Thumris of Krishna Bhakti

After writing about Prabha Atre’s Mira bhakti in my earlier post, I return to the theme with the singer’s another Krishna thumri – “Kaun gali gayo shyaam.”

But before we look at the song and its many other versions, a few thoughts on the form of thumri. Patiala gharana singer Ajoy Chakraborty once compared thumri to a flower. That’s a beautiful comparison because a thumri recital blossoms like a flower. It conveys many emotions, like eroticism, sensuality, love, separation and devotion. Krishna and his devotee’s love for him have preoccupied generations of thumri singers.

“Kaun gali gayo sham” also happens to be one of the lesser known thumris in “Pakeezah”, a film about the tragic story of a courtesan.

The Parveen Sultana version is filmy in the sense that it lasts for less than three minutes. And yet, within the limitation of time, the Patiala gharana singer creates a honeycomb of sweetness. Her masterful rendering of “Shyaam” in different styles embodies a deep sense of longing for Krishna. It can also represent the helplessness of the devotee who is looking for the Lord from pillar to post.

Barkat Ali Khan, the brother of Bade Ghulam Ali and one of the stalwarts of the Patiala gharana, has rendered this thumri for an elaborate 23 minutes. Play the song after sundown. His deep baritone has an ethereal quality that gives the song a melancholic strain.

The thumri also exists in Benaras gharana’s Rasoolan Bai’s full-throated voice. It is also melancholic; the mildly twisted play on “Shyaam” in the song shows a certain desperation as the Lord is nowhere to be found.

But Prabha Atre’s interpretation of this thumri has a sense of novelty that takes the bhakti route from the first note. She invokes the missing “Shyaam”, the blue-skinned Krishna. The yearning is relentless.

The call for Shyaam is part of the Krishna leela. He is the God, lover, friend, guide, messiah and who revealed Gita’s discourses to Arjuna in Mahabharata.

It is said if you want to be touched by Krishna, the consciousness that is Krishna, one must take the path of the playful, or Krishna leela. And hence, the search for … Krishna.


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Ankush Arora

Delhi boy; dreamer, nature lover, photographer. Development communications professional. Ex-Reuters, NDTV. This is a personal blog.

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