Thumris of Krishna Bhakti

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

But before we look at the song and its many other versions, let me share 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 (see below) is crisp, but heavy on classical notes, lasting for less than three minutes. And yet, within the limitation of time, the Patiala gharana singer creates a honeycomb of sweetness in her characteristic style. Her masterful rendering of the word “shyaam” in different styles could be interpreted as embodying a deep sense of longing for Krishna.

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.

 

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