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Friday, Nov 22, 2019

Bhimsen Joshi: Classical singer extraordinaire

This brilliant Hindustani classical vocalist was legendary in the khayal form and devotional music. His spontaneity and fast-paced taans (improvised fast-tempo musical notes) have enriched the Kirana Gharana with his own distinctive stamp.

inspiring-lives Updated: Oct 21, 2019 12:39 IST
HT Correspondent
HT Correspondent
Hindustan Times, New Delhi
Bhimsen Joshi began receiving training in Hindustani Classical music under Pt Sawai Gandharva for four years from 1936 to 1940.
Bhimsen Joshi began receiving training in Hindustani Classical music under Pt Sawai Gandharva for four years from 1936 to 1940.(Illustration: Rushikesh Tulshiram Gophane)

Born on February 4, 1922, in the Dharwad district of Karnataka to school teacher Gururaj Joshi and Godavaribai, he was the eldest of 16 siblings. Joshi’s early exposure to processions of bhajan singers that passed in front of his residence or that of azaan from a nearby mosque, all made an impact on him.Gradually, he developed a fondness for instruments such as the harmonium and tanpura (a string instrument). The recording of Abdul Karim Khan’s Thumri Piya Bin Nahi Aavat Chain served as the turning point in the life of the budding artist who, on hearing the classic piece, resolved to become a musician.


In 1933, the 11 year old left home to learn singing through the Guru-Shishya tradition. He spent three years in Gwalior, Lucknow and Rampur, trying to find a guru but without luck. Eventually, his father tracked him down and brought young Joshi back home.

He began receiving training in Hindustani Classical music under Pt Sawai Gandharva for four years from 1936 to 1940. Gandharva trained him in Hindustani Classical music, teaching him the nuances of the ragas that formed the base of the Kirana gharana. He stayed at the latter’s house and followed the guru-shishya tradition of gaining knowledge and in return, performing odd jobs.


Pt Joshi first performed live in 1941 at the age of 19. His debut album, that contained devotional songs in Marathi and Hindi, was released by HMV in 1942. Later, Joshi moved to Mumbai in 1943 and worked as a radio artist. His performance at a concert in 1946 to celebrate the 60th birthday of his mentor, Sawai Gandharva, won him accolades from the audience and his guru.

Since then, there was no looking back for him. Joshi performed at several venues, concerts and shows. HMV also brought out a slew of albums each of which highlighted his distinctive style and mastery over rhythm. In 1984, one of his records went platinum, making Joshi the first Hindustani vocalist to earn the distinction.

Joshi sang devotional music in several languages including Hindi, Kannada and Marathi, all of which were extremely loved by the audience. He also made important contributions to other music genres.

Joshi sang for several films like the well-known song Ramya Hi Swargahun lanka in the Kannada movie Sandhya Raga (1966), and collaborated with renowned artists like Manna Dey in the Marathi movie Swayamvar zale Siteche (1964); with Carnatic vocalist M Balamuralikrishna in the song E Pariya Sobagu and with Pandit Jasraj in the film Birbal My Brother (1973). Joshi’s performance in the Hindi film Ankahee (1985) fetched him the National Film Award for Best Male Playback Singer.

He died on January 24, 2011, following a bout of serious illness .


In 1975, Joshi was awarded the Sangeet Natak Akademi Award for Hindustani music - vocal. In 1985, he was conferred with Padma Bhushan. In 2008, he was honoured with the Bharat Ratna. In 2008, he bagged the Swami Haridas Award, which was then followed by the Delhi government’s Lifetime Achievement Award in 2009.


1. Joshi’s 1988 rendition of Miley Sur Mera Tumhara, in which he featured along with Balamuralikrishna and Lata Mangeshkar, composed by Louis Banks and P Vaidyanathan captured Indian hearts.

2. In 1953, he began an annual classical musical festival called the Sawai Gandharva Music Festival in memory of his guru. Held in Pune every December, it is the largest Indian classical concert.

3. In devotional music, Bhimsen Joshi was most acclaimed for his bhajans in Hindi and Marathi. He also had recorded bhakti songs in Marathi and several other regional languages.

4. Very early in his life, Bhimsen Joshi would get so fascinated with music that he would often follow musical processions, losing sight of his home and falling asleep when the procession ended. Unable to trace his son, Joshi, Sr. wrote ‘Son of teacher Joshi’ on the boy’s shirts. Since then, whenever people would find him sleeping after musical processions, they would drop him back to his home.

Source: Wikipedia,