Bhimsen Joshi may have made Pune his home but his sadhana began in Gadag
Karnataka's illustrious son may have made Pune his home for the sake of his career, but his roots were in Gadag (in the erstwhile undivided Dharwad district) where he had his first formal music education.
As Pandit Bhimsen Joshi, who passed away at 89 on Monday, had said on several occasions, his first guru was Agasara Channappa of Kurtakoti near Gadag after his parents noticed his fascination for music.
His father, Gururajacharya Joshi, was a schoolteacher in Bagalkot and often the family had a problem tracking down young Bhimsen who would follow processions accompanied by music bands. The exercise would ultimately tire him out and he would curl up somewhere and sleep, forcing the parents to go to the police after efforts to trace him fail.
Fed up, Gururajacharya Joshi come up with the solution, writing “Joshi mastarara maga” (son of teacher Joshi) on Bhimsen's shirts. This worked and those who found the boy sleeping would safely deposit him back to his house.
It was only logical that the father send him to Agasara Channappa for music lessons once he moved to Gadag to teach at the Municipal School there.
The senior Joshi, a scholar in Sanskrit and English, was a native of Hombala in Gadag taluk. Although his qualification entitled him to the post of Collector, he chose teaching. Bhimsen was the eldest among the 16 children from his two wives. He married Godubai after the death of his first wife.
Godubai, practically the same age as that of stepson Bhimsen, lives with four of her sons in Gadag. Seven daughters of the Joshi family reside in surrounding areas.
Search for guru
After basic music lessons from Agasara Channappa, Bhimsen left home in search of his next guru on several occasions and returned disappointed. The story of how he found the legendary Hindustani vocalist Sawai Gandharva, who also honed another outstanding talent, Gangubai Hangal, is narrated elsewhere in this newspaper.
Gangubai, who passed away last year, used to fondly remember how “Bhimanna” would accompany her to the Kundagol railway station as she commuted to Hubli.
“Whatever happened after that is history. Bhimanna toured across the country giving concerts and finally the patronage of the people of Pune made him settle down there,” recalls Sushilendra Joshi, one of Bhimsen's younger brothers, who is associated with theatre, particularly the Abhinaya Taranga of Gadag.
Whatever Sushilendra and his siblings know about Bhimanna is from the accounts of his childhood by their father and also from the biographical piece the senior Joshi wrote about him for a Kannada book. By the time Sushilendra was born, the 36-year-old Bhimsen was well on his way to stardom.
Even though Bhimsen chose Pune as his home, he regularly went back to his beloved Gadag till his failing health prevented him. His last visit was in 1992, to perform at a programme organised by Abhinaya Taranga. Thereafter, the siblings visited him in the Maharashtrian city.
When the Bharat Ratna came, it was a collective celebration for the vast family, the happiest being stepmother Godubai. Gadag, of course, erupted in festivity.
Today, this town, in the heart of Karnataka as well as Bhimsen's, is shrouded in a pall of gloom.