Pandit Bhimsen Joshi was one of the most venerable musicians of Indian Classical music and a powerful figure on the Hindustani music concert platform.
An artistic genius, Bhimsenji enjoyed phenomenal popularity for over six decades. He demonstrated power and passion in his recitals and his voice, which commanded worship all over the world, resounded with its acknowledged majesty. Bhimsen Joshi was born on February 14, 1922 in the village of Gadag in the Dharwad district of Karnataka. His grandfather was a popular keertankaar. His father Gururaj was a Sanskrit scholar and a noted educationist. Bhimsenji took an extraordinary interest in music from early childhood and started taking lessons from local musicians Chinnappa Kurtakoti and Shyamacharya. A chance hearing of Ustad Abdul Karim Khan’s rendition of Basant became the turning point in his life.
Realising that the small village could not offer the kind of musical training he was seeking, Bhimsen fled home. This was followed by years of financial hardship, sleepless nights, days without a square meal and various odd jobs to earn his livelihood. These odd jobs included domestic chores in the houses of noted artistes in his endless quest for a proper guru and some music lessons. Venturing across the length and breadth of the country, sometimes earning his ticket through singing Bhajans and Abhangs in trains, he came across great musicians like Ustad Hafiz Ali Khan, Raj Bhaiya Poochwale, Krishnarao Pandit, Vismawadev Chatterjee and finally Pandit Vinayakrao Patwardhan. Patwardhan made him go to Kundgol and learn from Pandit Sawai Gandharva, the well-known disciple of Ustad Abdul Karim. Bhimsenji spent the next five or six years in rigorous riyaz.
When he was twenty one, he was already broadcasting on All India Radio, first from Lucknow and then from Mumbai. He evolved as a popular concert artiste around the same time. Always clad in simple spotless white kurta and pyjama, Bhimsenji was known to command the immediate musical surrender of his audience. His vilambit was endowed with an aesthetic expanse and serenity. His taans were forceful and his bhajans steeped in devotion. Though he sang essentially in the Kirana Gharana style, his gayaki was a rich synthesis of other styles like Jaipur-Atrauli, Agra, Patiala etc. One could detect in his music the shades of past Ustads, but the embellishments were all his own. He was equally at ease in khayals, thumris, bhajans and natya-sangeets. In the forays he made outside the classical fold, Joshi lent his voice as a playback singer for several films, and also actedin a few Kannada plays.
But it was his devotional music that added immensely to his popularity. His concerts took him around the world and he was showered with numerous awards, including the Padma Shri,the Padma Bhushan, the Padma Vibhushan and in 2008, and, the Bharat Ratna, India`s highest civilian award. Bhimsen Joshi led a quiet and simple life in Pune, deeply immersed in his music. The rich array of honours, accolades and distinction that came his way made no difference to him. He was a man who loved and lived his life, in all its romance and intensity, a point that comes through, so eloquently and vividly in his music.
Bhimsen ji passed away in Pune on January 24, 2011. The maestro's last public performance was during the Sawai Gandharva annual music festival in 2007 – a festival that he had initiated in 1953, in memory of his guru.
Listen to his last performance at an ITC Sangeet Sammelan (2004), where he was accompanied by Pandit A.G. Banerjee on tabla and Pandit Jyoti Goho on the harmonium.