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 take time to fully grasp.
A pillar of the Kirana gharana of khayal singing and known to the TV-watching public by his rendering of the national integration song Mile sur mera tumhara, Joshi combined high classicism with 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. “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. His last rites were performed in the evening 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 doyen of the Kirana gharana, which shopkeepers he knew played 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. He travelled to Gwalior, Lucknow and Rampur, where he met Khan and other giants such as Vaze Bua and Kesarbai Kerkar. At 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 practise much harder,” she used to say, her grandson Manoj Hangal recalled.
Joshi is survived by two sons, Sriniwas and Jayant, and a daughter, Shubada – from his late second wife Vatsala. “His demise has orphaned us,” said his student Upendra Bhat.
Joshi developed a powerful and sonorous voice, which he used to great effect while unfurling scintillating taans. Among his 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 Pune-based follower of Joshi.
He was acknowledged for his original interpretations of Raga Marwa, Purya and Megh Malhar. He also enthralled audiences with his renditions of devotional songs. He last performed publicly in December 2008, at the annual Sawai Gandharva music festival in Pune, which he founded in 1953 in memory of his guru. About 10,000 people gathered to listen to him within half an hour of the organisers announcing he would perform.