That Pandit Bhimsen Joshi’s passing away late last month has left an unbreachable void in the field of Hindustani classical music is an understatement of the millennium. Revered as the modern-day Tansen, his sturdy vocals, terrific breath control and amazing flair held his listeners in thrall.
The son of a school teacher in Ron, which was part of the Gadag district in Karnataka, Joshi had sixteen younger siblings. While still a child Joshi evinced keen interest in music, must to the consternation of his father who was nursing high professional ambitions for his eldest offspring. If some old timers are to be believed, it was a recording of Abdul Karim Khan’s Thumri in Raga Jhinjhoti that changed the mindset, indeed the life, of the young Joshi.
At age 11 he fled home and hearth in search of a guru; his train co-passengers, it is rumored, lent him the money to fulfill his quest. Seeking a guru from the Kirana Gharana – Abdul Karim Khan being its esteemed founder – he went from one town in North India to the next, almost. Hearing about Sawai Gandharva, the chief disciple of Abdul Karim Khan, in Dhadwad Joshi became his disciple a la guru-shishya style.
This space is dedicated to the maestro who not just enriched the listening pleasure of his ever-billowing fan club but who also added unique features to his singing by introducing elements from other gharanas and by inventing new ragas.
As a tribute to the musician’s genius I have chosen the album Unsung by Times Music. The album, which marked his 80th birthday, features two afternoon ragas- Shuddh Sarang and Marwa. These renditions were personally hand-picked by the maestro as they had never been recorded before.
Be it the long-tempoed Vilambit Khayal in Raga Shuddh Sarang or the short take drut khayal in Raga Marwa, both recitals display all the elements of Kirana gayaki with emphasis on swaras, with each swara treated independently, perfected and embellished. In Joshi’s gayaki one also, sees, however, the impeccable thrust on the bandish or composition, a la the Gwalior style. The full-bodied aakar taans are a seditious contrast to the syllabic sargam taans, the hallmark of Panditji’s prolific gharana.
Both the ragas featured in Unsung, Shuddh Sarang and Marwa, are melancholic and ponderous. Rendered by a superb musician who is no more, they attain a stature that is hard to comprehend. Panditji will be missed in many many years to come.