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Bhimsen Joshi:

Sur Merges with the ‘Sur-Infinite’

GRK Murty
Bhimsen Joshi, a divine miracle, was born in Karnataka on February 4,
1922. His obsession for music made him leave home in search of a
proper Guru in places such as Rampur, Delhi and Calcutta. Finally in his
travails, he was directed by Vinayakrao Patwardhan to go to Sawai
Gandharva. It was under his tutelage that this prodigy acquired his
mastery of music.

He was blessed with an extremely sweet, flexible voice. With grueling

riyaz, he trained his voice in such a way that at one moment flowing
smoothly like a tranquil stream, it could suddenly take a mighty leap of
two or more octaves in the next avartana and then, with a gradually
diminishing vigor, revert gently back to sam. His recitals were replete
with such beautiful moments.

He had a tremendous control over his voice: he could make his full-
throated voice take on a soft velvety texture, could lift it from one
octave to another, from there to the next, back again to the second and
again to the third, rising high and gliding gracefully back to the point of
sam, in one breath. It was under the influence of this impressive feat of
physical endurance and breath control that his listeners, perceiving it as
a divine miracle, swayed in delight.
He had supreme confidence in his own abilities.
His performance/rendering of ragas with
uncanny and astounding imaginative skill and
rare artistry made him the darling of the
connoisseur as well as the layman. Stepping on
to the stage for concert, Bhimsen Joshi was
known to automatically slip into his element, becoming oblivious of
everything except presenting a precision-driven tuneful bandish,
gracefully enriching it with a disciplined, systematic and methodical
raga, punctuated with an elegantly elaborate alap, decorated by the
choicest forms of embellishments—taans. No wonder he made such a
terrific impact on his audience right from the start of the concert that
listeners simply remained glued to their seats till the last notes of his
Bhairavi. His splendid performance, a delectable treat for the audience,
carried them to celestial heights.

Bhimsen Joshi had transported as much respect for the poetic

content of the lyric as he had for the notes of the raga in all his recitals.
This made it easy for him to get fully absorbed in the sentiments of the
bandish. Obviously, it is this emotional engagement that made his
classical singing acquire mass appeal.
Bhimsen Joshi was a versatile singer. Besides being an expert khayal
singer, he was adept at the presentation of thumris—lilting Jadu
bhareli, Piya ke milan ki aas or Babul mora—songs from Marathi plays,
and devotional compositions. What a delight it was to listen to his
devotional Marathi items, like Indrayani kathi, at dawn that too flowing
from a local radio station with its usual ‘highs and lows’ while one is
engaged in one’s morning chores. Be it his rendition of bhajans, or
abhangs—Theertha Vittala—all swayed his listeners in immense joy.
Driven by a childlike curiosity, and intense creative process, coupled
with his obsession for music he could, as
Dr. Prabha Atre, vocalist, said, explore a new path within Kirana
gharana, all without transgressing the framework. It was his intensive
creative process that led to his coming up with two new ragas: one was
an admixture of Kalavati and Rageshri which he aptly named as
Kalashri and the second one was a beautiful fusion of Lalit and

He remained a loyal devotee of his guru, Sawai Gandharva, all

through his life. Every year, he observed the punyatithi (death
anniversary) of his guru by arranging a music festival at Pune. It ran for
three consecutive nights. About 10,000 people attend the program
from 8 at night to 7 the next morning. Eminent artists from the world of
Indian classical music are known to vie with each other to participate in
the festival, for it offered them a rare chance of performing before a
vast, discerning and appreciative audience. It is every participant’s
knowledge that during these celebrations, Bhimsen Joshi worked like
an ordinary volunteer: there were occasions when he was noticed
sweeping the stage, bringing the instruments on the stage and helping
the artist to tune the tanpuras perfectly. He looked after the comforts
of the artists and the audience alike. He did this untiringly for three
successive nights. Such was his love and reverence for his guru.

During the last five decades, his sacred voice reaching the four corners
of the nation, has put Indians on a path towards supreme surrender.
That wonderful voice which delighted the listeners for all these
decades, has finally joined the ‘Supreme-Voice’ on January 24, 2011.
And the sad part is that there are not many voices from the new
generation who can fill this vacuum.