After he saw my post on Raveeendran's "thamburu kulir", my friend Sanjay mailed me. "I was expecting a tribute to Bhimsen Joshi", he said in his mail. I replied back saying that I had not heard Bhimsen Joshi enough to write a comprehensive tribute. Then I realized I was wrong. While it is true that I have not heard Bhimsen Joshi much, it is also true that he was a major figure when I grew up. Especially when we were slowly getting sucked into the beauty of classical music. I was also wrong because this blog is not just about my experience alone but about shared experiences. While I write about my experience with Bhimsen Joshi's music, I would request others to share their experience as well.
During our college going years, Bhimsen Joshi had already become a cult musician. I would define a cult musician as someone who is praised even though the person praising has never heard his / her work!!! Whenever we heard the name Bhimsen Joshi, we would go, "Wow. What a great singer", though most of us would not have heard him sing!!! For some unknown reason, I kept missing on hearing Bhimsen Joshi in my college days. Doordarshan and SPIC MACAY programs used to be our source of listening to Hindustani classical music. While I have heard Amjad Ali Khan, Malini Rajurkar, Zakir Hussain, Hariprasad Chaurasi and others live, I never had opportunity to listen to Bhimsen Joshi live. During those Doordarshan days, the first time I heard Bhimsen Joshi was when he and Balamurali sang together for Festival of Hyderabad. The next day I remember having a small discussion with my friend Sanjay, he feeling that Bhimsen was superb and I feeling that Balamurali was terrific. Looking back it sounds silly but then what use your youth if there is no silliness associated with it? Here is the video of Bhimsen and Balamurali singing the raga Yaman Kalyani. Doordarshan and AIR were the lifesavers as far as classical music was concerned. Here you can hear him singing the Telugu lyrics of Balamurali.
And during the Doordarshan days, who can ever forget the song which helped Panditji's strong voice reach every nook and corner of India and leave a lasting impression on all of us. You can never match his perfection of sur but when he lovingly told us , 'mile sur mera tumhare', we all sang along (though out of pitch)
The next serious listening of Bhimsen happened much later. In the intervening years I was completely immersed in listening to carnatic music that I would listen to nothing else. After a few years I got back to listening to all kinds of music. It was during this period that I bought a tape of Bhimsen Joshi singing Brindavana Sarang. It was a wonderful tape which I have heard multiple times. Unfortunately some of the Music Today tapes were prone to fungus growth and I lost that tape to fungus. Haven't been able to locate a CD of this yet but I am sure I would get it. This was one of the tapes I recommended to all people in a post I wrote quite some time back. You can check out the post by clicking on this link. While browsing youtube I got this video of Bhimsen Joshi singing Brindavana Sarang. (Vrindavani Sarang). Do listen to it. You can clearly see he is not in the best of his health but what power in his singing!!!
The next impact Bhimsen Joshi made not just on me but also on my friend was when I had shifted to Bangalore. I bought a tape of Bhimsen Joshi singing Devarnamas and in it was listed 'Bhagyadalakshmi Baramma' . Since this is a very standard song in Carnatic music I was keen on listening to Bhimsen Joshi take on it. While it is rendered in Madhyamavathi ragam in Carnatic concerts, Bhimsen Joshi uses a different raga. The raga which gives you the mood of the morning. And the rendition turned out to be a very memorable one. A friend came to my house in Bangalore from Hyderabad. He was not musically trained nor was he particularly keen on classic music. He rarely heard classical music. But Bhimsen's rendition of this piece attracted him so much that he took the tape from and used to listened to it every day when he was wearing the 'maala' to go Sabaramalai. He told me that every day for those 40 days this tape would play in his house. Ofcourse he has not returned that tape yet. You can listen to that lovely piece here.
Another lovely Devarnama. This one based on 'Darbari Kanada' . 'sada enna hridayadalli vasamadu srihari'
A couple of years back, at the behest of the Birla family, Illayaraja tuned a bhajan written by Mahatma Gandhi. He tuned it in Sindhu Bhairavi and request Pandit Bhimsen Joshi to start the bhajan by singing the pallavi line. A nice melody.
While Bhimsen Joshi was the torch bearer of the Kirana Gharana, it dawned upon me after to listening to other Kiran doyens like Abdul Karim Khan, Sawai Gandharva, Hirabai Barodekar, Gangubai Hangal, Feroz Dastur etc, that Bhimsen Joshi, while keeping the core of the gharana intact, had moved much ahead by incorporating aspects of other gharanas as well. While most of the Kirana gharana singers seemed to have given a preference for melody, Bhimsen Joshi, while being melodious, also brings in lot more of rhythm and energy into his singing. The second aspect, energy, is one which makes him endearing to the lay audience. At the same time, his grasp of the raga and his superb imagination captures the attention of all connoisseurs. He was one of the few musicians who had excellent crowd pulling ability and at the same time was praised by the musically knowledgeable critics. A balance which was achieved only by a few musicians, either in Carnatic or Hindustani music. Looking at the Hindustani music scene it is not very heartening to note that no one of Bhimsenji's stature is anywhere in sight in this or next generation. A great musician has passed away leaving behind a huge void.
To me, Pt.Bhimsen Joshi is a name which is intricately linked to my youth and such names are never erased from your memory. I do wish I had heard more of him than what I have. It is not something that I cannot correct and I intend to do it as early as possible. Let us all pray that Panditji's soul rests in peace. His music will always be around to provide us the peace we long for. And hence he shall remain, 'sadaa namma hrudayadalli'.