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Friday, March 18, 2011

Bhimsen Joshi: Sur Merges with the ‘Sur-Infinite’

Bhimsen Joshi
(February 4, 1922 - January 24, 2011
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 abhangsTheertha 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 Bhatiyar

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.
GRK Murty


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