Rasoolan Bai

Rasoolan Bai

Rasoolan Bai was born in a poor family in Kachhwa Baazar, Mirzapur, Uttar Pradesh, in 1902. She inherited her mother Adalat’s musical legacy and demonstrated her grasp of classical Ragas at a young age. She was sent to learn music from Ustad Shammu Khan when she was five years old, and afterwards from sarangiyas (sarangi players) Ashiq Khan and Ustad Najju Khan.

Rasoolanbai mastered Tappa, Purab Ang, and Thumri, as well as dadra, poorbi geet, hori, kajri, and chaiti. Her first performance was at Dhananjaygarh court, and after its success, she began receiving invitations from local Rajas of the time. As a result, she dominated the Hindustani classical music genre for the next five decades, based in Varanasi, and became the doyenne of the Benaras gharana. She quit performing mujra in 1948 and moved out of her kotha, settling in a Varanasi (Banaras) bylane and marrying a local Banarasi sari trader.

Features, Awards and Accolades

She was a contemporary of Siddheswari Devi from the same gharana, and in addition to concerts and mehfils, she frequently sang on All India Radio and Doordarshan stations in Lucknow and Allahabad until 1972, and her last public singing was in Kashmir.

Sangeet Natak Akademi, India’s National Academy of Music, Dance, and Theatre, honoured her with the Sangeet Natak Akademi Award in Hindustani Music Vocal in 1957. Despite a successful musical career, she died penniless, running a modest tea shop next to the radio station where she had frequently broadcast. She has also mentored Nainna Devi, a well-known classical singer.

During the city’s communal riots in 1969, her house was set on fire. She died on December 15, 1974, when she was 72 years old. Rasoolan Bai and the tawaif or courtesan tradition of female musicians were portrayed in Saba Dewan’s film The Other Song (2009), which also contained her most renowned song, Lagat karejwa ma chot, phool gendwa na maar, which was recorded in 1935 by Gramophone.

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