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Recall that powerful voice. A voice echoing in the limitless sky of music, that makes even the music giants bow down in reverence. Full of strength and yet such smooth taans as the free flowing mustard seeds slipping out of a fist; a blend of ragas so perfect that one wouldn’t realize when he moved from Mandra to Madhya, or touched Gandhar and Pancham of Tar Saptak and then swiftly moved back to the ragas, and by the time you would comprehend he would be reach the end or Sam. ‘Bajo Re Bajo, Bajo Mandlara..’ Alaap or the Gradual unfolding of a raga through monosyllables and without a fixed composition, Swar Vistar or the vocal extenuations, Bol- Banav or the Rhythmic variations with the text of the song, Behlava or the playing with mood of the text, Tihaiyan or the timing of picking up and dropping the notes, Awaaz ka lagaav or the quality of voice being appropriate with the emotional expression of the song, anything you hear, it is unparallel.
All this hadn’t happened for no reason. Born in Dharwad district in the state of Karnataka, Bhimsen was eleven when he heard Abdul Karim Khan Sahab for the first time. It was then that he decided that he too will become a singer. It is said that at that very time, he left the house in search of a guru or a teacher. For many years, he struggled in Delhi, Kolkata, Gwalior, Lucknow and Rampur. In Gwalior he learnt raga Marwa and Puriya, and received the initial training of Khayal Gayaki from the master of Sarod, Ustad Hafiz Ali Khan (father of Ustad Azmal Ali Khan). At last he found the guru he had been looking for in his own home district, Dharwad. Guru Sawai Gandharva was the disciple of the same Abdul Karim Khan, whose voice had inspired Bhimsen to enter the world of music. Bhimsen started living with his new found guru. For six years he spent all his time time serving him, doing household work and taking lessons from him. From guru ji he learnt that there should be rigorous riaz or practice regularly. Following the guru-shishya traditional method of learning, Bhimsen learnt the nitty-gritties of singing. In 1943 he shifted to Mumbai and started working as a radio artist. At the age of 19 he conducted his first live programme, after which he began to be noticed.
Bhimsen is said to be the school of Khayal Gayaki. Students learning music are told that if they want to listen to the purity of ragas in a Khayal and know the ideal way of singing these ragas or ragadari (presenting the ragas), then they must listen to Bhimsen Joshi. Bhimsen Joshi has sung many Bhajans (devotional songs) and Abhangs in Kannada, Sanskrit, Hindi and Marathi, which are very popular. Bhimsen Joshi has sung along with music legends Pandit Hariprasad Chaurasia, Pandit Ravi Shankar and Balamuralikrishna, and created masterpieces. Amongst the young generation singers, he has sung with Ustad Rashid Khan also who belongs to the Rampur Sahaswan Gharana. However, the contemporary classical singing or music could not impress Bhimsen Joshi. While making a documentary on him, Gulzar had asked, “how do you feel when you listen to today’s singers?’’ His answer was, “we have listened to Bade Ghulam Ali, Aamir Khan and Guru ji and their singing is embedded in our ears. Today there are many singers who are intelligent. Their training is also good, but their singing is unable to touch my heart.” Bhimsen was of the view that along with mastering the art of singing pure ragas, one has to be equally brilliant at presenting it. So that when one sings, the listener is left spellbound. Bhimsen Joshi himself is an example of such brilliance.
Those times also played a big role in transforming Bhimsen Joshi into the Bhimsen of singing. This was a time when there were no mikes or equal to not being there. That is why, to have a natural talent was considered to be very important. A singer and wrestler was given the same status. There were seniors like Bade Ghulam Ali, Fayyaz Khan, Abdul karim Khan and Abdul Waheed Khan in front of Bhimsen Joshi, who also did rigorous work out for their bodies along with exercising their throats. And they had so much strength that they did not require a mike while singing. There were singers as powerful as Kumar Gandharva and Mallikarjuna Mansoor in his peer group.
There was a time when classical music was confined to Darbars and Gharanas only. But later music institutes like the Gandharva Mahavidyalaya, Prayag Sangeet Samiti and Bhatkhande Vishvavidyalaya took classical music to the common man and increased the reach of it. But at the same time, the quality of music deteriorated drastically. Joshi ji also agreed that artists cannot be created in schools. To become an artist, complete submission to the guru is the only way. Bhimsen Joshi would look for artists throughout the country and then give them a chance to sing in Sawai Gandharva Mahotsav, a festival started in the memory of his guru. This festival is so reputed that any singer feels honoured when given a chance to sing in the festival. Miya ki Todi, Marva, Puriya Dhanashree, Darbari, Ramkali, Shudh Kalyan, Multani and Bhimpalasi were Bhimsen Joshi’s favourite ragas. But when got a chance, he sang for films as well.
Music composer Shankar-Jaykishan gave Bhimsen Joshi a song to sing in Basant Bahar, a film released in 1956, in which he was suppose to compete with the famous singer Manna Dey. Not only that, he was also expected to lose in the competition as Manna Dey was singing for the hero of the film, Bharat Bhushan. Manna Dey was very nervous before the recording of this song but, according to Manna Dey, Bhimsen said to him,”You sing so well! I have heard so much about you. Don’t worry. We will do it!” This song ‘Ketki Gulab Juhi Champak Van phoole’ became very popular. He received a lot of love from the country. After receiving numerous honours including Sangeeta Natak Academy award and the prestigious Padma Bhushan, he was also awarded the Bharat Ratna in 2008.
Joshi ji was a very simple man. He was fond of driving cars. Mercedes’ cars were his weakness. When he was young, swimming, yoga and football were amongst his hobbies. He liked drinking as well, but it is said that when he realized that it was affecting his career, he gave up alcohol. There is a saying amongst musicians; by the time art gains maturity, the artist becomes old. Joshi ji also became old physically and died when he was nearly 89 years old, on 24th January 2011. In today’s music world, Bhimsen Joshi was like an elderly member of the family. A member with whose memories we can relive an entire era; whose presence provides a sense of auspiciousness and security; that tells us that we are not orphans. With his death, the guidance of the godfather of classical music has left the contemporary music world.
India’s president has recently issued postal stamps in the names of India’s biggest musicians. Pandit Bhimsen Joshi is also amongst them. This step by the government is surely commendable.

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