Warm tribute to Pandit Bhimsen Joshi

Pandit Bhimsen Joshi, a legend in his own lifetime leaves behind an ocean of scintillating and heart-tugging epics of Hindustani Classical Music that will last for innumerable lifetimes to come. A warm-hearted tribute
Like God, he hardly ever said anything to strangers. He simply rendered in bounty, the seemingly perennial stream of soulful ragas to whoever sat to listen in front of him or to whoever put on the audio gadgets at their homes and cars to hear his mesmerizing voice. And there were millions and millions of them crossing boundaries of caste, creed, religion and countries, asking for more. This insatiable hunger to hear him endlessly was created by the Creator himself – the immortal maestro Pandit Bhimsen Joshi. He could innovate one raga to give it a 1,000 expressions and stun the audience with this magical ability never ever heard before and perhaps never again.

Pandit Bhimsen Joshi who passed away on January 24 due to old age related illness was a personification of dedication to Hindustani Classical Music, to the extent that he was dissolved in its vast body and soul and was unmindful of his own existence. While he was and will continue to be the stalwart guru to generations and generations of singers, he himself was the ardent disciple of Sawai Gandharva (who taught him Classical music of the Kirana Gharana) till the very end. While he stormed into limelight when he performed on public stage in Pune to celebrate his guru’s 60th birthday, the annual Sawai Gandharva Festival which he hosted since 1953 was the ultimate and the most prestigious platform for budding classical singers and dancers as well as for the veterans.

While to him goes the credit of the magnanimous contribution of bringing classical music closest to the common man through the Sawai Gandharva festival, he is also instrumental in bringing humility to live performances. The Sawai Gandharva Festival is a classical example wherein an artist, no matter of what stature, sits around like you and me and takes stage with a bowed head, as if in obeisance to the great tradition of Classical Music. Pandit Bhimsen Joshi himself, particularly in the last years of his life when he was unable to perform would sit on a plastic chair carelessly kept on the side. One would understand his presence because you would see a fleet of maestros and admirers going towards him to touch his feet.

For a journalist, it was extremely difficult to interview Pandit Bhimsen Joshi unless he was aware that the journalist was proficient in the knowledge of Classical Music. Otherwise, his answers used to be in mono syllables and you would have to find answers from those who were close to him. His greatness was such that any adornment with the Padma awards (he was the recipient of all three of them) or even the Bharat Ratna seemed like a drop in the ocean of the glorious music that he rendered. It’s like – what can you give God? Flowers? Leaves? Gold? Anything seems too inconsequential for an existence that was larger-than-life.

From being a radio artist to the most sought after stage artist, he rode on an incessant wave of success and admiration till the very end. For six decades of his career he was almost constantly traveling all over the country and the world. Earlier, he would drive around the country in his car – he had a Mercedes – but with increasing invitations, he had no choice but to fly and was sometimes called the Flying Guruji. His acumen in driving and knowing the mechanics of the car that he drove astounded his near and dear friends. Once noted compere Sudhir Gadgli sat in the front seat while Panditji was driving to Nashik. Known for high speed driving, his car almost collided with an oncoming truck. Panditji swerved the car and was saved by a whisker. Naturally Gadgil gasped as a sigh of relief. Panditji said to him, “don’t worry, dhotrala lagel pun mandila lagnar nahi (meaning, it will touch the dhoti but not the skin of my thigh). He wanted to express his perfection in car driving.

Besides his Classical Music that was par excellence, his rich repertoire of abhangs (Marathi devotional songs) captured the heart of entire Maharashtra. He can be given the credit of familiarising abhangs to all and sundry. `Indrayani kathi’ and `Tujhe Mahera Pandhari’ are a couple of evergreen numbers. For those who do not have a yearning for classical music, he hit national headlines and won millions of more admirers with national song of unity – `Mile Sur mera tumhara, toh sur bane hamara…’

It’s almost as if Pune has lost the most precious jewel from its treasure chest. Though of course, some are born, never to die. Pandit Bhimsen Joshi is one of those rare ones. We salute him.

Pune gave a fond and tearful farewell to Pandit Bhimsen Joshi. Hundreds thronged to his house in Navi Peth where is body was kept. Intelligent Pune spoke to some noted Puneites who were close to Panditji and narrated a few incidents which reflects the greatness of Panditji.

– Written by Vinita Deshmukh

Senior Journalist, Co-author of the book ‘To The Last Bullet’

Category: Music
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