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Rekha Surya – A Genius Of Hindustani Vocal Performs At MIT

Press Release



 A Sufi Concert of nerve tingling Hindustani Vocal Music

Romancing the Divine

A mesmerizing evening of Hori, Kajri, Jhoola, Dadra, and Ghazal

by renowned vocalist Rekha Surya

the youngest disciple of late Ghazal Queen Padmabhushan Begum Akhtar of Lucknow Gharana and Queen of Thumri Padmavibhushan Girija Devi of Benaras Gharana

Accompanied by Durjay Bhaumik on Tabla (disciple of Pandit Suresh Talwalkar), and highly regarded Ratan Prasanna on Classical Guitar

 (A Fundraiser Concert of Indian Music and Poetry sponsored by IHA)

Date: Sunday, 5th October 2008
MIT Wong Auditorium
(E51), 70 Memorial Drive, Cambridge, MA 02139

For Directions visit www.mit.edu or call 617-253-1000. Ample free parking on Sunday

Time: 4:30 PM
Free with MIT Student ID (limited seats), $15 (general), $25 (front)

Tickets: www.lokvani.com/iha

Mail checks payable to: IHA, 31 Barron Ave, Salem, NH 03079
(Indian refreshments will be available)

Contact: info@hindi.org  (786) 214-4857
  (617) 710-5497

interviewed by


1. (A.V.) Thumri is a genre of love, enchantment, longing, separation, passion. By this token, does it have a limited emotional repertoire?
1. (R.S.) Thumri has emerged from Sringara Rasa, the emotion of romantic love, which is all-encompassing, drawing into its fold many other rasas, such as Hasya, Karuna, Raudra and Adbhuta. So Sringara Rasa is traditionally associated with the colour blue, symbolising the vastness of the sky and ocean.

Thumri, Dadra and Ghazal often merge the sensuous with the sublime, linking romance with spiritual love, much like erotic sculpture adorning ancient temples. Since this tradition already exists within my genre, I often sing mystical poems, outside a conventional Thumri repertoire, in the style of Dadra. When spiritual poems are written in the literary form of Ghazal, I sing them as Ghazal rather than as Bhajan, such as those of Kabir and Tulsi. Also, the concept of Krishna as the embodiment of love is common to both Hindu and Sufi thought. So while I sing horis, kajris, jhoolas, dadras with Shaam as the central theme, I also sing Amir Khusro’s use of the Krishna metaphor.

2. (A.V.) In Thumri the romantic mood is evoked by emphasising the text, the words of the bandish. Is that what distinguishes it from Khayal?
2. (R.S.) Thumri and its allied forms are shabd-pradhan or word-oriented. But they are not sung in a straightforward, tune-oriented way like folk-songs or Geet. The lyrics are treated with nuanced classicism, in a raga-pradhan manner.
Khayal and Thumri singers handle Raga differently. While Khayal singers rigidly obey a raga’s dictates, Thumri singers freely use forbidden notes or enter other ragas that have commonality with the main one. The point of re-entering the original raga must be seamless.

The badhat in Khayal revolves around each note in ascent. In Thumri the badhat dwells on each ascending note while expressing the emotional content of a particular word or phrase.

The ragas mostly sung by light-classical singers are Khamaj,Tilang, Des, Bharavi, Kafi, Sindhura, Pilu, Gara, Manj-Khamaj and Tilak-Kamod.

Thumri is liberal and feminine in temperament while Khayal is abstract and austere in nature, using a bandish primarily as a peg to hang notes on. Also, Khayal gives importance to tans which are sparingly used in Thumri. Khayal characteristics like sargam disturb the romantic aura of Thumri and its allied forms, which use covert musicianship rather then overt virtuosity. The format of both Khayal and Thumri differ.

3. (A.V.) Have pressures of modern life in any way affected the structure and content of Thumri?
3.(R.S.). Probably in every age musicians have encountered commercial pressures. Begum Akhtar sang some indifferent ghazals to cater to her audiences, but she adhered to semi-classical gayaki while doing so.

I choose the text of what I sing on the basis of how comprehensible and identifiable it is in today’s world. For instance, a bandish describing a nayika stealthily tip-toeing to meet her husband so that she does not awaken her sister-in-law is appealing only when seen within the context of an outdated social structure.

Since light-classical singers seldom get audiences which are attuned to the nuances of classical music, I do not risk boring an audience with a slow pace. I seldom sing Thumri—instead I sing faster-paced Dadra, Kajri, Jhoola, Hori, Chaiti, Ghazal and Sufiana kalaam in Dadra and Ghazal style.

 Ghazal, traditionally an allied form of Thumri, has been plucked out of a light-classical repertoire to be labeled Light Music, clubbed with Geet and Bhajan (All India Radio is partly to blame for encouraging this trend). It is being sung either in the less complex style of Geet or in a flashy Khayal style using sargam and tihai, to meet commercial demands.

4. (A.V.) Who have actually composed thumries? Are they the same who have also composed bandishen for Khayal?
4. (R.S.) India has not been inclined towards documentation. Music has travelled through generations on an oral journey. So poets who wrote thumries, dadras, kajris, jhoolas, horis, chaitis are unknown, shrouded in antiquity. Originating from folk music, the text is earthy and rustic although its treatment is sophisticated and urbane. There are some pen-names mentioned in less ancient Khayal bandishes (like Sadarang-Adarang) and some pen-names in newer dadras (like Shaam Piya).The language used in Thumri and Khayal  compositions is common to both, written mostly in Brij-bhasa, Khari-boli, Purbi or Awadhi.

5. (A.V.) Thumri has also been closely associated with Kathak dance. Comments on this two-way relationship.
5. (R.S.) Arth-bhava Thumri is sung as accompaniment for Kathak dancers, who enact the text through dance and gesture. Shambhu Maharaj sang to accompany his dance. Begum Akhtar once told me that he could draw out every shade of meaning lurking in a word or phrase and if he had not been a great dancer he would have been a great Thumri singer. Nawab Wajid Ali Shah propagated Thumri in conjunction with Kathak.   

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