Pandit Bhimsen Gururaj Joshi was one of the most celebrated Hindustani Classical Vocalists produced by this country. Hailing from Karnataka, he was well versed for his khayals, bhajans, abhangs and devotional songs.
He was conferred with the fellowship for Sangeet Natak Akademi, India’s Premier National Academy for Music, Dance and Drama in the year 1998. Followed by this, he was awarded the Bharat Ratna, India’s highest civilian honour in the year 2009.
Pandit Bhimsen Gururaj Joshi hailed from a Brahmin family in Ron, Karnataka. He was extremely keen to play instruments like harmonium and tanpura and was exposed to music at a very young age as he would follow musical processions with bands. As he would tire himself off by following these processions, he would innocently doze off wherever he could find room making his parents worried who would in turn contact the police to find him. Exasperated by this habit, his father would write ‘son of teacher Joshi’ on his shirts so that anyone who would find him would hand him over safely to his home.
He started his musical sojourn with Agasara Channappa of Kurtakoti, who previously taught the celebrated vocalist Inayat Khan. He also trained extensively under Channappa. Followed by this, he enrolled himself with Pandit Shyamacharya Joshi, a priest and proficient classical singer from Bagalkot who taught him the harmonium and trained him in vocals.
The turning point in Joshi’s musical career came when Pandit Shyamacharya Joshi was travelling to Bombay for the famous record label, HMV Records where Pandit Bhimsen tagged along. Due to his bad health he could only record a few songs and asked Pandit Bhimsen to sing the rest of the songs. This was one of the defining moments of Pandit Bhimsen’s career.
Joshi was impressed by one of the recordings of famous vocalist Abdul Karim Khan’s Thumri “Piya Bin Nahi Aavat Chain” in Raga Jhinjhoti when he was young, and that is exactly when he knew he would become a vocalist. He was also influenced by one of the performances of Pandit Sawai Gandharva at a rendition in Kundgol.
Joshi travelled to Bijapur at the age of 11 to look for a Guru for learning music and by securing money from his co passengers, he managed to reach Dharwad and then to Pune. After this, he enrolled himself to Madhava Music School in Gwalior, which was run by the aristocrats of Gwalior with the assistance of sarod maestro Hafiz Ali Khan. He travelled extensively to Delhi, Calcutta, Gwalior, Lucknow as a part of his quest for an ideal Guru after which his father finally managed to trace him in Punjab after which he took him back to Ron.
His search for a Guru ended when Pandit Sawai Gandharva agreed to be his mentor. He lived at his residence in Dharwad according to the Guru Shishya tradition and commenced with his training.
He continued to perform and launched his first album in 1942 after which he worked as a radio artist. He also performed at a concert to commemorate the 60th birth anniversary of his Guru Sawai Gandharva which was highly acclaimed.
Joshi’s Musical Prowess
Joshi’s power packed performances won him many accolades by music critics. From his spontaneous compositions, to his exceptional command over rhythm and notes along with the fast tans, sargams, tihaais only demonstrated his brilliance and genius. He would always surprise the audience using these elements and also incorporated boltaans in his renditions. He was extremely particular about his genre and was more of a puritan, refraining from experimentation unless occasional. Some of his most famous renditions include Shuddha Kalyan, Miyan Ki Todi, Puriya Dhanashri, Multani, Bhimpalasi, Darbari, and Ramkali. Joshi incorporated styles of various Gharanas into his music and was indeed a musical prodigy.
He also rendered devotional music in Hindi, Kannada and Marathi. He is most fondly remembered for his music video Mile Sur Mera Tumhara aimed at highlighting the motto of unity in diversity and the richness of Indian heritage.
He also ventured into playback singing for films like Basant Bahar (1956), Tansen (1958, Sandhya Raga (1966), Birbal My Brother (1973), Ankahee (1985), to name a few.
For paying respects to his deceased Guru Sawai Gandharva, he organized the Sawai Gandharva Music Festival in Pune which is still held every year in December which invites devotees of Hindustani Classical Music from all over the world.
Written By: Aishwarya Sharma