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In memoriam: Pandit Bhimsen Joshi

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Bhimsen Joshi had not sung in a concert for a long time. For a week or so now, there was news of his deteriorating health. However, the news of his death still saddens those who loved his music. TOI reports the end of an era in Indian classical music:

Indian singing legend Pandit Bhimsen Joshi died here Monday after nearly a month in hospital. As thousands queued up to pay their last respects to the 88-year-old music maestro, artists across the country described the loss as the sunset of Indian music.

Joshi, who was awarded the country’s highest civilian honour the Bharat Ratna in 2008, died at Pune’s Sahyadri Hospital at 8.05 a.m, his doctor Atul Joshi said.

Joshi, who would have turned a year older Feb 4, was rushed to the hospital Dec 31. He was suffering from old age related ailments, including kidney problems, and had been admitted to the intensive care unit.

A practitioner of the Kirana gharana, Joshi was known for his mellifluous ‘khayals’ as well as for his popular renditions of devotional ‘abhangs’ and ‘bhajans’.

As the crowds swelled at Kalashree, his home here, noted artists said his death was “an irreparable loss” but added that his music would live on to be celebrated by generations.

“Jab maine suna, laga ki subah subah surya ast ho gaya. Bharat ka sangeet ka suraj doob gaya hai (When I heard about his death, I felt that the sun has set in the morning…the sun has set on Indian classical music),” eminent Hindustani classical singer Pandit Jasraj said reacting to Joshi’s demise.

The Hindu carries an excellent obituary written by Deepa Ganesh:

Pandit Bhimsen Joshi (1922-2011), the “high commissioner of music”, as the legendary Kirana vocalist would call himself in jest, is no more. The maestro from Gadag in Karnataka, who ruled as the sun in the Indian musical constellation for several decades now, was unsurpassed in his brilliant interpretations and renditions of the Kirana repertoire. However, the body of music that he leaves behind transcends the boundaries of his gharana, and unfolds the rich and expansive universe of the Hindustani tradition as a whole.

Bhimsen Joshi was born in Gadag in 1922. His father Gururaj Joshi was a school teacher, and his paternal grandfather Bhimacharya Joshi, a noted musician. As a child, Bhimsen was deeply influenced by his mother, whose bhajans the young boy loved to hear. A wanderer both in life and in music, Bhimsen would often go missing from home, to his parents’ great worry. From the age of three he was wont to wander off – following the muezzin’s prayer of Allahu-Akbar as he tried to grasp its notes, or listening to the musicians in a nearby temple. As if in a trance, the little child would follow bhajan mandalis and wedding processions, completely tuned to musical notes and switched off to all else.

This turned out to be the turning point in his musical journey too. Listening to the gramophone recording of Raga Jhinjoti sung by the maestro of the Kirana gharana, Ustad Abdul Karim Khan in a nearby tea shop, his heart was set on learning from him. He stood at the Gadag station and took a train that was heading north. The penniless lad gave the slip to ticket collectors by moving between compartments, singing songs for fellow passengers and begging for food. He stopped at Pune, Bombay and finally, after three months, reached Gwalior. He met and learnt from various maestros, but was not satisfied.

He then went from Kharagpur to Calcutta, and on to Delhi, finally reaching Jalandhar where the Gwalior maestro Vinayak Rao Patwardhan advised him to learn from Sawai Gandharv in Kundagol, Karnataka. Sawai Gandharv was an outstanding disciple of Ustad Abdul Karim Khan.

Bhimsen Joshi’s intense passion for music was accompanied by a marked non-conformism. While he was a brilliant exponent of the traditional, limited repertoire of the Kirana gharana, his music was fertilized by ideas from other gharanas as well. Unlike his ‘guru-bandhu’ Gangubai Hangal who never crossed the boundaries of the gharana, Bhimsen Joshi was bold and seeking in his quest. To use his expression, his music was “processed in the Kirana factory.”

Though a firm believer and product of the guru-shishya tradition, Bhimsen Joshi felt that this form of learning should not fetter the student. He once remarked in an interview, “What one learns from one’s guru has to be supplemented by individual genius, or else one will not have anything worthwhile to say. In fact, a good disciple should not be a second rate imitator, but a first rate improvement of his teacher.” Thus did Bhimsen Joshi sing ragas like Chaya Malhar, sung by the Gwalior practitioners. He even attempted ragas like Lalit Bhatiyar and Marwa Shree, also alien to the Kirana tradition.

He never hid his deep admiration for the Jaipur maestros — Mallikarjun Mansur and Kesarbai Kerkar. In fact, once Kesarbai Kerkar, who had high regard for Bhimsen Joshi’s music, attended his concert and later jocularly remarked, “I came to see what all you have stolen from me!” The sonorous tonal quality of Bhimsen Joshi’s opening note, the shadja, was strikingly similar to that of Kesarbai. He never disputed it.

Bhimsen Joshi’s maverick genius may be hard to replace, but listen to musicians from the many gharanas across the country, and you invariably hear Bhimsen Joshi in them. No different perhaps from how Ustad Karim Khan, Sawai Gandharv, Roshan Ara Begum and many others came alive in Bhimsen’s own music. And in that sense, he continues to live.

NDTV quotes Pandit Ravi Shankar:

Pandit Bhimsen Joshi was the most popular and beloved vocalist and admired by all classical music lovers, sitar maestro Pandit Ravi Shankar said in his tribute to the legendary singer who passed away today.

“He was the last of my contemporaries who left me behind. He was the most popular and beloved vocalist and admired by all classical music lovers,” the sitar virtuoso said in a condolence message from California.

“Even though I knew that he was not keeping well for quite a while now, the news has been shocking and painful,” Pandit Ravi Shankar said.

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Written by Arhopala Bazaloides

January 24, 2011 at 2:39 pm

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