Pandit Bhimsen Gururaj Joshi

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The Times of India TNN | Feb 1, 2011

Early life

Kirana gharana maestro Pandit Bhimsen Gururaj Joshi was born on February 4, 1922 in Gadag, Karnataka.

His father was a teacher whose contributions include a Kannada-English dictionary which is a standard reference work. He also authored Naadaputra' a short biography of Bhimsen a rare example of a father writing about his son.

Panditji was a good student, but he loved music.

Initiation into music

It ultimately prompted him to run away from home when he was 11 and his quest for a good teacher took him to Bijapur, Gwalior, Kolkata, Delhi and Jalandhar before he came back home to become a disciple of Sawai Gandharva, the disciple of Ustad Abdul Karim Khan whom Panditji admired.

Bhimsen began to live at his guru's house and was taught nothing for the first 18 months, primarily because his student's voice was breaking and to test his sincerity. Bhimsen stayed with his teacher till 1940 and learnt raga Todi, Multani and Pooriya.

Rise to fame

His meeting with vocalist Begum Akhtar fetched him a job as a staff artiste at Lucknow radio station where he became friends with shehnai player Ustad Bismillah Khan. In 1943, he moved to Mumbai, but his real break came in 1946 at a concert to mark the 60th birthday of Sawai Gandharva. His guru and the audience appreciated the performance.

Bhimsen started as a recording artiste in 1944 with HMV when the company released two Hindi and two devotional songs in Kannada. He recorded prolifically for the company and in 1984 became the first Hindustani vocalist to win a platinum disc.

Three documentaries

There are three documentaries on him. The first was in 1965 by M Louis, a Dutch film producer who was deeply intrigued by Panditji after hearing him. He came to India and made a film that was shown all over in the West. The second documentary, called Raga Miyan Malhar', was made by Canadian businessman James Beveridge. It portrays the maestro singing just raga Miyan Malhar.

The third is a conventional 45-minute documentary shot in 1993 by noted poet Gulzar which bagged the national award.

Panditji has sung on occasions of national importance. He, along with Lata Mangeshkar, performed at Parliament house on the 50th anniversary of India's independence.

Awards

There have been many awards the nation's highest civilian award Bharat Ratna was conferred on him in 2008, Padma Shri in 1972, Padma Bhushan in 1985 and Padma Vibhushan in 1999. The Maharashtra government honoured him with the Maharashtra Bhushan in 2002. In between, he also received the Sangeet Natak Akademi award in 1975 and was made a fellow in 1998. The Madhya Pradesh government awarded him the Tansen Sanman award in 1992. The Karnataka Rathna presented to him in September 2005. His voice opened the short film on national integration Mile Sur Mera Tumhara' and the second film on Des raga also became equally popular.

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