Pandit Bhimsen Joshi, who holds a legendary status in Indian Classical music was born in Gadag (Karnataka) on 14 February 1922. His unique style and mastery over ragas has made him un parallel to any other vocalist in the country.
A conservative schoolmaster’s son, Bhimsen Joshi had a passion for music even from his early childhood. The little boy deeply moved by a recording of Abdul Karim Khan, the founder father of the ‘Kirana gharana’, was later destined to become an accomplished jewel of the gharana. He left home in 1932 and was on the move for the next two years in search of a guru. He travelled to Bijapur, Pune, Gwalior where he tutored under Ustad Hafiz Ali Khan, the well-known sarodiya and father of Ustad Amjad Ali Khan, then to Calcutta, Punjab and back home, only to goad his father into sending him to Sawai Gandharva for training.
In 1936, Joshi started his rigorous training under Sawai Gandharva (Pandit Rambhan Kundgolkar), the eminent Khyal singer student of Abdul Karim Khan at Kundgol, near Gadag. He taught him the basics of Khayal singing. The tutoring spanning several years honed his inborn talent and helped him attain his mastery over ragas.
Bhimsen Joshi sings in the khayal style and has also rendered heavenly thumris and bhajans. Some of his popular numbers are ‘Piya milan ki aas’, ‘Jo bhaje hari ko sada’, ‘Mile sur mera tumhara’ etc. He has improvised and combined ragas to form new ragas like the Kalashri (Kalavati and Rageshri) and LalitBhatiyar (Lalit and Bhatiyar ragas) and has also developed and excelled in an unique style of singing adapting characteristics from other gharanas. Be it a new raga or a bhajan, khyal or kirti he performs with absolute ease moving from one pitch to another in the same breath effortlessly. His first public concert, to mark the shashtyabdipoorti (60th birthday) of his guru Sawai Gandharva, was held in Pune in January 1946. By the early 50’s his voice became known throughout the country and then he began to travel extensively in India and abroad giving concerts.
This musical marvel is the recipient of prestigious awards like the Padma Shri from the Indian government, Sangeet Natak Academy Award, the Mysore Sangeet Natak Academy Award etc. Every year he has been conducting a music festival at Pune with performances of famous classical musicians, to observe his Gurus death anniversary. He married twice, the second time to Valsalabai his own disciple who played a big role in his success. Apart from singing his other passion was automobiles, where he had a definite flair for fixing engines. In his eighties now, the Pundit who had been riding the crest of popularity for the last several decades has announced his retirement plan in a recent concert. Connoisseurs of classical music the world over are going to miss the divine musical experience of hearing this master sing.
Pandit Bhimsen Gururaj Joshi is a renowned vocalist in India. A descendant of the Kirana Gharana (stream) of Hindustani classical music tradition, he is particularly renowned for Khayal form singing.
Tansen of today — this is how he is regarded by his conptemporaries. Pandit ji is considered as one of the very best singers alive today. From the very beginning of his career he has been very popular, and today without doubt holds the throne as the king of Hindustani classical singing.
He currently lives and teaches music in Pune, India.
The education of this music form, till first half of 20th century, was carried out through Master-disciple (or the Guru Shishya) tradition. Sawai Gandharva was the chief disciple of Abdul Karim Khan, who along with his cousin Abdul Waheed Khan was the founder of the Kirana Gharana school of Hindustani music.
Pandit Bhimsen Joshi was born in a small town Gadag, in the Dharwad district of Karnataka in South India. His father was a conservative school-master. In 1933, the 11-year-old Bhimsen left his home on his own to learn singing through Guru-Shishya (or the Master-disciple) tradition. He spent three years in Gwalior, Lucknow and Rampur in North India trying to find a good guru. His father succeeded in tracking him and bringing young Bhimsen back home.
In 1936, Rambhau Kundgolkar, popularly known as Sawai Gandharva, agreed to teach Bhimsen in Hindustani classical music. Bhimsen Joshi stayed with Sawai Gandharva between 1936 and 1940. He then left his guru and set out on his own with a strict regimen of up to sixteen hours of daily riyaz (practice).
Bhimsen Joshi first performed live at the age 19. His debut album, a few devotionals songs in Kannada and Hindi, was released when he was 20.
Later he was to start an annual classical musical festival called the Sawai Gandharva Music Festival’ in the memory of his guru. This festival is held in Pune every December.
When S M Krishna was CM of Karnataka Bhimsen Joshi offered him to bring rain by his singing prowess to drought hit north Karnataka. Also his famous Bhagyada Lakshmi Baaramma sung for Kannada movie (playback for Anant Nag) with so much of devotion that it is heard in every household of the state.
Awards and recognitions
- Padma Shree in 1972
- The Sangeet Natak Akademi Award in 1976
- Padma Bhushan in 1985
- First platinum disc in 1986
- Padma Vibhushan in 1999
Joshi was admitted to Sahyadri Super Speciality Hospital on December 31, 2010 with gastrointestinal bleeding and bilateral pneumonia. Due to difficulty in breathing, he was put on ventilator support. He suffered convulsions and was put on dialysis too during his stay in hospital. Though he recovered briefly for three days when he was taken off the ventilator, his condition deteriorated thereafter. He passed away on 24 January 2011 at 08:00 am (IST), 11 days before his 89th birthday. He was cremated at Vaikunth Crematorium in Pune with full state honors.