“Thumri” is one of those genres of semi-classical Indian music, the flavor of which has traveled over the centuries. From the royal courts of the Nawabs of Lucknow in the 19th century to the premises of an auditorium overflowing with music lovers on a rainy day in the present; Thumri’s melodies continue to resonate with life.
The recently concluded Thumri Festival 2012 saw some of the pillars of classical Hindustani music perform and captivate listeners in the capital. This proves that even in the age of remixes, the charm of traditional music can never die.
Padma Bhushan Girija Devi, Padma Shri Shubha Mudgal and folk singer Malini Awasthi celebrated Thumri as a genre in all its textures and colors, and put on an unforgettable show. We had the opportunity to discuss Thumri as a musical discipline, its relevance and ways to keep fit with veteran Shubha Mudgal. She shared her perspective on the future of Indian classical music.
Excerpts from the interview:
How did he perform at Thumri Festival 2012 in Delhi? How was the response and participation?
I was delighted to find that despite a weekday and the sudden downpour which was added to it which resulted in traffic jams on the roads, the auditorium was filled with music lovers and very prominent musicians in the audience. .
Thumri as a form of Indian semi-classical music has generally been seen as a romantic articulation of a woman’s love for Lord Krishna, for others it is devotion. How would you define Thumri?
In many ways, the thumri fits into a cusp. In the modern categorization of Indian music, it has no place among genres and styles of popular music. And yet, orthodox tastes qualify him as “semi-classical” or “light classic”, sometimes vaguely alluding to his unworthiness to appear among the so-called “superior” and “classical” arts. The cuspated identity of thumri and its allied forms includes dadra, hori and kajri. Its association with dance and Kathak in particular makes it perhaps the only vocal form existing in the Hindustani classical music system to have an interdisciplinary identity. Thumri texts like Khayal and Dhrupad borrow from anecdotes and “Leelas” (episodes) surrounding Krishna and Rama. It is also a form which has found patronage among urban elites, but which remains partly anchored in the rural repertoire and textual references.
Is Thumri the most popular during the monsoon season as it is believed?
Thumri can be enjoyed in any season and at any time. However, there are certain forms specific to the monsoon, such as the kajri, which is again part of the thumri-dadra repertoire.
You are someone who has explored musical genres ranging from pop to classical. Do you think Thumri as a genre is on the decline in today’s remix era?
It is humanly impossible for an individual to explore “all genres” of music. I had the chance to learn a few. There aren’t many thumri specialists today, nor is it a form that finds acceptance in the electronic media. So in that sense, it’s a genre that may soon become rare or even extinct if not given due consideration. However, audience participation at the Thumri festival suggests we have reason to hope for better times.
How correct would it be to call Thumri as a pop form of the Hindustani classic?
Completely incorrect, inaccurate and rather frivolous. And I apologize if my answer offends anyone.
Your take on the sudden arrival of musical reality TV shows. You were on a jury giving India its very first all-female group VIVA. How has the trend evolved since then? Do Reality TV Shows Appear Real Singers?
There is nothing sudden about the arrival of reality shows. Popstars by Channel V dates back to 2001-2002. Their popularity does good business, resulting in an epidemic of reality TV and rewards. I think there is so much talent in India that every show brings out potential singers. However, their musical development may never be the primary mission of these shows, and unfortunately we haven’t seen too many reality show winners emerge as top singers with long careers. The occasional odd exception might last only because of personal conviction and dedication.
Who was your inspiration as a singer?
I can only cite one source of inspiration. I feel inspired by many great masters and performers, even those I may never have seen perform live. I am grateful to my parents Jaya and Skand Gupt, for their encouragement and unconditional support, and to my gurus who taught me and included me in their extended families. I was fortunate to have received their guidance, whether it was Khayal or Thumri’s study.
Words of wisdom for budding singers …
I can only offer them my best wishes!