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‘My first encounter with songstress Bhanwari Devi was as magical as her voice’

Bhanwari Devi, who shot to stardom with her song Thane Kathe at MTV Coke Studio, was first discovered by Jaipur Virasat Foundation in 2003. Karan Bhardwaj recounts some lesser-known facets of the singing legend from the dunes 

Bhanwari Devi

Bhanwari Devi with Karan Bhardwaj

As my colleagues share mesmerising moments from the ongoing Taalbelia festival in Rajasthan, I am reminded of my first encounter with my favourite songstress from the dunes ~ Bhanwari Devi. It was, I guess, some 3-4 years ago when I was introduced to her vocals at Jodhpur RIFF. I was at the lounge area, enjoying some drink when the entire Mehrangarh Fort began to reverberate with her strong voice. I immediately rushed to the performing venue in my quest to discover this talent. There I saw a woman in veil, sitting on stage peacefully, and presenting a fusion with some Western band. She was singing her famed Thane Kathe, a devotional song that fetched Bhanwari a celebrity status after performing the same on MTV Coke Studio along with Rram Sampath and rapper Hard Kaur. I have had heard a lot of famous and talented singers live but Bhanwari Devi turned out to be an exception, a revelation. Her throw in front of the mike is unmatched.

DON’T MISS: aalbelia: Manganiyars, Soulmate ruled the roost on Day 1

Thanks to my job, I got the golden chance to interview the artist after her performance. Over the years, I have got multiple opportunities at Rajasthan’s various music and cultural fests to meet her and discover many facets of her life. However, it has been quite disappointing that she couldn’t prepare her next generation of women in her family. During my on/off the record conversations with her and her family, I figured that it was perhaps because of her sons who are quite patriarchal in their thoughts. Bhanwari has got six sons and three daughters. While her sons run the troupe, her daughters have been married off. “Their in-laws are not encouraging. So I don’t force anybody to take this legacy forward,” she lamented when I poked her once. It is quite ironical that Bhanwari herself was trained by her vocalist-father, Dana Khan. She used to accompany him on his tours and local performances. However, she was discovered by Jaipur Virasat Foundation in 2003. John Singh, the deceased founder of JVF, and his confidante Vinod Joshi, who I hail as my elder brother now, spotted Bhanwari at a remote site. “In 2003, we had organised a mini-festival in Shimla, some 300 kms away from Jaipur. I still remember we had goosebumps when Bhanwari Devi came on stage. A lot of people in the audience were in tears. She didn’t show her face but we knew we had got a gem in her voice,” Vinod bhai told me, sitting in one deserted corner of the majestic Mehrangarh Fort. I was told Bhanwari had already collaborated with the likes of Rekha Bhardwaj and Sona Mohapatra. In fact, Rekha Bhardwaj even took her to many of her performances.

Bhanwari Devi is a spark of inspiration which will ignite many more talents in her journey. More power to the veil. For now, enjoy her video below:

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