Pandit Bhimsen Joshi (1922-2011)
Legendary vocalist Pandit Bhimsen Joshi, who
enthralled generations of connoisseurs with his renditions of
Hindustani classical music, passed away in a Pune hospital on
Monday, January 24, 2011 after a prolonged illness. He would
have been 88 in February.
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
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
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. You can 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
In the forays he made outside the classical fold, Joshi lent his
voice as a playback singer for several films, and also acted in
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,
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.
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. Bhimsenji leaves
behind three sons and a daughter.