Annapurna Devi (born 1926 at Maihar now in Madhya Pradesh, India) is the daughter of Ustad Allauddin Khan, founder of the ‘Senia Maihar Gharana’ and considered a phenomenon in the classical music world and a royal court musician. Her ancestry can be traced to the present Bangladesh to the village of Shibpur where her uncles Ustad Ayet Ali Khan and Fakir Aftabuddin Khan were respected musicians.
Ustad Ali Akbar Khan, her brother, was a legendary Sarod maestro. Ravi Shankar, a Sitar student of Ustad Alauddin Khan, fell in love with Jahanara when he was 21 and she was 14, and sought her hand in marriage. She converted to Hinduism after her marriage by the Majaraja of Maihar who gave her the name of Annapurna Devi, the name of a Hindu goddess. They had a son Shubhendra Shankar (1942–1992), a sitarist trained by Annapurna Devi, though no commercial recordings are available. Ravi Shankar is perhaps the most famous Indian classical sitarist and musician in the world. The marriage lasted for about two decades though not often happily.
She was one of the three daughters, others being Jahanara and Sharija, was called Roshanara Khan. Sharija died young of childhood disease. Her father was determined that he will not teach her as Jahanara’s tanpura was burnt by her jealous mother-in-law. He changed his mind when he discovered that she was teaching Ali Akbar Khan and her talent amazed him. Her father then taught her classical vocal music, Surbahar and Sitar. She evolved to becoming a Surbahar (bass Sitar) maestro.
Education and Musical Career of Annapurna Devi
Within a few years of starting lessons from her father, Annapurna Devi not only became a proficient Surbahar player of the Maihar Gharana, but also began guiding many disciples of her father such as Ustad Bahadur Khan and Pandit Nikhil Banerjee in the intricacies of classical music and Sitar playing.
Other prominent students included her nephew Ustad Aashish Khan (Sarod maestro); Nityanand Haldipur and Hariprasad Chaurasia (renowned flautists); Sudhir Phadke and Rooshikumar Pandya (Sitarists); Basant Kabra and Pradeep Barot (Sarodists); and Kokila Rai (the Surbahar) wife of the late sarod player Vasant Rai. She also taught music at the National Centre for Performing Arts at Mumbai for some time as Professor when she taught Pandit Chandrakant Sardeshmukh, a sitar player and child prodigy, during 1963 – 1976, who was the only disciple common between her and Pandit Ravi Shankar. Pandit Chandrakant Sardeshmukh promotes Indian classical music in Japan and Australia. She is also actively involved in promoting Acharya Alauddin Music Circle in memory of her father that promoted Indian classical music in Mumbai.
Important work by Annapurna Devi
Annapurna Devi did not take up classical music as a carrier nor has she recorded any music album. But she has trained a number of prominent musicians and has earned love and respect from those who came into contact with her. Some of her performances such as the Raga Kaushi Kanara and Raga Majh Khamaj, Surbahar recital; and the Raga Yaman duet Surbahar recital with Pandit Ravi Shankar are available non-commercially to some music lovers which were secretly taped during her earlier concerts in the 1950s. However, she avoided media limelight.
Awards and Achievement for Annapurna Devi
Earning reverence for her dedication to Indian classical music and her range, she is particularly appreciated for the ‘dhrupadi’ approach to music. She received many awards and honours including the Padma Bhushan (1977), the Sangeet Natak Akademi Award (1991), the Deshikottam - an honorary doctorate degree from Visva-Bharati University of Nobel laureate poet Rabindranath Tagore (1999).
In spite of her avoidance of media-limelight, she continues to be thought of as a classical instrumentalist of the highest calibre in India.