Pandit Bhimsen Joshi, one of India’s pre-eminent Hindustani classical music vocalists, passed away on Monday morning, leaving a void whose magnitude we may fully be able to grasp only with time.
A pillar of the Kirana gharana of khayal singing and known to the TV-watching public by his rendering of the government’s national integration song Mile sur tera hamara, Joshi managed to combine high classicism with considerable popular appeal.
“I have no words to describe my pain,” said Lata Mangeshkar, one of India’s best-loved playback singers and, like Joshi, a recipient of the Bharat Ratna, the country’s highest civilian award. “Music was his life and passion. There cannot be a parallel to him.”
Admirers thronged Joshi’s house in Pune and condolences poured in after he passed away at 8:50 am. About to turn 89 next month, Joshi had been hospitalised since December 31 because of kidney-related problems. In the evening, his family performed the last rites with full state honours.
Born in Gadag, a small town in Karnataka’s Dharwad district to a conservative Brahmin schoolmaster, Joshi was attracted to classical music by the short yet grand pieces of Abdul Karim Khan, the great doyen of the Kirana gharana, which shopkeepers he knew used to play on the gramophone, said Ramakant Joshi, his cousin.
He left home at the age of 11 in search of a guru, against his father’s wishes and with the help of strangers who lent him money, his cousin recalled. His travels took him to Gwalior, Lucknow and Rampur and met Khan and other giants such as Vaze Bua and Kesarbai Kerkar. At the age of 14, Joshi joined the Madhav Sangeet Vidyalaya in Gwalior.
His father brought him back, but agreed to send him to learn music under Rambhau Kundagolkar, popularly known as Sawai Gandharva.
The late Gangubai Hangal, a senior disciple of Sawai Gandharva, often praised Joshi for his hard work. “Even though he was younger than me, he used to practice much harder,” she said, her grandson Manoj Hangal said.
Joshi is survived by two sons, Sriniwas and Jayant, and a daughter, Shubada – all from his late second wife Vatsala.
He had several students, such as Madhav Gudi, Vinayak Torvi and Upendra Bhat. “His demise has orphaned us,” said Bhat.
Among Joshi’s best remembered bandishes were Jo Bhaje Hari ko Sada in Raga Bhairavi, Rang Raliya Karat in Raga Malkauns and Eri Mai aaj in Raga Miyan ki Malhar, said Vinay Hardikar, a follower of Joshi.