Annapurna Devi

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Annapurna Devi
Roshanara Khan

Died13 October 2018(2018-10-13) (aged 90–91)

Annapurna Devi (17 April 1927 – 13 October 2018) was an Indian surbahar player of Hindustani classical music. She was given the name 'Annapurna' by Maharaja Brijnath Singh of the former Maihar Estate (M.P.), and it was by this name that she was popularly known. She was the daughter and disciple of Allauddin Khan, and the sister of Ustad Ali Akbar Khan. Pandit Ravi Shankar was her first husband, with whom she had a son, Shubhendra Shankar, who was an artist and a sitaritst.

She was an extremely private person and was never interested in being a professional musician like the rest of her family. However, she was active throughout her life as a teacher to many other prominent musicians like Nikhil Banerjee, Hariprasad Chaurasia, and Nityanand Haldipur.[1] She was the only known female maestro of the Surbahar in the 20th century.


Annapurna Devi was born on 17 April 1927 at Maihar, a princely state in Madhya Pradesh, India.[2][3][4][a] Her father, Ustad Alauddin Khan, was the royal court musician at the court of Maharaja Brijnath Singh of Maihar State. Since on the day of her birth, he was away, it was the Maharaja who named her 'Annapurna'.[7] Since she was born Muslim, her Islamic name was Roshanara Khan. However, she was always addressed to as Annapurna at home, and this name was legally formalised when she converted to Hinduism on the day of her marriage to Ravi Shankar.

Her father, Alauddin Khan was one of the disciples of Ustad Mohammad Wazir Khan, the last descendant of the Mian Tansen, and was therefore a musician of the Rampur Senia gharana. He went on to found of the Senia-Maihar gharana, which was a branch of the Rampur Senia gharana of Wazir Khan but with its own uniqueness as a result of the more eclectic erudition that Alauddin Khan himself had acquired in his life through many other gurus, his adherence to the Dhrupad style of playing, and his opennes and versatiliity of baaj or playing style. Her uncles, Fakir Aftabuddin Khan and Ayet Ali Khan, were also musicians in Shibpur, Bangladesh. Her brother, Ustad Ali Akbar Khan, was a Sarod maestro and was considered by many as a 'national treasure' in India.[8]

When she was young, her father discovered that she was pitch-perfect and had a knack for remembering notations although she was untrained. This led to him initiating her into Hindustani Classical music in vocal training. A case of tonsilities and surgery led him to shift her to an instrument, the sitar.[9] Initially, she was trained as a sitarist. However, her father felt that the more complex beenkari style of music of Wazir Khan, which he had learnt on the Sursringar, could be handed down to her as legacy as she was more interested in being his erudite student than a performer. Therefore, he had her switch to the surbahar, which she played in the Wazirkhani beenkari style. This decision would lead to the handing down of the tantrakari or playing-style in an uncompromised form.

Annapurna Devi became a very accomplished musician within a few years of training. After her father's demise, she would become the lodestar of her gharana, guiding many of her father's disciples, including Nikhil Banerjee, Bahadur Khan, Ashish Khan, etc. in classical music as well as in the techniques and intricacies of instrumental performances.

On 15 May 1941, Annapurna Devi converted to Hinduism and married fellow pupil, Ravi Shankar, at the behest of Shankar's eldest brother Uday Shankar. Ravi Shankar would go on to become a world famous musician on his own right.[2][10] They had a son, Shubhendra Shankar (1942–1992), who was a graphic artist and also a musician.[11][10] They were informally separated from the '60s, when Ravi Shankar left India for the United States with his then-paramour Kamala Chakravarty. The couple got divorced in 1982.[2]

Annapurna Devi married Rooshikumar Pandya in Bombay on 9 December 1982.[10] Rooshikumar Pandya, who was 42 years old at the time of their marriage, was a communication expert and psychology professor in Canada and the USA. Prof. Pandya was also an amateur sitarist and had been learning sitar from Devi since 1973 at the recommendation of her brother, Ali Akbar Khan, who was also his guru (as was Ravi Shankar). He died suddenly of a cardiac arrest in April 2013 at the age of 73.[12][13] Annapurna Devi died of age-related issues on 13 October 2018 in Mumbai, aged 91.[14] In her last years, she was looked after by her students, primarily Pandit Nityanand Haldipur.


One of her earliest concerts with the surbahar was when she played in honour of the Raja of Maihar. She was rewarded with a large tract of land for her performance.[3]

From 1946 to 1957, Ravi Shankar and Annapurna Devi performed duets in Delhi, Mumbai and Calcutta. Her student Vinay Bharat Ram had once reported that she was uncomfortable accepting payment for concerts, as it was her belief that it was akin to selling the Goddess Saraswati.[1]

While teaching at her brother's college when it was in Calcutta, she would occasionally give performances, though with strict instructions that she should not be recorded. After she moved to Mumbai permanently, she taught for a while at The National Centre for the Performing Arts (NCPA), Mumbai.

For the rest of her life, she was a much-sought after guru for students and aficionados of Hindustani Classical music, though she only accepted a handful of them. Per her father's instructions, she never took any fee whatsoever for her tutorship. Her pupils were not restricted solely a single instrument.[b] They included:

Instruments Students
Sitar Nikhil Banerjee
Bahadur Khan
Hiren Roy
Kartik Kumar
Indranil Bhattacharya
Debi Prasad Chatterji
Sudhir S Phadke
Sandhya Phadke-Apte
Sarod Ashish Khan
Dhyanesh Khan
Basant Kabra
Pradeep Barot
Suresh Vyas
Flute Hariprasad Chaurasia
Nityandand Haldipur
Dilruba Dakshina Mohan Tagore
Violin Satyadev Pawar
Surbahar Niloufer Khan
Vocal Vinay Bharat Ram

She was also the key figure of Acharya Alauddin Music Circle in Mumbai.[9]


  1. ^ There appears to be considerable confusion on her exact date of birth. In her authorised biography, the author notes that the circumstantial references point to Annapurna being born on the "Chaitra purnima day of the Bengali year of 1334 (1927)". But he finds no reliable accounts or documented evidence in support of this and chooses not to speculate.[4] Newspaper articles cited here choose to only mention her birth year. One source notes that she was born on 23 April 1927 but provides no basis for this.[5] According to the traditional Hindu calendar, Chaitra Purnima in 1927 fell on Sunday, 16 April 1927.[6]
  2. ^ Many of her students were also students of her brother Ali Akbar Khan and/or Ravi Shankar.



  1. ^ a b Ram, Vinay Bharat (24 October 2018). "A transcendental music - what I learnt from Annapurna Devi". The Indian Express. Retrieved 24 October 2018.
  2. ^ a b c Massey, Reginald (22 October 2018). "Annapurna Devi obituary". The Guardian.
  3. ^ a b OEMI.
  4. ^ a b Bondyopadhyay 2005, p. 22.
  5. ^ Lavezzoli 2006, p. 52.
  6. ^ "1927 Chaitra Purnima, Chaitra Pournami date for Ujjain, Madhya Pradesh, India". Retrieved 13 October 2018.
  7. ^ Shuansu Khurana (16 May 2010). "Notes from behind a locked door". The Indian Express.
  8. ^ Ali Akbar Khan. KQED Spark. Retrieved 1 May 2023 – via YouTube.
  9. ^ a b Atul, Merchant (2022). Annapurna Devi: the untold story of a reclusive genius. Ebury PR. ISBN 978-0-670-09533-9. OCLC 1290016003.
  10. ^ a b c Bondyopadhyay 2005, Cast.
  11. ^ Lindgren 1992.
  12. ^ "Every Note Annapurna Devi Plays Is Like An Offering: Rooshikumar Pandya | Kolkata News". The Times of India. 7 September 2014.
  13. ^ "Death of a Caregiver". The Indian Express.
  14. ^ "Hindustani Classical Musician Annapurna Devi Passes Away at 91 - HeadLines Today". Retrieved 13 October 2018.[permanent dead link]
  15. ^ "Padma Awards" (PDF). Ministry of Home Affairs, Government of India. 2015. Archived from the original (PDF) on 15 October 2015. Retrieved 21 July 2015.
  16. ^ a b c Dalal 2017.


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