Childhood & Early Life
Bhimsen Gururaj Joshi was born on February 4, 1922, in the Dharwad district of Karnataka, in a Kannada Madhwa Brahmin family, to Gururaj Joshi and Godavaribai. He was the eldest of the 16 children born to the couple.
From an early age, young Bhimsen had a deep fascination and bent for music. He loved playing the musical instruments, harmonium and tanpura and often would move out of the house upon hearing a procession of bhajan singers or azaan at a nearby mosque.
The recording of Abdul Karim Khan's Thumri ‘Piya Bin Nahi Aavat Chain’ served as a turning point in the life of this budding artist who, upon hearing the classic piece, resolved to become a musician.
Unaffected by his father’s forbiddance to turn into a musician, he nevertheless left his home at the age of 11 in order to find himself a guru. His travel expedition began from Bijapur to Pune and later to Gwalior, where he finally admitted himself into the Madhava Music School with assistance from famous sarod player Hafiz Ali Khan.
His stay at Gwalior was however short-lived and he travelled further to New Delhi, Kolkata, Lucknow and Rampur before being tracked down by his father in Jalandhar, Punjab, who successfully coaxed him to return to Dharvad.
Upon returning, he attained his musical training under Pandit 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 maintaining a guru-shishya tradition of gaining knowledge and in return, performing odd-jobs.
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His career commenced in 1941 when he gave his first live performance. The following year, he released his first album under HMV, which was primarily a collection of devotional songs in Hindi and Kannada.
In 1943, he moved to Mumbai and started working as a radio artist. Three years later, he came up with the magnum opus of his career that opened roads of success in the field of classical music for him.
It was during his Guru Sawai Gandharva’s 60th birthday celebration concert that his performance earned him overwhelming response, in the form of flattering reaction not just from the audience but his Guru as well.
Since then, there was no looking back for this blessed musician who performed at various venues, concerts and shows. He released numerous albums under HMV records, each of which displayed his distinctive style in Hindustani Classical Music and brought forth his spontaneity, accuracy and mastery over rhythm. In 1984, he became the first Hindustani vocalist to win a platinum disc
A purist by belief, he hardly ever moved from the traditional compositions of the Kirana Gharana, occasionally employing sargam and tihaais. Though he tended to favour a lot of complex and serious ragas, he remained loyal to Shuddha Kalyan, Miyan Ki Todi, Puriya Dhanashri, Multani, Bhimpalasi, Darbari, and Ramkali ragas which he employed fervently in his compositions.
In his life, he came up with devotional music in various languages including Hindi, Kannada and Marathi, all of which were extremely loved by the audience who waited with bated breath for the release of his upcoming album.
Other than devotional music, he contributed greatly in patriotic music as well; the most significant being his performance in the music video, ‘Mile Sur Mera Tumhara’ which was primarily created for the purpose of national integration. The video highlights the cultural diversity of India that is unified by a single nation.
In addition to ‘Mile Sur Mera Tumhara’, he was part of the AR Rahman’s ‘Jana Gana Mana’ feat which was created to celebrate the golden jubilee of Indian Republic.
He made his presence felt as a playback singer as well, singing songs for various movies in Bollywood and Tollywood including, ‘Basant Bahar’, ‘Birbal My Brother’, ‘Tansen’ and ‘Ankahee’. Additionally, his composition, ‘Bhagyadalakshmi Baarammma’ was employed in the Kannada film, ‘Nodi Swami Naavu Irodhu Heege’
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To commemorate the first death anniversary of his Guru Sawai Gandharva, he, along with his friend, organized the Sawai Gandharva Music Festival in 1953. Ever since then, the festival has taken the form of an annual cultural event and is celebrated in the second weekend of December in Pune, Maharashtra every year. The festival is very popular among the lovers of Hindustani Classical Music. He personally conducted the festival annually from 1953 until 2002.
Awards & Achievements
Throughout his life, he was conferred with numerous prestigious and highly esteemed awards, the most prolific amongst them being the national awards such as, ‘Padma Shree’, ‘Padma Bhushan’, ‘Padma Vibhushan’ and ‘Bharat Ratna’ in 1972, 1975, 1999 and 2009 respectively.
In 1976, he was presented with the Sangeet Natak Akademi Award. In 1985, for his contribution as a playback singer he received the National Film Award in the category of Best Playback Male Singer.
In 2000, he received the Aditya Vikram Birla Kalashikhar Puruskar. Two years later, he received the Maharashtra Bhushan and the following year was felicitated by the Government of Kerala with Swathi Sangeetha Puruskaram. In 2005, Karnataka Ratna was presented to him.
In 2008, he bagged the Swami Haridas Award, which was followed by the Lifetime Achievement Award by the Government of Delhi in 2009. Months before his death, he was presented with the S V Narayanaswamy Rao National Award by Rama Sewa Mandali of Bangalore in 2010.
Personal Life & Legacy
He married twice in his lifetime. The first was to Sunanda Katti in 1944. The couple was blessed with four children.
In 1951, he married Vatsala Mudholkar. Despite bigamy being prohibited according to Hindu law, he did not divorce or separate from his first wife. His second wife bore him three children.
Though both his families lived together for some time, it was later that his first wife along with her children moved out to live in a rented space in Limayewadi in Sadashiv Peth, Pune.
On December 31, 2010, he was admitted to Sahyadri Super Speciality Hospital with reported problem of gastrointestinal bleeding and bilateral pneumonia. Since breathing became problematic, he was put on ventilator but suffered from convulsions and was put on dialysis.
He never completely recovered from his ill health at that stage and succumbed to death on January 24, 2011. He was cremated at Vaikunth Crematorium in Pune with full state honors. His death was mourned by the music fraternity of the world who grieved at the loss.
Endowed with powerful voice and fine musical sensibility, Pandit Bhimsen Joshi was a legendary artist whose take on music is hard to emulate for anyone including his own son and music disciples.
His legacy survives in the form of the annual Sawai Gandharva Festival, held in Pune every year which he initiated in 1953 and continued to administer until his retirement in 2002. The festival has become an institution of sorts for the people of the music fraternity and features the most able and proficient Hindustani classical music singers.