Naina Devi (singer)

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Naina Devi (singer)
Birth name Nilina Sen
Born (1917-09-27)27 September 1917
Kolkata, British India
Died 1 November 1993(1993-11-01) (aged 76)
Genres Hindustani classical music
Occupation(s) vocalist, music producer, artistic director
Years active 1950–1993

Naina Devi (27 September 1917 – 1 November 1993) also known as Naina Ripjit Singh, was Indian vocalist of Hindustani classical music, most known for her thumri renditions, though she also sang dadra and ghazals. She was a music producer at All India Radio and later with Doordarshan. She started her musical training under Girja Shankar Chakravarty in her teens, later restarted it with Mushtaq Hussain Khan Rampur-Sahaswan gharana and Rasoolan Bai of Benaras gharana in the 1950s. Born in an aristocratic family in Kolkata, she was married into the royal family of Kapurthala State at age 16, and was started singing in concerts only after her husband died in 1949, and she moved to Delhi.

In 1974, she was awarded the Padma Shri, the fourth highest civilian honour given by Government of India.[1]

Early life and training[edit]

Born Nilina Sen, in an aristocratic Bengali family in Kolkata, where her grandfather was Keshub Chandra Sen, nationalist leader and social reformer from the Brahmo Samaj movement. One of five siblings: (Sunit, Binita, Sadhona, Nilina and Pradip), Nilina received a liberal upbringing from their parents Saral Chandra Sen, a barrister and Nirmala (Nellie). She first got interested in music, when her uncle, Panchu took young Nilina to a concert of Angurbala, at a local theatre. Thereafter, she went to listen to Agurbala at her home in Masjid Bari Street. Eventually she trained for nine years under Girija Shankar Chakravarty (1885–1948), noted vocalist and teacher, known for revitalising the khayal tradition in Bengal.[2]

In 1934, at the age of 16, she married Ripjit Singh (b. 1906), third son of Raja Charanjit Singh of princely Kapurthala State. After her marriage she moved to Kapurthala in Punjab and wasn't allowed to sing. Though her husband died in 1949, when she was 32 years of age.[3]


After the death of husband in 1949, she moved to Delhi, where she spent the rest of her life. Here she came in touch with Sumitra Charat Ram, an arts patron and wife of Lala Charat Ram of DCM Shriram Group, who then ran Jhankar Committee, a small performing arts organisation in Delhi, which paved way for the establishment of Shriram Bharatiya Kala Kendra in 1952, with Devi as its artistic director.[4] In the following years, she also remained a music producer of All India Radio, Delhi, and producer with state-run Doordarshan TV channel.[2][5] Meanwhile, after arriving in Delhi, she started her musical training once again, first under Ustad Mushtaq Hussain Khan (d. 1964), the doyen of Rampur-Sahaswan gharana, who was then teacher at the Bhartiya Kala Kendra, and later under Rasoolan Bai of Benaras gharana, where she learned the purab ang style of Thumri, and started performing although under the name, Naina Devi.[2][6]

In her Thumri singing, she stressed on the need to study Nayika Bheda (Ashta Nayika), the eight different kind of heroines classified in the Natya Shastra, to render thumri effectively.[7] Though she also sang in other genres like qawwali and ghazal.[8]

Later in life, she got interested in the traditional form of kirtan, she went to Vrindavan and learnt it and subsequently trained three of her senior disciples in the form.[9]

She also taught notable disciples like Shubha Mudgal, Madhumita Ray and Vidya Rao.[10] In 2011, one of her disciples, Vidya Rao wrote a memoir about her titled, Heart to Heart: Remembering Naina Devi.[11]

Personal life[edit]

She has four children, two sons, Ratanjit Singh (b.1940), Karanjit Singh (b. 1945), and two daughters Nilika Kaur (b. 1935) and Rena Kaur (b. 1938), who founded the Naina Devi Foundation in 1994.[12] Her elder sister, Sadhana Bose (1914–1973) was a noted dancer and film actress of the 1930s and 40s.[13] Her other sister Rani Binita Roy was married into the royal family of Chakma. Naina Devi's two paternal aunts were dowager Maharanis of two well known princely states of India. Suniti Devi, Maharani of Cooch Behar, queen consort of Nripendra Narayan Bhup Bahadur, Maharaja of Cooch Behar. Maharani Suniti Devi's son Jitendra Narayan Bhup Bahadur, Maharaja of Cooch Behar married princess Indira Raje Gaekwad of Braoda, only daughter of Sayajirao Gaekwad, Maharaja of Baroda. Jitendra Narayan and Indira Devi's second daughter Gayatri Devi, Maharani of Jaipur was the most well known Indian royal face in her lifetime. The other aunt of Naina Devi was Suchrau Devi, Maharani of Mayurbhanj, queen consort of Ram Chandra Bhanj Deo, Maharaja of Mayurbhanj.[14]

Published works[edit]

  • Mushtaq Hussain Khan (Biography), by Naina Ripjit Singh. Sangeet Natak Akademi, 1964.
  • Thumri, Its Development and Gayeki, Journal, Volume 6, Issue 1. ITC Sangeet Research Academy.1985. pp. 13–17.


  1. ^ "Padma Awards Directory (1954–2009)" (PDF). Ministry of Home Affairs. Archived from the original (PDF) on 10 May 2013. Nina Ripjit Singh, Naina Devi 
  2. ^ a b c "A Tale of Two Women: In search of their own songs". The Telegraph. 11 March 2012. Retrieved 6 June 2013. 
  3. ^ Subhra Mazumdar (25 September 2010). "Naina Devi and the nautch girl". The Times of India, Crest Edition. Archived from the original on 24 October 2013. Retrieved 6 June 2013. 
  4. ^ Ashish Khokar (1 January 1998). Shriram Bharatiya Kala Kendra: a history : Sumitra Charat Ram reminisces. Lustre Press. p. 52. ISBN 978-81-7436-043-4. Retrieved 11 June 2013. 
  5. ^ "Strains of a Bias". Indian Express. 1 October 2000. Retrieved 10 June 2013. 
  6. ^ Mukherji, p. 134
  7. ^ Manuel, p. 10
  8. ^ Shubha Mudgal (19 October 2009). "Shubha: Every child wants to be chota ustad". Times of India. Retrieved 10 June 2013. 
  9. ^ "In service of the arts". The Hindu. 27 January 2011. Retrieved 10 June 2013. 
  10. ^ "Simply herself". The Hindu. 14 July 2006. Retrieved 10 June 2013. 
  11. ^ Chitra Padmanabhan (17 December 2011). "Intimate universe". Frontline. Retrieved 6 June 2013. 
  12. ^ "Kapurthala Genealogy". Retrieved 6 June 2013. 
  13. ^ Sadhana Bose on IMDb
  14. ^ "Flaneuring around Calcutta". The Daily Star. 3 January 2009. Retrieved 10 June 2013.