On February 10, 2009 Pt. Bhimsen Joshi, the renowned Hindustani classical vocalist, was awarded with Bharat Ratna at his home. Thus 87-year-old maestro became the sixth person from the field of arts to receive this award. Before him the famous filmmaker Satyajeet Roy, classical vocalist S.Subbulakshmi, sitar virtuoso Pandit Ravi Shankar, playback singer Lata Mangeshkar and sehnai maestro Ustad Bismillah Khan have been conferred with nation’s highest civilian award.
Though he is acknowledged as the leading light of the Kirana Gharana which was established by Ustad Abdul Karim Khan and Ustad Abdul Wahid Khan, yet Pandit Bhimsen Joshi through intelligent incorporation of the various elements of all the Gharanas(schools) of Hindustani classical music, succeeded in creating a unique style of singing(gayaki) of his own. To this style, which is appropriately called the Bhimseni Gayaki, later he added an introspective and meditative quality. “…I believe that he is the last man of this century, as a musician, to sing his art and I don’t see any replacement for may be hundreds of years”, once remarked Ustad Ali Akbar Khan, the great sarod maestro, about Panditji.
A recipient of several awards including Padma Vibhushan, Padma Bhushan and Padma Shree Bhimsen Joshi is particularly renowned for Khayal ( a highly evolved form of classical music). But his creativity encompasses all forms of Hindustani music from Ragadari to Bhajans, Abhangs to Natya Sangeet. He enthralled music lovers all over the country as well as abroad with his unmatched excellence in gamak, meend, tankari and layakari. His rendition of ‘Mile Sur Mera Tumhara’ along with other doyens of music like Dr. Balmurli Krishna and swar-samragyi Lata Mangeshkar has been broadcast innumerable times on the National Channel of Doordarshan.
HIS PASSION FOR MUSIC:
Born at Gadag in Dharwad district of Karnataka on 4 February, 1922, Pt. Bhimsen Joshi was deeply moved at the age of 10 by a recording of Ustad Abdul Karim Khan, which he played at least a thousand times. This gramophone record contained a composition -“Mandar Bajo” in Raga Shuddh Kalyan. Music became a magnet for him and the centre of his being. And this passion for music motivated him to run away from home at a tender age of 11 in search of a guru. For next three years he wandered in Jullundhar, Kharagpur, Lucknow, Gawalior and Kolkata. Meanwhile he was tracked down by his father and brought back home. Finally his search ended fruitfully when he found his mentor in Pandit Rambhau Kundgolkar in his home state. Pt. Kundgolkar, popularly known as Sawai Gandharva, was the star disciple of Ustad Abdul Karim Khan.
For next five years from 1936 to1940 Bhimsen Joshi went through intensive training of Khayal Gayaki under the tutelage of his guru. For a few years after leaving his guru he only listened to a lot of music of different kinds. “This is an education in itself, as important as practicing music” he mentioned. He first performed live at the age of 19 and his debut album was released when he was 20. Since then his music continued to shine and he became one of the most sought after artiste of the country. He travelled extensively to perform in different parts of country.
THE VERSATILE GENIUS:
A life time daredevil and risk-taker Panditji amused music lovers not only with his majestic rendering of Ragas like Darbari Kanhara, Puriya Dhanashree, Miyan Ki Malhar, Shuddh Kalyan and Gaud Sarang, but also with lilting thumris and devotional songs. Though the rendition of “Babul Mora Naihar Chhooto Hi Jaye” by the famous playback singer Kundan Lal Sehgal in the Hindi movie Street Singer is unforgettable, Panditji sang this thumri in Bhairavi so marvellously that any lover of Hindustani music will be deeply moved by it. The bhajan “Jo Bhaje Hari ko Sada” which he composed in Bhairavi is an all time favourite of music lovers. Similarly the kirtan “Jai Jai Ram Krishna Hare “which he sang during Radha Krishna Utsav at Hare Krishna Mandir, Mumbai aptly proves his versatility. His contribution to Natya Sangeet is remarkable. In fact along with doyens like Pandit Mallikarjun Mansur and geniuses like Kumar Gandharva he created the golden era of Hindustani classical music. He has been greatly admired by his contemporary musicians. Bharat Bhavan, Bhopal organized a seminar “Bhimsen Joshi Prasang” on his art. People from different fields of arts including music, theatre, and literature participated in it. To pay homage to his guru Panditji along with his guru-disciple Gangubai Hangal started Sawai Gandharva Music Festival which is held every December in Pune and is one of the most prominent festivals of classical music in India.
THE MOST SUCCESSFUL ARTISTE:
Probably Bhimsen Joshi is the most successful performing vocalist in the post independence era. He has remained the first choice not only of the prominent music festivals of the country but also of the leading music companies. His commercial success is unmatched in his field. To commemorate his 75th anniversary Music Today published six albums of his live recordings. His rendition of the bandishes “Aaj so bana” and “Bahut din beete re” in Raga Pooriya Kalyan is an example of his majestic art. Later MagnaSound came out with the most significant release of his live recordings. This series of 12 albums, aptly named Siddhi, consists of his masterpieces including Miyan-ki-Todi, Ramkali, Gaud Sarang, Bhimpalasi, Puriya Dhanashree, Yaman, Shuddh Kalyan, Kedar, Durga, Shankara, Darbari Kanhara and Miyan Malhar. Whereas Sony published a series of albums under the title “Swaradhiraj”, Times Music released many live and studio recordings of Panditji to celebrate his 80th anniversary in 2002.
Pandit Bhimsen Joshi has been the torch bearer of Hindustani classical music for over six decades. He has been away from concerts for last few years due to frail health. He has trained many disciples who will lead his tradition. His son Shriniwas Joshi is also a promising vocalist. The author pays his humble regards to this Musician of the Millennium.