Gauhar Jan : early recordings in India

November 14,1902 : A very rudimentary and makeshift recording studio had been set up in two large rooms of a hotel in Calcutta by the Gramophone Company. Frederick William Gaisberg and his assistants had arrived just three weeks before from England on their first Far East recording expedition for the Gramophone Company, which had been founded in England in 1898. They had appointed a local agent for selecting and training artists for recording on gramophone discs. However, the agent selected Anglo-Indian artists and completely ignored local talent. Gaisberg then sought the help of the local Police Superintendent, visited several theaters, attended mehfils at wealthy Jamindars’ palaces, and thus found at least one promising artist to begin with. The artist was a very famous dancing girl, and her voice was very sweet, although not for European ears. She agreed to a recording session for the handsome fee of 3,000 rupees. Such an artist was necessary in order to build a firm business foundation on the Indian scene, especially when several other German, French and American recording companies were also planning to capture the Asian market in general and the Indian market in particular.

At around 9.00 a.m. a young lady entered the studio with all her paraphernalia, including accompanists and relatives. Loaded fully with very expensive ornaments and jewelry, this 30 year old, fair, medium-built lady went onto the stage prepared for the recordings. Sarangi, harmonium, and tabla players began to tune their instruments. Gaisberg personally checked the equipment. A thick wax master record was placed on the turntable rotating at 78 rpm. A huge recording horn was fitted on the wall behind her and close to her face, and she was asked to sing loudly into the horn. At the narrow end of the long horn a diaphragm fitted with a needle was connected to the recording machinery, with a needle placed on rotating disc for cutting the grooves. Gaisberg requested her to sing for three minutes and announce her name at the end of the recording. At the end of the trial recording she announced – ‘My name is Gauhar Jan‘. This announcement was necessary since the wax masters were sent to Hanover in Germany for pressing the records and the technicians would make proper labels and confirm the name by listening to these announcements at the end of the three minutes performance.

Although sound recording was invented by Thomas Alva Edison in 1877, it took 20 years for the technology to mature, and after 25 years, in 1902, the first ever recording of Indian classical music was engraved in the grooves of a gramophone record. The song can be played even today in 2007 on a shellac record and Gauhar Jan will sing it faithfully for the music lovers and listeners as long as the technology to play back that singing exists. Who was this Gauhar Jan – the first dancing girl of Calcutta ?

Born to Anglo-Indian parents, her name was Miss Angelina Yeoward. Her father, William Robert Yeoward, was an Armenian Jew working as an engineer in a factory producing dry ice at Azamgadh near Benares. He married a Jewish lady, Miss Victoria Hemming, around 1870, who was born and brought up in India and had learnt Indian dance and music. Angelina was born in 1873 and was baptized in the Methodist church in Azamgadh. This marriage did not last long due to Victoria’s love for dance and music and her relations with a Muslim friend named Khurshed. So after the divorce, she moved to Benares with Angelina and Khurshed, adopted Islam as her religion, and daughter and mother chose new names, Gauhar and Malka respectively. In those days, Benares was not only a sacred place, but also a seat of learning, a centre for all the performing arts, including dance, drama and music. She spent eight years learning the art to perfection and emerged as a well-trained Baiji, as she had decided to take up the profession of entertainer through dance and music. She became popular as Badi Malka Jan, badi (elder) because at that time three other Malka Jans were famous (viz. Malka Jan of Agra, Malka Jan of Mulk Pukhraj and Malka Jan of Chulbuli) and she was the eldest among them.

Around 1883, the trio moved to Calcutta, a place of great patronage for music and the other arts. In those days, both Hindu and Muslims Baijis from Benares, Agra and Lucknow used to settle in the Bow Bazaar area. The place was famous for courtesans or Kothewalis who would entertain wealthy Jamindars and Babus with their art. Some Ustads would train this community after a proper gandabandhan. Nawab Wajid Ali Shah had settled at Matiaburj near Calcutta in his last days and his court was full of musicians and artists. In such an atmosphere Badi Malka Jan soon established herself, and within three years she purchased a building at 24 Chitpore Road for Rs. 40,000. Little Gauhar, too, was fond of dance and music and took her initial lessons from her mother. She had a sharp memory, intelligence and learned very quickly, and so Malka appointed special teachers for teaching Gauhar languages, literature, and of course, dance and music. Kale Khan of Patiala, alias ‘Kalu Ustad’, and Ustad Vazir Khan of Rampur trained her in pure and light classical Hindustani vocal music, whereas Ali Baksh and Brindadin Maharaj taught her the Kathak form of dance. Srijanbai taught her dhrupad dhamar, and Charan Das trained her in Bengali Keertan. She also learnt from her contemporaries, viz. Mojuddin Khan, Bhaiyya Ganpatrao and Peara Saheb. She sang Tagore songs even before the word Rabindra-Sangeet had been coined. She penned several compositions under the name ‘Hamdam’, and she also wrote, composed and recorded ghazals. She could read, write and sing in several languages including Bengali, Hindustani, Gujrati, Tamil, Marathi, Arabic, Persian, Pushto, French, Peshawari and English.

After such intensive training, she first performed at Darbhanga State at the age of fifteen, and from 1896 she began to perform in Calcutta. She used to sing and dance at the houses of rich jamindars and her remuneration was in thousands of rupees. She was in great demand and even ordinary citizens wanted to listen to her music. Gaisberg noticed this and made her music available to listeners through her gramophone records. Gauhar Jan recorded prolifically, a total of over 600 songs over the period from 1902 to 1920, and she sang in more than ten languages. From 1903, her records began to appear on the Indian market, and were always in great demand. Thousands of copies were imported after being pressed at Hanover, and they were best-sellers throughout India. In 1908, a record-pressing factory was built at Sealdah (close to the present Sealdah railway station), Gaisberg was invited for this occasion and recorded a few more songs of Gauhar Jan, for which the announcement of her name at the end was not required.

The early records of Gauhar Jan are labeled ‘First dancing girl, Calcutta’. The word ‘first’ indicates her elevated position as the premier vocalist in the Calcutta’s musical world of 1890-1910. She cut records of raagdari sangeet, thumri, dadra, kajri, chaiti, bhajan, tarana and she popularized various types of ‘Kachha’ gana through her records. This was remarkable when several great stalwarts of Indian classical music ignored the gramophone and recording medium completely and refused to record. She mastered the technique of presenting a musical item in just three minutes, and this became a model for the vocalists of the future. She recorded the music taught by her Ustads, which meant that she helped preserve our musical tradition of at least the three-four generations preceding her own. Thus her recordings are very useful for students and also for researchers who might wish to trace the development of Indian classical music over the last two or three hundred years. One of her records was cut in 1907, performed at the Town Hall in Bombay, as mentioned on the record label.

Through the wide circulation of her records, she became popular throughout India and received invitations in several prestigious music conferences. Thus in 1911, she was invited to participate in the Prayag Sangeet Samiti, for which she was paid 1000 rupees. Later, the same year, during the coronation of King George V at the Delhi Darbar, she was invited to sing a duet with Jankibai of Allahabad. They sang a Mujra song – Ye Hai Tajposhi Ka Jalsa, Mubarak Ho Mubarak Ho and received 100 gold guineas each as a gift from the King.

Gauhar Jan used to travel all over India, as a guest of patrons in the various Princely states. She also gave public performances, in which she would present ticketed programs, distributing an advance schedule of the items to be sung in her concert. She was fond of horse-racing and hence would visit Bombay during the racing season. She used to stay with Anjanibai Malpekar, spending the day at the Mahalakshmi racecourse, and the evenings and nights at concerts. She was a great admirer of Heerabai and offered to adopt her when Abdul Karim Khan’s family separated and the mother moved to Pune with her five children. She taught a number of bhajans and thumris to both Heerabai and Sunderabai, which they in their turn duly recorded on gramophone records. Because of Gauhar Jan the songs Radhe Krishna Bol Mukhase and Kridhna Murari Binat Karat became popular bhajans and several singers used to sing them in concerts and on records.

Gauhar Jan lived a very wealthy life, and she also donated generously to a number of causes. Numerous legends are associated with her. In Calcutta, she used to ride in a baggi driven by four horses, threw a party spending 20,000 rupees when her cat produced a litter of kittens, and donated only half the promised amount to Gandhiji’s ‘Swaraj fund’ when he did not keep the promise of attending the ‘fund raising’ concert and deputed a representative instead. In her personal life, she was deceived by her friends and relatives. She married her personal secretary – Saiyyad Gulam Abbas – a young man from Peshawar. He was ten years younger than her, and when she discovered his relations with other women, she was bitterly disappointed in him, and this led to several court cases and unpleasant incidents. Later, she stayed with Amrut Vagal Nayak in Bombay – a handsome actor on the Gujrati stage. This relation lasted for 3-4 years, and she learnt several songs composed by him including the famous Dadra, Aan Ban Jiyamen Lagi. The sudden death of Amrut Nayak was a big jolt that left her mentally disturbed. Relatives persuaded her to return to Calcutta. But she did not stay there long. The machinations of selfish and cunning relatives forced her to stay in Darbhanga State for a while. Finally she joined the service of the Mysore State, where she died in 1930.

She has left over 150 records and most of them are in the safe custody of record collectors. The Gramophone company reissued 18 songs in 1994 on audio tape and CD under the banner of ‘Chairman’s Choice’, which no one (except perhaps the Chairman) noticed, due to lack of adequate publicity. It is necessary to preserve the legacy of Gauhar Jan in a more full-scale way for posterity, and some die-hard collectors and music lovers have committed themselves to accomplishing this task.

Here is one of those early recordings…listen to her announcing her name in the end…”My name is Gauhar Jan” :

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Indian Raga : back to the basics

Melody and Raga : Terminology

Melody is the fountainhead of Indian music and ragas are the fundamental organizing principle of Indian classical melody.

Ragas are fixed sequences of a minimum of five notes arranged in ascending and descending order (respectively the aroha and avaroha). Unlike contemporary Western scales, but like the modes of early European music, the ascending and descending notes are not identical. Adjust the sequence or introduce an extraneous note and the result will be a different raga. Since ragas have been systematically studied for centuries their permutations have been calculated mathematically and defined scientifically. New ragas do come into being, however, through the blending of elements of two ragas to produce a so-called mishra or mixed raga with the names of the parent ragas. At times, too, apparently new ragas have turned out to be unknowing rediscoveries of ragas that have dropped out of the repertory. A double-barrelled name tends to indicate a mishra rage, but not always: “Todi” in a raga’s name — examples being “Shuddha Todi” and “Gurjari Todi” — is an adjectival construction denoting that it originated in a particular location. Hindustani musicians, to generalize, use a more limited palette of ragas than their Carnatic cousins.

Ragas unfold in a set order. The opening movement, called alap in Hindustani music, is a leisurely, precise, impassioned unfolding of the raga’s essence. It teases out the mood with melody, seeking and setting out that mood without any rhythmic accompaniment or rhythmic pulse. One of its foremost exponents is the sarodist Ali Akbar Khan. His recording, Ali Akbar Khan Plays Alap, is a perfect introduction to this art. “Alap,” he wrote in that album’s sleeve notes, “has fifteen parts. Training in alap is not for beginners or even advanced students, just as you don’t offer a drink or reveal all your property to a small child.” The second movement is called the jor. In an instrumental context this part will take on a rhythmic form but still without the assistance of percussion such as tabla or pakhawaj. The next major development is the jhala which has percussion accompaniment. This is the final fast movement. There are a number of intermediate steps in the process and etiquette varies about their inclusion or exclusion.

Carnatic music has its equivalent terms. Alapana is its equivalent of alap. The classic sequence and most elaborate item in a Carnatic concert is known as ragam-thanam-pallavi (the hyphens are optional). Opening with the melodic, unmetered ragam improvisation in the particular raga, it moves into the thanam and concludes in rhythmically metered improvisations on the pallavi (song text).
Ragas have been scientifically dissected for generation upon generation. They have even been placed in families. Ragas are attended by consorts or wives called raginis, ragaputras and ragaputris, respectively their sons and daughters. They have been analyzed to identify which `environment’ they belong to — whether they belong to a particular season or hour. “Raga Megh” or “Megh Malhar” is associated with the monsoon season, megh means cloud. “Vasanta” — literally, spring — is a raga for springtime (and by extension has characteristics similar to sunrise ragas). The psychological characteristics of notes give them a personality — a feminine aspect, a dark color, an uplifting sensation — and hence all the major ragas have their appropriate time of day. Great store is placed in getting this right, even to the extent of listening to recordings at the proper hour.

Rhythm and Tala :

In Indian music tala, tal or taal is the rhythmic cycle of a specific number of beats. A specific tala are expressed as compound nouns, sometimes split into two words. Throughout this text the convention is to give them as one word. Jhaptala consists of ten beats. Chautala is one consisting of 12 beats. Ektala is also 12 beats but the term is the one used for tabla rather than chautala which is associated with pakhawaj.

Classical Song Forms :

There are many, many singing styles and it is only possible to explain a little about the most frequently encountered. Classical song forms tend to be separated into classical and light classical (sometimes called semiclassical) forms. Light classical forms include ghazal, bhajan and qawwali. Classical forms include thumri and dhrupad. Folk styles are even more numerous. Many folk styles relate exclusively to particular regions, religions or musician castes

Bhajans :

Bhajans are the most popular form of Hindu devotional composition. They are found especially in the repertoires of Northern Indian musicians. In the South the commonest Hindu vocal style is the kriti. However, Carnatic musicians — the violinist V.V. Subrahmanyam, for example — also include bhajans in their repertoires. Thus instrumentalists will also include them in their repertoire and therefore part of the art is to capture the sonorities, mood and meaning of the words in their playing or to bring these elements out if accompanying a vocalist. The increased exposure of Hindustani music in the South has led to Northern Indian bhajans by composers such as Mira, Kabir and Tulsidas being performed. These tend to be set to the appropriate Hindustani raga but sung to Carnatic talas which are often rhythmically more sophisticated.

Dadra :

Dadra is a light classical song form similar to a thumri sung in a tala of six beats.

Dhrupad :

Dhrupad is an ancient form of the classical singing. One of the most commonly encountered forms, it places great emphasis on the lyrical content, rhythmic accuracy and clear enunciation. Lyrically dhrupad is set in a medieval form of Hindi called Brijbhasha or Braja Bhasha but it is also sung in modern-day Hindi, Punjabi, Bengali and Rajasthani. Many commentators decry the sacrificing of dhrupad’s high literary and poetic standards by today’s more popular forms. Usually set nowadays in a uniform tala or rhythmic cycle of 12 beats (chautala), historic accounts report a far greater rhythmic sophistication with each line being set in a differing tala from the preceding one. This would involve singing one line in chautala and the next in jhapatala of ten beats. Dhrupad compositions may eulogize gods or royalty. They are especially known for mining religious and heroic seams but there are worthy traditions of subject matter as varied as philosophy, metaphysics and eroticism as themes. A dhrupad is composed of four elements. These are melody (raga), tempo (laya), rhythm (tala) and its melodic components (dhatus).

Dhamar :

Dhamar is a related form which employs more gamaks or grace notes than dhrupad, usually set in a tala of 14 beats. To no little extent both forms have been displaced by the principal contemporary classical form, khyal, in particular but also by thumri and tappa. Among dhrupad’s most noted singers are Candanji Caube (1869-1944), Siyaram Tiwari, Ritwik Sanyal, Ram Chatur Mallick and various combinations known as the Dagar Brothers.

Dhun :

A dhun is a melody lighter in tone than a raga and often derived from a folk tradition. In such cases it will be labeled with the region of origin such as “A Rajasthani Dhun.” Being free from the strict discipline of the raga system, it allows liberties with the notes which the musician may include.

Ghazal :

Although an Indo-Muslim light classical form, ghazal enjoys widespread popularity. A development of one of the main poetic and literary traditions of Persia, its name derives from the Arabic for `talking to women’. It is therefore often viewed as a conversation or a dialogue between a lover and his beloved. This can be sacred, profane or allegorical. It is closely associated with the major Indo-Muslim language, Urdu. At its heart is love of either the romantic or devotional kind. Since the mid-‘30s secular and political themes have increasingly crept in, most famously through the work of the poet Faiz Ahmad Faiz (1911-1984). Ghazals have formed the core repertoire of a number of performers ranging from Jagjit & Chitra Singh to Begum Akhtar and Najma Akhtar.

Khyal :

Sometimes rendered as khyel or khayal, is generally translated as imagination or fancy — indications of its lightness and reliance on the performer’s powers of improvisation. It is also translated as whim or idea but the etymology of khyal is, as one commentator put it, abstruse, and no records of any authority exist about the beginnings of khyal. By the 18th century A.D. the form had taken shape in the court of the Mughal emperor Mohammed Shah in Delhi. Since then khyal has loosened the hold that dhrupad traditionally had to become the staple style of Hindustani classical music. Paradoxically, some musicological soothsayers have warned that popular taste looks set on loosening khyal’s hold in favor of thumri, dadra, chaiti and kajri (a folk song form originally from Uttar Pradesh).

Kriti :

The Carnatic kriti (or krithi) is a song of praise or adoration for a particular Hindu deity. Kritis are especially associated with Tyagaraja (or Thyagaraja) (1767-1847), Muttuswamy Dikshitar (1776-1835) and Syama (or Shyama) Sastri (1762-1827), a famed trinity of musician-saints or saint-composers. In order, appreciating the trinity’s work has been likened to the grape, the coconut and the banana. The first can be consumed and enjoyed immediately. The second involves cracking open a shell to get to the kernel. The third involves the removal of a soft outer layer to get to the fruit. Their era is known as the Golden Period of Carnatic Music and during their time they composed a collection of timeless compositions. Tyagaraja alone is credited with some 600 kriti compositions. Kritis are usually composed in Telugu, Tamil or Sanskrit are habitually seeded in specific ragas.

Qawwali :

An Indo-Muslim devotional music of light classical complexion sung in Urdu, Persian, Punjabi and other northern Indian languages.

Tappa :

Tappa is a song genre popularly and romantically supposed to have arisen from the songs sung by the camel drivers of the arid northwestern regions of the subcontinent. The language it is most frequently sung in is Punjabi. It is typified by passages in fast tempos.

Tarana :

A song genre in which meaningless rhythmic syllables substitute for a lyric similar to syllables replacing words in, say, Ella Fitzgerald’s scat singing or jazz vocalizing. While the concept is easy to grasp, maintaining artistic integrity and musical interest over the length of a tarana is not. A tarana section will frequently conclude a khyal performance and will be substituted for the fast tempo or drut khyal. Unlike its Southern counterpart known as the tillana, taranas are opportunities to extemporize.

Thumri :

Thumri is another well-known classical song form.

Courtesy : Ken Hunt

Sawani Shende

Sawani Shende is a very popular up-and-coming vocalist of her generation. She is a student of Smt. Veena Sahastrabuddhe, a well known classical vocalist of international repute. Sawani has performed in prestigious music conferences all over India and also toured U.S.A/Canada in 1998. She has received prestigious awards like Pt. Jasraj Gaurav Puraskar, Smt. Manik Varma Puraskar and Pt. Ramkrishnabua Vaze Puraskar. Sawani has several cassettes and CDs to her credit.

Sawani was born in a musically rich family. She was introduced to Indian Classical Music at a tender age of six by her grandmother, Smt. Kusum Shende, herself a noted singer of Kirana Gharana. Quest for more and more knowledge in music at the age of 12 Sawani started her training under the expert guidance of Dr.Smt Veena Sahasrabudhe, a noted classical vocalist of Gwalior Gharana. Sawani’s father, Dr.Sanjeev Shende has groomed her in semi classical generes like Thumri, Dadra, Kajri, etc.

Sawani made her debut at the age of 10 to celebrate her grandmother’s 61s birthday. The journey of concerts started when Sawani was invited to perform at the prestigious Pt. Vishnu Digamber Jayanti Samaroh in Delhi when she was just 12. Sawani was honored when she performed for the then President of India, Mr. R. Venkatraman at the Rashtrapati Bhavan. Since then she has never looked back.

Sawani’s music is a beautifull soul searching combination of Kirana Gharana and Gwalior Gharana, where she mesmerizes audiences with enchanting melody & strength of both.

Sawani’s confidence and mastery in Khayals, her crystal clear diction and overall sensitivity in presentation takes every performance to a very high aesthetic level. Her rendition of semi classical genres highlights the emotive and expressive quality of Indian Classical music and adds a very important dimension to her performance leaving audiences spellbound.

Sawani gave concerts in prestigious music festival all over India. She has also performed in 30 states all over USA and Canada. She also gave performances in Doha, Dukhan and Umsaid.

Listen to one of her mesmerizing rendition in Raga Durga ‘Bajavat Veena‘ which is one of my favourites :

Rashid Khan

Rashid Khan, born in 1966, is perhaps the most convincing proof of what miracles the revived Gurukul system can achieve. Under the tutelage of Ustad Nissar Hussain Khan, the Sahaswan Gharana maestro, for the last ten years in Research Academy, Calcutta, Rashid has metamorphosed from a gawky, groaning child to an artiste of unbelievable maturity, vocal prowess and artistry.

Rashid’s alap is ticklishly imaginitive, his rhythmic play pulsating and the cascades of his powerful, lightening, swift taans unimaginable until actually heard.

Rashid has naturally taken listeners and the Press by storm wherever he has gone, and at a conference at Bhubaneahwar in 1982, a member of audience was so overwhelmed by the uncanny expertise of the young boy that he promptly made him a gift of one thousand Rupees.

In 1986 the Festival of India authorities invited Rashid Khan to present the only music recital on the occasion of the release of Double Album on Great Masters of Music by the then Prime Minister of India, late Rajiv Gandhi. The concert was intended to signify the continuance of the tradition of excellence in Indian classical music.

Rashid Khan was awarded the ‘A’ Grade by All India Radio in 1987. In 1988 he cut his first record. Doordarshan has produced and telecast a special programme on this phenomenon. In 1989 Rashid Khan made an extensive tour of the United States and Canada, taking, as usual, crowds by storm.

Rashid Khan has been hailed as a great successor to the Bade Ghulam Ali Khan – Ameer Khan generation – an era today almost given up as lost. He had truly arrived on the scene when Pt. Bhimsen Joshi heard him at a concert in early 1988 and proclaimed that there is now at least one person in sight who is an assurance for the future of Hindustani Vocal Music.

Listen to this composition sung by him in Raga Jaijaivanti from his album ‘Mercy Rain‘ :

Bhimsen Joshi

Pandit Bhimsen Joshi, was born in Gadag (Karnataka) on 14 Feb 1922. Pt. Bhimsen Joshi left his home for Gwalior, then to Calcutta then Rampur where he took lessons from Mushtaq Husain Khan.

He finally became student of Savai Gandharva (Pt. Rambhan Kundgolkar), the eminent khyal singer student of Abdul Karim Khan.

Pandit Bhimsen Joshi is the long-reigning king of Hindustani classical vocal music. His unpretentious style, his soulful appeal and his divine sur have made him the paragon of reverence. Loyal to Kirana tradition, yet innovative, he has contributed immensely to Indian music.

A few years of his youth were thus spent in the company of well known musicians at Gwalior, Lucknow and Rampur, serv ing them and learning as much as he could from them. His father, coming to know of Bhimsen’s fervent desire for knowledge in music, abandoned his policy of opposition, fetched his son back and made arrangements for him to learn under the guidance of Sawai Gandharva of Kundol. This opportunity opened the vaults of rich and rare musical treasures to Bhimsen. Bhimsen’s natural tuneful voice received further polish from his guru. Like a diamond which sparkles all the brighter after it is expertly cut, Bhimsen’s voice began to shine with a new lustre and brilliance which has dazzled and cast a spell on the entire country.

With his increasing popularity Bhimsen started getting invita- tions to sing at various cities and towns in Maharashtra and Karnataka. To facilitate the keeping of these engagements, he bought a big car and took to driving. The car was so big that it could easily accommodate him and his 4 accompanists besides two tanpuras and other instruments. In this car Bhimsen travelled extensively. One day he would go from Bombay to Belgaum – then on to Bangalore the next day, and back to Pune- only to go off again to Nagpur, Raipur or Bhilai. Back again in Pune, he would rush off to Hyderabad, Solapur and so on these whirlwind tours became a habit with him and in a short while he became an expert driver.

His unbelievably flexible voice enabled him to traverse at terrific speed, the great range of 3 octaves. While at the wheel, he used the same technique as in singing. The spread of his fame and popularity beyond the boundaries of Maharashtra brought him invitations from far off places like Jullundur, Jammu, Srinagar, Delhi, Calcutta and Gauhati. Bhimsen, who had so far matched the speed and agility of his voice with the speed of his car. He then had to switch to air travel. The pilots of Indian Airlines and airport oficials came across Bhimsen so frequently that he was soon known as the ‘flying musician of India’.

One can easily imagine the tremendous difficulties involved in getting hold of an ever-busy singer like Bhimsen for recording. Fortunately as his popularity increased rapidly, the recording technique also improved for the better. 78 R.P.M. records were now replaced by the 45 R.P.M., extended play records and 33 R.P.M. long-playing records. Extended play records played twice as long as the 78 R.P.M. The long-playing microgroove records were also proportionately higher priced. These records gradually became the exclusive privilege of the affluent in society. His EP included Zanak Zanakuva in Raga Darbari. Piya To Manat Nahee, (link below at the bottom of this Post) a thumri, Jo Bhaje Hari Ko Sada, a bhajan, and the most enchanting thumri – Piya Ke Milan Ki Aas.

Every performer has his favourite items, in which he excels. On the strength of these- his mehfil becomes a memorable experience. Bhimsen is no exception. After hearing a number of his concerts some people remarked that his programmes are repetitive. It is a peculiar characteristic of our music that the ingenuity of a musician is known by his ability to unfold and create new and novel facets of known raas. The same composition, same notes in the same ragas, presented on successive occasions can sound ever-new, fresh and enchanting and receive enthusiastic approval from listeners and critics in the audience. It is very necessary therefore that the listeners should cultivate a knowledgeable interest and a musical ear to appreciate our classical music.

Supreme confidence in his own abilities and unfailing loyalty are two prominent qualities of Bhimsen. Every year he observes the punyatithi (death anniversary) of his guru Sawai Gandharva with a music festival at Pune. Those privileged to attend it are indeed very fortunate, for the spectacle is one fit for the gods. For three consecutive nights about 10,000 people attend the programme from 8 at night to 7 the next morning. Eminent artists in the world of Indian classical music vie with each other for a chance to appear on the stage on this occasion. There are two reasons for this. Firstly the programme is at the behest of a great fellow artist like Bhimsen, and secondly it is rare and almost impossible for a musician to get a chance to perform before such a vast, discerning and appreciative audience. During these celebrations, Bhimsen works like an ordinary volunteer. On occasion he is even noticed sweeping the stage, bringing the instruments on stage and helping the artist to tune the tanpuras perfectly. He looks after the comforts of the artists and audience alike. He does this untiringly for three successive nights. One cannot help but admire him for his love and reverence for his guru.

The late Sawai Gandharva was a disciple of Abdul Karim Khan. A galaxy of veterans are among his disciples. They include top names like Gangubai Hangal, Hirabai Badodekar, Phiroz Dastur and Bhimsen, who is the youngest of them all. The characteristics of the Kirana gharana are precision-oriented tunefulness (lagav of swaras) presentation of a bandish with an impressively grace- ful style, and a disciplined, systematic and methodical raga de- velopment, punctuated with an elegantly elaborate alap and skil- ful decoration with the choicest forms of embelishments – taans. With the help of all these, Bhimsen makes such a terrific favourable impact on his audience right from the start of the concert that listeners remain glued to their seats till the last notes of his Bhairavi. Within a few minutes of his arrival in a concert hall Bhimsen measures correctly the pulse of the audience. His discerning eye unfailingly recognizes the knowledgeable in the congregation and, by the time the tanpuras are tuned, and accompaniment arranged, he has decided on the musical menu he will dish out to achieve a resounding success.

Bhimsen is a versatile singer; he is an expert in khayal singing but he is also adept in the presentation of thumris, songs from plays, or devotional compositions. His lilting thumris (Jadu Bhareli, Piya Ke Milan Ki Aas or Babul Mora) and his innumerable popular Abhangs composed by the saints of Maharashtra are instances in point.

Bhimsen is a prodigy – unique – a divine miracle. We should admire his tremendous accomplishments in the realm of music, revel in the heavenly experience of his gayaki and pray to God Almighty to bless this musical genius with a long life. In the whole of India there is no one else who has atained so much and given so much to music lovers. Listeners in he U.S.A. and the U.K. love and admire him. It is a pity that our Government has only bestowed a mere Padmashri on him, instead of the higher honours deserved by an artist of Bhimsen’s calibre who has received the greatest acclaim abroad.

Listen to a Thumri in Raga Kafi performed by him, which is an all time favourite of mine :

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