Bharat Ratna Pandit Bhimsen Joshi was a classical singer from the Hindustani school of music who won acclaim for his rendition of devotional songs and khayals. He was a prolific stage performer and recorded many renditions of Abhangs and thumris.
His Childhood Musical Inclination
Born Bhimsen Gururaj Joshi in the Gadag district of Karnataka on the 4th of February, 1922, he showed signs of being musically inclined from an early age. It is said that as a young child, he used to be transfixed upon hearing an Abhang (devotional song in Marathi) or an Aazan (the Muslim call for prayer). He often played his grandfather’s tanpura.
Little is known about Bhimsen Joshi’s formal schooling, and he ran away from home in 1933, planning to learn music from a Guru. His search took him across the country for the next three years. In 1936, Sawai Gandharva agreed to accept Bhimsen Joshi as his disciple.
Bhimsen Joshi, according to the guru-shishya parampara, lived in his Guru’s house as a member of his family and did household chores in return for being coached in music. A contemporary of Bhimsen Joshi was Gangubai Hangal, who became the other practitioner of the Kirana Gharana style of Hindustani music in the later years.
His Musical Work and Milestones
Bhimsen Joshi gave his first public performance in 1941. In 1942, he recorded a few devotional songs and khayals and in the same year, he joined All India Radio as a radio artist.
In 1946, he organized a live concert to mark his Guru, Sawai Gandharva’s birthday. He attained popularity among aficionados of Hindustani classical music with his powerful voice and range. Over the years, Bhimsen Joshi’s trademark raags included Puriya Dhanashri, Miyan ki Todi, Darbari and Shudhha Kalyan. His repertoire included songs in the Kirana Gharana style, which was the style of his guru, Sawai Gandharva.
It is said that Pandit Bhimsen Joshi never sang the same composition twice in the same way. His notes were pure and faultless as per classical tradition, and he injected his personal touch with taans and fluctuations with amazing dexterity between high and low notes.
Pandit Joshi collaborated with the classical Carnatic vocalist, Balamurli Krishna, in a series of recordings. The records show in contrast the Carnatic and Hindustani styles of singing by these two doyens of music and have become a collector’s item.
As a sign of gratitude towards his Guru who passed away in 1952, Bhimsen Joshi organized the first ever Sawai Gandharva Music Festival. This festival is held in Pune every year and has become a platform for Hindustani classical music performances.
His Many Disciples and Later Life
Under Bhimsen Joshi’s tutelage, many experts in the Kirana Gharana style emerged and some of them are Srinivas Joshi, Madhav Gudi, Ashutosh Bharadwaj and Shrikant Deshpande.
From the 1990s till his retirement in 2002, Bhimsen Joshi cut down on his recordings, preferring to concentrate on a few concerts every year. His cameo and soaring voice in the opening notes of the popular music video Mile Sur Mera Tumhara renewed interest in his of work. His compositions caught the imagination of the new generation who had not been exposed to his music earlier.
Pandit Bhimsen Joshi passed away on 24 January 2011 leaving behind a legacy of rich Hindustani music. A grateful country acknowledged his genius when the Bharat Ratna was awarded to him in 2008.