Posted on RMIM by Rajan Parrikar as part of Great Masters Series
Bhimsen Joshi, who is riding the crest of popularity and has
ridden it for the last several years, is a musical marvel. His
singing invariably provides listeners with a divine musical experience.
Many of his rivals admit, though unwillingly, that
today there is no other vocalist comparable to him in the entire
Bhimsen, who is now in his 60s, has attained proficiency and
fame that astound the musical world. His voice, like that
legendary philosopher's stone, turns every note into a golden
one. Billions of notes that have receivd the golden touch of
his voice have been freely showered by him on the teeming
millions of his fans. His unswerving faith in an intense devotion
to his guru have been his keys to success.
Bhimsen was born into a Brahmin family of Gadag in Karnataka.
His childhood was spent there. Even as a child he
was crazy about music, to the chagrin of his father who desired
that Bhimsen should get a sound education and qualify as a
doctor or an engineer. But Bhimsen, neglecting his studies,
pursued music instead. At last he could not control any more
his yearning to learn music, and one day he ran away from home.
He had heard that Gwalior, Lucknow and Rampur in the North
were the best places to learn classical music. Therefore his first
destination was Gwalior.
A few years of his youth were thus spent in the company of
well known musicians at Gwalior, Lucknow and Rampur, serving
them and learning as much as he could from them. His
father, coming to know of Bhimsen's fervent desire for knowledge
in music, abandoned his policy of opposition, fetched his
son back and made arrangements for him to learn under the
guidance of Sawai Gandharva of Kundol. This opportunity
opened the vaults of rich and rare musical treasures to Bhimsen.
Bhimsen's natural tuneful voice received further polish from his
guru. Like a diamond which sparkles all the brighter after it is
expertly cut, Bhimsen's voice began to shine with a new lustre
and brilliance which has dazzled and cast a spell on the entire
Maharashtra was then part of a province known as Bombay
Presidency that included Dharwad, Belgaum and Bijapur, which
are now parts of Karnataka. I therefore had to look after the
recordings of artists in this Kannada-speaking region. As part
of my duty I was required to go on tours of places like Bijapur.
Belgaum, Bailhongal, Dharwad, Hubli and Gadag in search of
fresh talent and recording material. During one such tour
I came to know of young Bhimsen. Shortly afterwards, I got an
opportunity to see him and hear him sing. A Kannada dramatic
company came to Bombay to present Kannada plays. A show
was arranged at the Podar College hall at Matunga, for the
benefit of the Kannadigas residing in North Bombay. I did not
know Kannada at all but I was prompted to go with the purpose
of hearing young Bhimsen on stage. Bhimsen was the hero in
the play Bhagyashri. When I heard him sing I was convinced
that the young man was a miracle, a genius, god's own creation,
and would have a brilliant future. Even though Bhimsen's
classical singing had not yet reached a high standard, his style
of presentation greatly impressed me.
I immediately negotiated with him for an H.M.V. recording.
He sang two Hindi and two Kannada bhajans for his first recording.
This was in the year 1944. Soon afterwards I got him
again and this time he recorded a beautiful poem Uttar Druv
Dum composed by the well known Kannada-Maharashtrian poet
the late D. R. Bendre, and also another poem written by the
Kannada poet laureate Puttappa in bhavgeet style.
With the great success of these recordings, which sold in very
large numbers in Kannada areas, Bhimsen began to cut more
and more records. By this time he had made the grade as a
classical singer, so I got him to do a few classical pieces, which
also were a great success. Thus, gradually Bhimsen became
well-known and popular as a siner.
With his increasing popularity Bhimsen started getting invitations
to sing at various cities and towns in Maharashtra and
Karnataka. To facilitate the keeping of these engagements, he
now bought a big car and took to driving. The car was so big
that it could easily accommodate him and his 4 accompanists
besides two tanpuras and other instruments. In this car Bhimsen
travelled extensively. One day he would go from Bombay
to Belgaum - then on to Bangalore the next day, and back
to Pune- only to go off again to Nagpur, Raipur or Bhilai.
Back again in Pune, he would rush off to Hyderabad, Solapur
and so on these whirlwind tours became a habit with him
and in a short while he became an expert driver.
His unbelievably flexible voice enabled him to traverse at
terrific speed, the great range of 3 octaves. While at the wheel,
he used the same technique as in singing. He ignored the possibility
of danger from bad or slippery roads, ditches, pot holes
and other obstacles such as oncoming cars and stray cattle. Only
fabulous luck saved him from a couple of very grave accidents.
This toned down his recklessness. Another factor also lessened
Bhimsen's craze for fast motor driving. The spread of his fame
and popularity beyond the boundaries of Maharashtra brought
him invitations from far off places like Jullundur, Jammu, Srinagar,
Delhi, Calcutta and Gauhati. Bhimsen, who had so far
matched the speed and agility of his voice with the speed of his
car, realised that a car after all has limitations and moves in
the vilambit laya. As he began to accept numerous invitations
to far off places (he would have to be in Calcutta one night,
Delhi the next evening, Bombay the following day and Jullundur
immediately afterwards), he had to switch to air travel. The
pilots of Indian Airlines and airport oficials came across
Bhimsen so frequently that he was soon known as the 'flying
musician of India'.
Sometimes as I sat at my table in the office, the phone would
ring 'Hello Govindrao! This is Bhimsen. I am coming to
Bombay by the morning plane. I have to go to Calcutta by the
afternoon flight, please book my seat.' At other times, Bhimsen
would rush into my office unannounced and explain, 'Had a
programme last night in Delhi. I have just arrived by the
morning flight.' ' Now I am off -to Pune but will be back tomorrow
because I have an engagement in Calcutta the day
One can easily imagine the tremendous difficulties involved in
getting hold of an ever-busy singer like Bhimsen for recording.
Fortunately as his popularity increased rapidly, the recording
technique also improved for the better. 78 R.P.M. records were
now replaced by the 45 R.P.M., extended play records and 33
R.P.M. long-playing records. Extended play records played
twice as long as the 78 R.P.M. So the prices also were double.
The long-playing microgroove records were also proportionately
higher priced. These records gradually became the exclusive
privilege of the affluent in society. Therefore I felt it would be
a commercially profitable venture to cut EP records instead of
LP records for some time. Accordingly I got Bhimsen to sing on
EP discs. These included Zanak zanakuva in Raga Darbari.
Piya to manata nahee, a thumri, Jo bhaje hari ko sada, a
bhajan, and the most enchanting thumri - Piya ke milan ki aas.
These records, when released, surprisingly and contrary to my
expectations, did not show good results. I could not imagine
what had gone wrong. After making a study of the psychology
of the customers, I realized that those who were able to buy EP
records were usually fairly well-to-do and they could easily
spend the extra 20 to 25 rupees for an LP record. They would
rather buy an LP with a full 20 minute cheez; or a raga, than
an abridged version of the same on an EP record. So I decided
to put Bhimsen on LP records. I got him to do the same Ragas,
Todi, Darbari and Malkauns, which he had previously sung for
EP recordings, and these were a fantastic hit in the market. My
guess that people loved to listen to ragas sung by Bhimsen in their
full form and splendour proved to be very correct.
Every performer has his favourite items, in which he excels.
On the strength of these- his mehfil becomes a memorable
experience. Bhimsen is no exception. After hearing a number
of his concerts some people remarked that his programmes are
repetitive. It is a peculiar characteristic of our music that the
ingenuity of a musician is known by his ability to unfold and
create new and novel facets of known raas. The same composition,
same notes in the same ragas, presented on successive
occasions can sound ever-new, fresh and enchanting and receive
enthusiastic approval from listeners and critics in the audience.
It is very necessary therefore that the listeners should cultivate
a knowledgeable interest and a musical ear to appreciate our
I had got Bhimsen to record most of the ragas over which
he had full command. After a year and half he appeared to be
reluctant to cut new discs. One day as we were chatting, I told
him to do some more recordings and he said, 'To tell you the
truth, I really do not know just what to record now. I have
already come out with most of my winning numbers. If I make
fresh recordings, they must have the same superior stamp of
quality and performance.'
I admired him for the candid statement. I said, 'All your
fans are waiting eagerly for you to come out with new things.
Surely you can think of something if you apply your mind
seriously to it.' He merely smiled and promised to do so.
Soon after this my niece got married in Pune. Bhimsen was
invited with his family to the ceremony and the lunch thereafter,
but to my disappointment he did not show up. In the
evening he came with his wife to the reception. He knew immediately
that I was a little annoyed at his failure to come for
lunch. 'We had a lot of guests today,' explained his wife. 'That's
why we could not come.'
I said, 'Since you failed to come you will have to submit to
He agreed. 'What is the punishment?'
I announced, 'There are two, to be undergone one after the
other. First - you must finish all three dishes set before you,
and second - you must sing for us in the hall tonight.'
Bhimsen sportingly accepted both the punishments. In his
performance that night he presented two entirely new ragas
which I instantly liked. Even though he was not yet very
familiar with the raga composition, I could well imagine how
marvellous the exposition would sound once it was perfected.
There and then I decided to have the new ragas for his next
recording. One was an admixture of Kalavati and Rageshri
(he had aptly named it Kalashri), and the other was a beautiful
fusion of ragas Lalit and Bhatiyar. The recording of these
however could not be done before I left in July 1970 on an
extensive trip around the world.
I returned after a period of 7 months and although I had officially
retired from service I was prevailed upon to work for the
company again in the same capacity.
As a matter of fact I did not need to work any longer. Both
my daughters were happily married; my responsibilities were
over. There really was no need to saddle myself with a job,
but I had been so used to working and to having the company
of artists for so many years, that without these my life would
have been purposeless and monotonous. Hence I agreed to the
proposal in March 1971. Bhimsen had remained unrecorded for
nearly 3 years so I decied to get him as the first artist after
I realized once again the truth that a genuine artist values
friendship more than money. In just a month after I resumed,
I brought Bhimsen to the studio. He had agreed to make only
one record that night. The news that Bhimsen was in our studio
leaked out, I don't know how. I suppose one cannot hide fragrance.
That night a number of artists arrived in our studio to
listen to Bhimsen's recording. Prominent among these were
veterans Kumar Gandharva and Sudhir Phadke. Sometimes the
presence of such knowledgeable colleagues is helpful. The singer,
inspired by the presence of such stalwarts, strives tc give his
best. But at times such a presence has an adverse effect, too. In
a mehfil a singer wanting to fulfil the expectations of the listeners
has ample time and opportunity to show his prowess, but during
a recording session a singer has to present a complete picture of
a raga, in a most delectable form, in a short duration of time.
Therefore, while trying to do this the singer may come to regard
the presnce of such knowledgeable friends as akin to that of
a bunch of jurors. When he gets into this agitated and perturbed
state of mind a coherent performance becomes very difficult.
The recording session began at 9.30, but till midnight Bhimsen
was tossing adrift in the cross-currents of notes of the raga Gaud
Sarang. I therefore called for a coffee break. The disinguished
guests, sensing Bhimsen's predicament discreetly left, and after
some time we resumed the session. Now released from tension,
Bhimsen, having already warmed up sufficiently, started
with a bang and gave a very scintillating exposition of Raga
Gaud Sarang. The replay of this recorded side had an electrifying
effect on Bhimsen, and he who had struggled for over three
hours with the notes of a single raga, recorded in succession
five more ragas with his uncanny and astounding imaginative
skill and rare artistry.
The session that had begun early in the night came to a close
at 7.30 the next morning with six brilliant ragas to Bhimsen's
credit. An artist, when he gets into his element, is oblivious of
everything except his art. Bhimsen had come with the tacit
understanding that he would cut only one LP but had ended up
recording material enough for three LPs. Besides the traditionally
known Gaud Sarang, Brindavani Sarang, Puriya and Durga, he
immortalized Ragas Kalashri and Lalit Bhatiyar, both of his own
creation, which I had, as mentioned before, earmarked for recording
during his performance in Pune.
While trying to persuade Bhimsen to come for the recording
I had strongly urged that he should also render devotional
Marathi items, like his previous hit seller Indrayani kathi, for
recordings on extended play. Bhimsen had already, through his
regular concerts, made popular some more bhaktigeets, which
received a terrific response. After that night's marathon session
I did not dare to even mention the proposal for these devotional
recordings. But, as if reading my mind, and pleased with his
splendid innings of that night, Bhimsen said to me, 'Well, shall
we make Marathi devotional EPs also?'
Would I have said 'No'? We fixed the recording for that
afternoon. Feeling doubly blessed and very elated, I immediately
requested our recording engineer and other staff to come back
to the studio by 12.30. Before parting Bhimsen promised to
come to my residence to pick me up. Punctually at 12.30 Bhimsen
was standing at my door. His boundless enthusiasm filled
me with admiration. Even before our recording engineer and
other staff arrived we were ready with the tanpuras tuned. The
night long riyaz had given such a brilliance to Bhimsen's voice
that by the evening, instead of two, he recorded four Marathi
bhaktigeets. At my own very first recording I had recorded fourteen
songs instead of two. The late Panalal Ghosh made one
LP and four EPs in a single night, but Bhimsen broke all previous
records by cutting six sides of 20 minutes each and four
sides of 7 minutes each within a short period of 20 hours. Such
a splendid performance was possible only for a stalwart like
Bhimsen. All the senior officers in our company were astounded
by this unbelievable feat.
For the previous 3 years the company, the trade and his fans
had eagerly awaited the issue of new LPs featuring Bhimsen.
I had succeeded in obtaining for them 3 LPs topped with a bonus
issue of 2 EPs in just 18 hours. I was congratulated on this
unique achievement, but I give all the credit for it to this giant
gem of an artist.
Supreme confidence in his own abilities and unfailing loyalty
are two prominent qualities of Bhimsen. Every year he observes
the punyatithi (death anniversary) of his guru Sawai Gandharva
with a music festival at Pune. Those privileged to attend it are
indeed very fortunate, for the spectacle is one fit for the gods.
For three consecutive nights about 10,000 people attend the
programme from 8 at night to 7 the next morning. Eminent
artists in the world of Indian classical music vie with each other
for a chance to appear on the stage on this occasion. There are
two reasons for this. Firstly the programme is at the behest of
a great fellow artist like Bhimsen, and secondly it is rare and
almost impossible for a musician to get a chance to perform
before such a vast, discerning and appreciative audience.
During these celebrations, Bhimsen works like an ordinary
volunteer. On occasion he is even noticed sweeping the stage,
bringing the instruments on stage and helping the artist to
tune the tanpuras perfectly. He looks after the comforts of the
artists and audience alike. He does this untiringly for three
successive nights. One cannot help but admire him for his love
and reverence for his guru.
I had made a number of 3 minute records of the late Sawai
Gandharva in his life tirne. From these I selected 12 songs to
form one LP and got it released during the memorable 1969
session of his anniversary arranged by Bhimsen. The late Sawai
Gandharva was a disciple of Abdul Karim Khan. A galaxy of
veterans are among his disciples. They include top names like
Gangubai Hangal, Hirabai Badodekar, Phiroz Dastur and
Bhimsen, who is the youngest of them all. The characteristics
of the Kirana gharana are precision-oriented tunefulness (lagav
of swaras) presentation of a bandish with an impressively graceful
style, and a disciplined, systematic and methodical raga development,
punctuated with an elegantly elaborate alap and skilful
decoration with the choicest forms of embellishments - taans.
With the help of all these, Bhimsen makes such a terrific
favourable impact on his audience right from the start of the
concert that listeners remain glued to their seats till the last
notes of his Bhairavi. Within a few minutes of his arrival in a
concert hall Bhimsen measures correctly the pulse of the audience.
His discerning eye unfailingly recognizes the knowledgeable
in the congregation and, by the time the tanpuras are tuned,
and accompaniment arranged, he has decided on the musical
menu he will dish out to achieve a resounding success.
Bhimsen fully understands mass psychology. He gauges the
intellectual level of the listeners within minutes of the start of
the mehfil and arrives at the point of sam in a totally unexpected
and startling but graceful style to receive their spontaneous enthusiastic
'Wah, wah'. From then on the mehfil is under his
control and, for the listeners, it is a delectable treat which carries
them to celestial heights. He has made a very careful study
of where and how to utilize the beautiful phrases he has preselected.
Because of this his elaborations never appear artificial.
On the contrary his performance proceeds in a most natural
and lucid style. He is blessed with an extremely sweet, flexible
voice and with gruelling riyaz he has trained it in such a way
that he can always achieve the musical effects he desires. His
voice, at one moment flowing smoothly like a tranquil stream,
suddenly takes a mighty leap of two or more octaves in the next
avartana and then, with gradually diminishing vigour, reverts
gently back to sam, thus providing moments of supreme artistic
pleasure. Bhimsen's recitals are replete with many such beautiful
moments. His full-throated voice can at his command take
on a soft velvety texture, to the extreme delight of the listeners.
Like an aeroplane on a joy-ride, he flits from one octave to another,
from there to the next, back again to the second and again
to the third, all in one breath. The listeners hold their breath
in an agony of suspense, marvelling at his capacity, and when
he glides gracefully back to the point of sam, the entire audience
breathes a sigh of happy relief. Along with his artistry,
this feat of physical endurance and breath control is most impressive.
Bhimsen believes that in classical music the poetic
content of the lyric is as important as thc notes of the raga. He
becomes entirely absorbed with the sentiments of the bandish
and this emotional merger is appreciated by listeners of all ages
and levels. This is why Bhimsen's classical singing has mass
Bhimsen is a versatile singer; he is an expert in khayal singing
but he is also adept in the presentation of thumris, songs from
plays, or devotional compositions. His lilting thumris (Jadu
bhareli, Piya ke milan ki aas or Babul mora) and his innumerable
popular Abhangs composed by the saints of Maharashtra are
instances in point.
Bhimsen is a prodigy - unique - a divine miracle. We
should admire his tremendous accomplishments in the realm of
music, revel in the heavenly experience of his gayaki and pray to
God Almighty to bless this musical genius with a long life. In
the whole of India there is no one else who has atained so
much and given so much to music lovers. Listeners in the U.S.A.
and the U.K. love and admire him. It is a pity that our Government
has only bestowed a mere Padmashri on him, instead of
the higher honours deserved by an artist of Bhimsen's calibre
who has received the greatest acclaim abroad.