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Bhimsen Joshi: A Hundred Years of the Extraordinary

  • Category
    Art and culture
  • Published
    16th Feb, 2022


Pandit Bhimsen Joshi is touted as one of the greatest vocalists of all time having profoundly contributed to the Indian classical music field for more than four decades.

  • Born on February 4, 1922, this day marks the birth anniversary of the late legendary artist, who received the Bharat Ratna in 2008. 


Who was Bhimsen Joshi?

  • Bhimsen Joshi was born on February 4, 1922, in a family that lived in Dharwad district’s Gadag taluka.
  • This was a day associated with the worship of the sun god and celebrated as Ratha Saptami.
  • Family background: His family had an environment of music and scholarship as his grandfather Bhimacharya was a well-known kirtankar(a singer of kirtans) and father Gururaj was a teacher armed with a Bachelor’s degree in education and a Master’s degree in languages.
  • He was influenced by the music of Kirana gharana‘s Ustad Abdul Karim Khan from a very early age.

Musical training

  • In 1933, the 11 year old left home to learn singing through the Guru-Shishya tradition.
  • He spent three years in Gwalior, Lucknow and Rampur, trying to find a guru but without luck.
  • Eventually, his father tracked him down and brought young Joshi back home.

Fun Fact

  • Bhimsen was known to follow processions accompanied by music bands when he was a young boy in Pune.
  • He would eventually get tired and curl up and sleep somewhere.
  • His parents would go looking for him, sometimes seeking police help.
  • Fed up, Bhimsen’s father came up with a solution — he started writing “Joshi mastarara maga (son of teacher Joshi)” on Bhimsen’s shirts.
  • He began receiving training in Hindustani Classical music under Pt 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 and followed the guru-shishya tradition of gaining knowledge and in return, performing odd jobs.

Awards and Achievements

  • In 1975, Joshi was awarded the Sangeet Natak Akademi Award for Hindustani music - vocal.
  • In 1985, he was conferred with Padma Bhushan.
  • In 2008, he was honoured with the Bharat Ratna.
  • In 2008, he bagged the Swami Haridas Award, which was then followed by the Delhi government’s Lifetime Achievement Award in 2009.

Hindustani Classical Music

  • Hindustani music is one of the two principal types of South Asian classical music.
    • (The other principal type, Karnatak music, is found in the Dravidian-speaking region of southern India.)
  • It is found mainly in the northern three-fourths of the subcontinent, where Indo-Aryan languagesare spoken.
  • The roots of Hindustani Music is traced to the emergence of Dhrupad & Dhamar. It further developed into Vocal & Instrumental Streams.
  • Further emergence of Khayal from Dhrupad as a result of influence of the Mughal Kingdom, Classical Music underwent a change in character, moving from Temples to the Courts.
    • Names like Miyan Tansen have been one of the greatest influence on the Hindustani Style.
  • Instruments: The most prominent instruments of Hindustani music are the 
    • sitar(a long-necked fretted lute with about 30 melodic, drone, and sympathetic strings)
    • sarod(a short-necked unfretted lute with sympathetic and drone strings)
    • sarangi(a bowed fiddle)
    • shehnai(an oboe like wind instrument)
    • tabla(a set of two drums played by one musician, the right-hand drum carefully tuned)
    • tambura(a large long-necked lute with four strings, used only to play the supporting drone, a single repeated chord)

Styles of Singing

Various styles of singing in the North Indian Style are Dhrupad, Khayal, Thumri, Tarana and Tappa.

  • Dhrupad: The most ancient form. "Dhruva" means fixed & "Pada" means text.
  • Khayal: The most popular form of singing at present, 'Khayal', an urdu word means imagination.
  • Thumri: A Form of light Classical Music, developed during the later part of the Mughal rule, Thumri allows for extreme flexibility and freedom.
  • Tarana: Like khayal, tarana has sthayi & antara but difference lies that it uses syllables like nadir, tanana, yalali etc.
  • Tappa: Also a form of light Classical Music, it originates from Punjab and is richly ornamental, with quick turn of phrases and incessant volleys of Taans emerging from each word, in a swinging rhythm.

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