The life of Annapurna Devi (A Quick Rewind)

by Team ACF
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At 91, Annapurna Devi, daughter of Maihar gharana founder Ustad Allauddin Khan and Pandit Ravi Shankar’s first wife, passed away. Had the news about her death not surfaced, she would have been forgotten in the silent recesses of the mind. She was a recluse, after all. All the written accounts documenting her life have reiterated that she chose to be in the shadows of her husband than being in the forefront. In fact, post her divorce, she completely went underground. Here is a quick chronicling the life of the legend.

  1. Annapurna Devi was born in 1926 at Maihar, a small princely state of British India, (now a part of Madhya Pradesh), where her revered father Ustad Alauddin Khan was a royal court musician at that time.
  2. Allauddin Khan had no intention of training Annapurna had he not observed her keen interest in music. He felt her love for music was genuine and pure. Thus, he first gave her classes in vocal Dhrupad training, followed by sitar. Her shift to a more difficult instrument — surbahar — came much later. That too because her father wanted to pass on his guru’s knowledge to someone who wasn’t greedy of ‘fame’, but genuinely loved music.
  3. She made her debut at a private audience before the Maharajah of Maihar Written accounts suggest that tears of joy trickled out of the Maharaja’s eyes. He had once remarked that he was more or less hypnotised by her performance, which was indescribable.
  4. Annapurna got married to Ravi Shankar at the age of 14. He had come to learn at Maihar and had no intention of marrying his guru’s daughter. However, somehow things were meant to be and on May 15, 1941, Annapurna was converted to Hinduism and the two were married. The marriage lasted some twenty years.
  5. After she withdrew from public life the only person who watched her play was the Beatle George Harrison. The story goes that during his visit to India in the 1970s, he requested the then Prime Minister Indira Gandhi if she could get Annapurna Devi to play for him? After much persuasion, she agreed. Though, she continued teaching.
  6. Her second marriage was to Rooshi Kumar Pandya, her brother’s student and later hers. Pandya passed away in 2013, only months after Shankar’s demise.
  7. Her disciplines, who later on earned a name for themselves, are her nephew Sarode maestro Ustad Aashish Khan; renowned flautists Hariprasad Chaurasia and Nityanand Haldipur; Sitarists Chandrakant Sardeshmukh, Sudhir Phadke, and Rooshikumar Pandya; and Sarodists Pradeep Barot, and Basant Kabra.

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