Devi, Siddheshvari

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DEVI, SIDDHESHVARI (1908–1977), Indian vocalist Siddheshvari Devi was one of the greatest exponents of semiclassical forms of Hindustani music. She received unqualified acclaim from maestro Faiyaz Khan. "Next to Gauhar and Malka, you are the brightest jewel in the diadem of thumri music," he told her (Devi and Chauhan, p. 75). She was conversant with the idiom of the Khayal form, but thumri (a semiclassical form of Hindustani music closely associated with dance, dramatic gestures, mild eroticism, evocative love-poetry and folk songs of Uttar Pradesh) was her forte, and her renditions of that music overflowed with emotion and vitality.

Siddheshvari Devi was born into a family of professional musicians from Benares (Varanasi). Her mother died when Siddeshvari was an infant. She was brought up by her grandmother, Maina Devi. Other singers in the family included Vidyadhari Devi, Rajeshwari Devi, and Kamleshwari Devi. Siyaji Maharaj, a singer and teacher who had been employed to train her cousins, discovered Siddheshvari's talent when he heard her singing at her daily chores. After twelve years of study with Siyaji Maharaj, she trained under Rajab Ali Khan of Dewas, Inayat Ali Khan of Lahore, and Bade Ramdasji of Benares.

Siddheshvari Devi's voice was famed for its pathos. She effortlessly blended the musical notes with a lyrical and poetic mood of love and loss, transforming the gestures of Kathak dance into their corresponding musical language. She was famous for the impassioned "voice throw" (pukar), which sounded like a cry from an anguished heart. The style of thumri singing that she popularized is known as the purab. Although the thumri emanated from the Lucknow court of Wajid Ali Shah as a song accompanying dance, it later attained autonomous status as a musical form. The purab (east) style derived its name from its geographical location, since Benares is east of Lucknow. The main feature of the Benares thumri in which Siddheshvari Devi specialized is bol-banav, which means evoking subtle shades of mood through a combination of words and phrases. It also extensively exploited the musical potential of the dialects of eastern Uttar Pradesh, which gave it a unique appeal. Siddsheshvari Devi also sang chaiti, kajari, and tappa forms as well, which are a cross between the semi-classical and folk music. A recipient of many honors and awards, she left a few commercial recordings for posterity. The hypnotic quality of her voice and its eloquent expressiveness continue to enchant music lovers.

Amarendra Dhaneshwar


Banerjee, Projesh. Dance in Thumri. New Delhi: Abhinav, 1986.

Bose, Sunil. Indian Music: Essence and Emotions. New Delhi: Vikas, 1990.

Devi, Savita, and Vibha S. Chauhan. Maa Siddheshwaridevi. New Delhi: Roli Books, 2000.

Dhar, Sheila. Here's Someone I'd Like You to Meet: Tales of Innocents, Musicians, and Bureaucrats. Delhi: Oxford University Press, 1995.

Ranade, Ashok D. Keywords and Concepts: Hindustani Classical Music. New Delhi: Promilla, 1990.