The Bharat Ratna is the latest in the long list of honours that have come to Bhimsen Joshi, one of India’s most popular Hindustani musicians.
Sawai Gandharva’s rigorous training gave Bhimsen Joshi satisfaction and self confidence...
Bhimsen Joshi has done Karnataka proud by bagging the coveted Bharat Ratna Award. Behind this honour is his giant achievement. He is easily the one of the most popular Hindustani singers at home and abroad. Born on February 14, 1922, in Gadag, his fa ther, Gururaj Joshi, was the headmaster of a local high school and a scholar in Kannada, English and Sanskrit. His uncle, G.B. Joshi, was a celebrated playwright and promoter of Manohar Granth Mala of Dharwad. His grandfather was a well-known keertankar.
On the way to school lay Bhushad Gramophone Shop. The young Bhimsen would stop to listen to records that were being played for customers. One day, he heard Abdul Karim Khan’s Fagwa Brij Dekhan Ko in raga Basant and Piya Bina Nahi Awat Chaina, a thumri in raga Jhinjhoti. A few days later he heard Sawai Gandharva’s concert at Kundgol. Young Bhimsen, all of 11 years then, wanted to learn music from the master. Learning of his son’s interest in music, Gururaj engaged Agasara Channappa to teach Bhimsen. Once Panchaxari Gawai heard Bimsen sing and said, “Channappa, it is not in your power to teach this boy. Send him to a better guru.”
One day, Bhimsen fled home; today he jokes that he was only carrying on the family tradition. With no destination in mind, he boarded a train and journeyed to Bijapur without at ticket. He regaled ticket examiners with Tum Jago Mohana Pyare in raga Bhairav and Kaun Kaun Guna Gave in raga Manda. Co-travellers, too, fell under the spell. They shared their food with him. Bijapur arrived. He alighted, sang his way through streets and spent two weeks sleeping in backyards. A music lover advised him, “If you want to learn music, Gwalior is the place.”
He did not know where Gwalior was but he boarded another train. Without a ticket, of course. This time he reached Pune, and spent a few days singing on the streets. How was the boy to know that Pune was to be his permanent abode? Boarding trains here and there, giving the railway staff the slip, Bhimsen reached Gwalior. At Gwalior he joined Madhav Sangeet Vidyalaya. But Bhimsen didn’t want a classroom; wanted a guru.
After much running around between various teachers and places for three years, Bhimsen met Vinayakrao Patwardhan at the Karavaillabh Sangeet Sammelan, who was surprised that he had come so far in search of a guru when Sawai Gandharva was nearer home. This led to a homeward journey and the beginning of a celebrated guru-shishya relationship.
Sawai Gandharva tested Bhimsen and insisted, “I will teach him if he unlearns all that he has learnt so far.” For a year and half he didn’t teach Bhimsen anything. Bhimsen’s father, who came to check his son’s progress, was shocked to see him carrying huge pitchers of water to his guru’s house. Bhimsen, however, reassured his father, “I’m happy here. Don’t worry.”
After the guru’s tests were over, lessons began. He was not to ask the guru anything, just practise what was taught. Some days the guru would sing and the shishya was to listen and observe. Sawai Gandharva’s rigorous training gave Bhimsen Joshi satisfaction and self confidence and his musical journey began. Impressed by Mustaq Hussain Khan’s singing, he followed him to Rampur and stayed there for six months. The guru taught him only raga Natmalhar.
From Rampur, he went straight to Lucknow AIR station. A familiar voice was being broadcast. It was Begum Akhtar who came out with a cigarette in hand. Bhimsen Joshi introduced himself. Begum Sahiba said, “Sing something.” Bhimsen Joshi sang a small Bhairav piece. Impressed, she called Swarup Malik, the director, and said, “Yeh ladka achacha gata hai. Isko kuch kam do.” He was appointed staff artist on a salary of Rs.32. Bismillah Khan was his colleague.
January 1946 saw Sawai Gandharwa’s 60th birthday being celebrated at Pune. Maestros of different gharanas participated to pay honour to the Kirana gharana maestro. Bhimsen Joshi, just 24, was also invited. He presented raga Miya Malhara, a raga not taught by the guru. It was also his first public concert in his guru’s presence. The listeners were spellbound. He then presented the stage song Chandrika Janu Theiya, an all time favourite from Khadilkar’s play Manapamana. Bhimsen Joshi, the singer, was made.
No other singer has given so many concerts as Bhimsen Joshi. In 1964, the prince of Kabul, Zahir Shah invited Bhimsen Joshi for a concert. His daughter, while studying at Oxford, had listened to Bhimsen Joshi’s recording of Lalit and Shudha Kalyan and persuaded her father to invite him. Between 1964 and 1982 Bhimsen Joshi toured Italy, France, Canada and U.S. He was the first musician whose concerts were advertised through posters in New York.
Confined to a wheel chair, Bhimsen Joshi, who used to talk so wittily, is, of late, silent for most part. At one time Joshi was fond of buying new cars and driving them fast. As with his music, he knew the car’s mechanism inside out.
Bhimsen Joshi is living proof that artistes are beyond caste, creed, or language. Though many honours have come his way, his greatest achievement is the band of disciples: Sripati Padigar, Madhav Gudi, Vinayak Torvi, Srikant Deshpande, Ramakrishna Patavardhan, Anant Terdal …
The writer is a musicologist based in Dharwad
6 months ago