KOCHI: She was a river, a mighty one at that, reminisces academician Rajiv K about surbahar (bass sitar) maestro Annapoorna Devi, one of the most enigmatic musicians of our times. “To know the river, you have to go back to the origins of Hindustani music,” so he began, shedding light into the life and times of the virtuoso.
The talk by Rajiv took one through the vibrant musical tradition of the Maihar Gharana. It was a musical feast, and a peek into the sublime and immortal contributions by the Hindustani legend. “She is a mystery wrapped in an enigma, the more you try to know her, the less you do,” said Rajiv. The commemorative programme at the Kesari Memmorial Hall, Thiruvananthapuram was organised by Writers and Nature Lovers Forum.
It was a journey through the glorious Maihar tradition and its illustrious musical legacy. It has left two streams of musical systems- the deeply philosophical and introverted side to which Annapoorna Devi belongs and the flamboyant extroverted style to which her former husband and sitar maestro Pandit Ravi Shankar belongs. The session was interspersed with musical interludes by master Hindustani performers. The air hung heavy with the soul-rendering music from rudraveena, sitar, sarod, surbahar as excerpts from the musical performances of the Hindustani greats were played.
The talk delved on the initiation of Annapoorna Devi into music by her father Ustad Allauddin Khan, her journey in music, marriage and its lethal aftermath, and finally, the great recluse period and long silence she took upon herself, withdrawing herself into a self-imposed quietude and passivity.
The mystery behind Annapoorna becomes evident when we delve into the bond she shared with the classical music legend Ustad Allauddin Khan. A restless innovator who was a master of 30 instruments is how Allauddin Khan is known. Annapoorna’s initiation into music has an interesting back-story. It was when her father chanced upon an uninitiated Annapoorna correcting the mistake of her brother Ali Akbar Khan during his practice sessions that he decided to teach her music
Drawing parallels across the two musical greats, the talk offered great insights into the musical paths Annapoorna Devi and Pandit Ravi Shankar trod on. While Ravi Shankar’s music could evoke an instant appeal amongst the listeners, one would have to wait to understand Annapoorna Devi’s music. “It is like honey, not sugar,” he added.
““How can one sum up Annapoorna Devi’s legacy, one who didn’t leave any recordings ?” he wondered out loud. “The silence of Annapoorna will always remain a question before the Indian conscience. And who is responsible, was it Pandit Ravi Sankar, Ustad Allauddin Khan or the Indian patriarchal system,” he posed a question. Referring to her as Saraswati, the underground river, he terming her as the ‘unheard melody of Hindustani music’.