27 December 2023 /


“My first sorrow was when as a child I lost my nana and my second encounter with death was when I lost my beloved guru. I was with her only towards the end of her life but within that period she gave me so much. I remember her as though it were yesterday. She had a larger than life, unforgettable personality,” says renowned musician Rekha Surya on her beloved guruji, eminent musician of Ghazal, Dadra and Thumri,  Begum Akhtar who was awarded Padma Shri and later awarded  Padma Bhushan posthumously by Government of India. 

“A year or so after her death, Girija Devi ji came to perform in Lucknow. She stayed in the home of a family friend where she gave a house concert the day after her public performance. The host introduced us, saying that my Taaleem under Begum Akhtar had been cut short. Girija Devi ji asked me to come over the next day. She heard me sing and after a week took me back with her to Benares. I have combined both Lucknow and Benares styles of singing and have added the mystical dimension of Sufi poetry which I present in the Thumri, Dadra Ghazal style,” she shares her artistic journey.


Renowned musician Rekha Surya is a recipient of prestigious Karamvir Puraskar 2012 for singing Sufi poetry in Thumri-Dadra-Ghazal and keeping alive traditional Ghazal-Gayaki. She is an A Grade Artist with All India Radio and is empanelled in the artist category with ICCR.

“Straying from tradition, I present poems of Kabir and Tulsi of Hathras written in the literary form of Ghazal as ghazal-s, not bhajan-s. Kabir’s poetry was compiled in the Bijak about a century after his death by his disciples, some of whom propagated his thoughts in chosen forms like Ghazal. Mirabai’s poetry is also represented by her disciples from different regions, as the dialect varies in her poems. Keeping intact the philosophical content, I substitute archaic words with modern ones for easier comprehension, although I have to then alter the poem’s meter,” says the renowned musician Rekha Surya.

“As societal changes permeate art, locals can become global, making fusion music popular. Even so, tall walls have arisen between classical, light classical and mainstream music in an age of specialization. Khayal audiences are attuned to the slow pace used by Thumri but Ghazal audiences are not. So I sing Dadra, Kajri, Jhoola and Hori for a longer duration than the norm, instead of Vilambit Thumri as Ghazal audiences accept the classicism of Bol-banana when the rhythm is sprightly,” she added.

Eminent musician Rekha Surya has performed all over India and abroad including at Smithsonian Institution Washington DC, Metropolitan Museum of Art New York, Cornell University, Yale University, MIT with International Hindi Association Boston, Columbia University, Harvard University, University of Toronto, Nehru Centre London, Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan London.  She represented India at the Asian Music Festival Sri Lanka in 1999 and at the International Falak Festival Tajikistan in 2006.

She has been featured twice by BBC London and now lives in New Delhi.

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