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 :