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Modi Government Democratized Padma Awards: Urmila Srivastava

Renowned as one of Mirzapur’s most celebrated singers, Urmila Srivastava has garnered notable recognition for her proficiency in Kajris, a unique singing style associated with the monsoon season. Beyond this distinctive genre, her musical repertoire highlights the vast range of her artistic talents. Urmila not only releases her own cassettes but also she frequently gets invitation to perform at various events, both formal and informal, predominantly in urban settings. What sets her singing style apart is its gentle and subtle nature, characterized by minimal body movements yet rich in expressions.

Available at the Indian Shopping Festival in Dubai, numerous audio cassettes featuring Urmila Srivastava’s programs can be available across 16 venues in the vibrant Dubai market. Despite facing challenges, she and her group remain dedicated to honing their craft, aspiring not only to persist in their artistic endeavors but also to contribute by writing more books. Their goal is to educate future generations about the rich traditions of folk and classical music, envisioning a future where succeeding through their beloved art becomes a reality.

As Mirzapur prepared to celebrate the 75th Republic Day, a list of awardees, including recipients of the prestigious Padma Shri, was unveiled. Notably, Urmila Srivastava, the esteemed folk singer from Mirzapur, was among those honored. Her recognition stems from commendable efforts in preserving the cultural heritage and folk art of the region. On January 25, 2024, Urmila Srivastava was bestowed with the Padma Shri award. This momentous occasion not only brought joy to her supporters but also highlighted the significance of acknowledging artists who disseminate the charm of Indian folk art, both nationally and internationally. Urmila, attributing the honor to the grace of Mother Vindhya Vasini, expressed her gratitude, considering it a prestigious representation for the Vindhya region.

During an engaging conversation with Sudhanshu Srivastava, a Senior Journalist representing The Interview Word, Padma Shri Urmila Srivastava, the distinguished Kajri singer, shares insights into her remarkable journey as a folk artist. Let’s delve into the key highlights gleaned from her enlightening interview.

Q: What emotions and thoughts crossed your mind upon learning that your name had been included in the Padma Shri list?

A: Receiving the Padma Shri for my 55-year-long singing journey was truly unbelievable. Throughout this extensive period, I’ve had the privilege of performing on numerous national and international platforms. Additionally, I’ve dedicated over four decades to showcasing my talent on All India Radio and Doordarshan. While I have been honored with various awards over the years, the Padma Shri recognition left me profoundly humbled. Words fail to capture the depth of joy I experienced on receiving this prestigious accolade. Moreover, this award is a recognition of Mirzapur Kajris.

Q: To whom do you attribute credit for receiving this award?

A: I would like to acknowledge the efforts of our esteemed Prime Minister, Narendra Modi, and his government. Allow me to clarify my stance. For more than five decades, I have dedicated myself to singing Kajris. Despite the changing political landscape over the years, none have shown the level of appreciation for folk art as Modi ji has. Notably, he stands out as the first Prime Minister in independent India to democratize the Padma awards. Therefore, he deserves all the credit for this significant recognition of our cultural heritage.

Q: Can you provide a detailed exploration of the intricacies inherent in Kajris, offering insights into their cultural significance, historical evolution, and distinctive features for the benefit of our readers?

A: Kajris, among the most cherished forms of folk music, are frequently performed by classical and semi-classical musicians. The term “Kajri” is thought to have originated from “Kajal,” signifying eyeliner or black. In a country where scorching summers prevail, the advent of black monsoon clouds brings not only relief but also immense joy, prompting a spontaneous urge to sing aloud. It is precisely at this juncture that the enchanting melodies of Kajri find their moment to resonate.

While Kajri is embraced across a vast region, Mirzapur is acknowledged as its true cradle. According to a Mirzapur folk tale, a woman named Kajli, separated from her husband in a distant land, found solace during the monsoon by lamenting at the feet of the Kajmal Goddess. These heartfelt cries transformed into the melodious strains of the now-popular Kajri songs. Uttar Pradesh also boasts two distinct forms of Kajri singing – one performed on a formal stage and the other, known as ‘Dhunmuniya Kajri,’ is an informal gathering where women sing and dance in a semi-circle on monsoon evenings.

Q: What pivotal experiences or moments in your life have shaped your journey and ultimately led you to pursue a career in folk song?

A: My journey has been marked by significant challenges. At the tender age of fifteen, the comforting presence of my parents vanished from my life. My father, a modest bank employee, left behind a void that demanded my immediate attention. With their sudden demise, the daunting responsibility of caring for my three younger brothers fell squarely on my shoulders.

In 1972, a turning point emerged when I secured a teaching position at Arya Kanya Inter College. This opportunity not only provided a source of income but also instilled a newfound confidence in my abilities. Concurrently, I delved into the world of folk music, committing its melodies to heart.

With determination and grit, I sustained our family by cultivating the land and managing the resources generated from the fields. This period of my life was transformative, shaping my resilience and fortitude in the face of adversity.

Q: What countries have been part of your performance tour, and what was the audience reception like in each location?

A: Harnessing my strength and unwavering motivation to preserve the folk songs genre, I have captivated audiences across the globe. From the vibrant city of Dubai to the serene landscapes of Bhutan, the enchanting shores of Mauritius, and the bustling streets of Singapore, I have shared the magic of my songs in various provinces of our diverse country.

I’ve left an indelible mark in significant cultural events, including Apna Utsav in Mumbai, Bhojpuri Sammelan in Kolkata, Teej Festival in Chandigarh, North Indian Lokotsav in Mumbai, the 25th Birth Anniversary celebration in Haryana, Kumbh Mela in Haridwar, Gwalior Fair, Ramayana Fair, Lokranjan Fair in Jodhpur, Alap Festival in Hyderabad, and Bhopal Utsav Mela. These arenas became the stages where I successfully won the hearts of the audience with my soulful singing.

In the memorable year of 1992, at the All India Bhojpuri Sammelan, I was honored with hundreds of letters of appreciation. Notable recognitions include the prestigious ‘Kajri Sammani’ in Delhi, Bhikhari Thakur Samman at the World Bhojpuri Sammelan in Mumbai, Bhojpuri Council Kolkata in West Bengal, and the ‘Kokil’ and Mahendra Mishra Puradiya Samman in 2009 on the enchanting soil of Mauritius.

My journey to fame and recognition as a Kajri singer has been paved by my renditions of Devi songs, Dadra, Kaharwa, Purvi, Chaiti, Holi, Jhumar, Khemta, Banni-Banna, Sohar, Lachari, and Videsiya.

Q: What distinguished artists have you had the privilege of sharing a stage with?

A: I have had the privilege of collaborating on multiple programs with renowned artists, including Padma Bhushan Girija Devi, Padma Bhushan Pt. Kishan Maharaj, Padma Bhushan Uma Sharma, Padma Bhushan Pt. Rajan Sajan Mishra, Padam Shri Teejan Bai, Daler Mehndi, Anu Malik, and several others. Their generosity knows no bounds, as they have graciously included me in their various performances.

Padma Shri Urmila Srivastava and her team performing on a stage
Padma Shri Urmila Srivastava and her team performing on a stage
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