. Vidya Rao, a Classical/Thumri singer who was brought in for a guest lecture by Prof. Ramnath Narayanswamy for his “Tracking Creative Boundaries” course during the second year of my IIM – B stay.

I still remember a lot of that particular lecture (a series of 2 lectures devoted to the history, nuances of Thumri). The fact that I and another friend of mine were privileged enough to be invited for an up-close and personal meeting with the lady at the professor’s home later on where she did enthrall us with a couple of thumris just made me fall in love twice over.

Thumri, as a classical vocal form, originated in the Kothas of Benares. Unlike most of the other dance heavy forms originating at the Kothas, Thumri focused on the rendering of the lyrics, which can be intensely complicated. The theme of the song – the pivotal line – such as “Balam Tere Jhagde Mein Rain Gayee” can be interpreted in multiple ways depending upon the mood and the rendering (and technically speaking, depending upon where the emphasis is). A thumri singer traverses through the multiple interpretations with the help of additional lines around a theme. These additional lines can be shers from ghazal writers, or dohas from poets, or complete stanzas from some other poets.

Let me take a minute to explain the example of what the different interpretations can be, depending upon the point of emphasis –

  • Emphasis can be on “Balam” where the beloved is trying to blame the lover.
  • It can be on “Tere” where she might be complaining about the fight only because it concerns something/someone unworthy of being fought for.
  • Emphasis could as well be on “Jhagde” and the futility of a fight between lovers.
  • If the emphasis shifts to “Raiin”, the beloved suddenly seems to be complaining about the night that was wasted in a quarrel. Too short a night, too many things to fight on, and too many ways of fight. The same emphasis can be interpreted in a naughty/amorous way as well.
  • And finally, if the emphasis shifts on “Gayee”, then the interpretation could be of future action, of let the lost night be the lost night and focus our eyes on the morning!

The Thumri singers were exemplary in their diction and knowledge of languages. Extremely fluent with multiple languages (usually Urdu, Awadhi, Persian/Farsi, Khadi Boli, Sanskrit), these singers created and passed through generations a form of singing that is not just beautifully rendered but is also a poetic delight. Another factor not to be missed about Indian classical music is the love for the god (if it can be called Romantic Mysticism). In almost all vocal musical forms, the poet treats God as his/her lover and through love, one tries to achieve salvation.

Lucknow and Benares continued to be the two prime centers of Thumri, which in the later decades led to other singing forms as well.

If you wish to explore the complexities of Indian Classical Music through a seemingly lighter musical form, Thumri is prescribed! Transcend to another world of love, longing and devotion.

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About Amit
Conventional, boring, believer, poet, Shayar (to be precise), lover of music, musical instruments, and all that can be called music (theoretically or metaphorically), jack of all master of none, more of a reader less of a writer, arbit philosopher, foolish debater.. and many more such things.. like so many people!

3 Responses to For The Love Of Thumri

  1. Amit says:

    Vidya Ma’m.. its an honor to have you on the site.

    And I cant express in words what that class meant to me, and still means to me. It really was a divine experience.

    Thanks! 🙂

  2. vidya rao says:

    Hello! A friend saw this and helped me (a very technologically incompetent soul!) to read the piece “For the love of thumri”, and the comment. I want to thank you both– Amit, Phani– for that. It means a lot to me too to know that the class meant something to you. I loved being with you too and often remember that time at bangalore with all of you. Go happily in the world. May the spirit of music and of thumri’s gentle strength guide you through life’s journey. Warmly
    Vidya Rao

  3. Phani Mitra says:

    Can’t believe how I loved that class of TCB. I still owe it to her to introduce me to the beauty of a genre of classical music I have never heard of before.

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