Rare combination

M Balamuralikrishna. Photo: K.V. Srinivasan   | Photo Credit: K_V_Srinivasan


The first time we were introduced was about 30 years ago, during the making of the film ‘Hamsageethe' for which I composed the songs. He sang my composition in it, and we became admirers of each other. We did many jugalbandi concerts in India and abroad. Because he was born in Karnataka, he could easily grasp our South Indian style of music. Any musician, if he is not narrow-minded can do that, since music is music. Bhimsenji had the knowledge. He could follow my style and I could follow the North Indian style. It was helpful, and later I performed with Jasraj, Kishori Amonkar, Hari Prasad Chaurasia, Zakir Hussain. He (Bhimsenji) took an oath he would never sing jugalbandi with any other musician, and he kept it till the end. He would sing my compositions and poetry, and I would sing his.


My very early impressions of Bhimsenji are from when as a child I attended his concerts. I did not know much about music then, but it was so thrilling and so stirring that those memories are still with me. He had that ability to draw in everyone, whether they were music analysts, or aficionados or just rasikas or those without musical knowledge. I think the reason for this was a rare combination of Carnatic and Hindustani music. He was raised in Karnataka, and his early background was Carnatic music. He learnt the Dasar padagalu, etc.

His was the kind of singing where the form and the structure is primordial - which is the same with Carnatic music: the form and structure and the lyrics and sensibility are most important. He carried these elements with him, and when he ran away and found the best of the best gurus of Hindustani music, he imbibed the ati vilambit laya, and the typical Khayal gayaki. What came out was such a happy amalgam of these two extremes, and I think that explains the appeal of his music.

Also, his voice. He had to struggle a lot to find his voice. When we speak of Bhimsen Joshi we talk of power; he had to work very hard for that. When that voice combined with what I said earlier, it was, as they say, sone pe suhaaga (the icing on the cake).

And thirdly, he ventured out to do abhang singing. I remember the clamour and the scurry... “If Bhimsenji sings only abhangs, what will happen?” He did not do only that, but he sang enough to put his complete stamp on it. He did work with abhang composers like Shrinivas Khale, but he blended classical and semi-classical elements. When he sang he elevated the form to great heights. One of his most famous abhangs is ‘Indrayani Kaathi,' which was used in a film, and that was the first time the non-musical world came to know who he is.

I was always inspired by his music, but I was singing Carnatic and never thought I would have any connection. Then one fine day, when I sang my first abhang, ‘Teertha Vitthala Kshetra Vitthala' in Chennai, it turned out to be a turning point for me. He is the one who gave me the passion to sing abhangs, and I am blessed to be part of that tradition.


The ambience that was created when he tuned the tanpura was different from any other. The relationship he had with the tanpura player and other accompanists, be it tabla or harmonium, was what is called ‘hath kheli' - such that he took pleasure in every musical nuance. He was always immersed in his music. And his aakaar was such that none has ever sung like that. His breath control, the ability to sing long aakaar without taking a breath, was just amazing. His way of elaborating the raga during badhat too was unmatched. Each note was taken up like pearls on a string.

I was blessed to spend an afternoon in his house once when I was with Pandit Birju Maharaj and Ustad Allah Rakha, and we had a meal cooked by his (Bhimsenji's) wife. I had a chance to observe him during the years I worked with Birju Maharajji, with whom he had familial relations. When he came to Delhi he might have a flight booked, but he would decide he didn't want to go, and sleep through it, then go the next day!

PANDIT MADHUP MUDGAL (Hindustani vocalist)

He was a singer who was appreciated by both lay audiences and connoisseurs. Such people are rare. He had the kind of voice that mesmerised everyone. When he sang vilambit (slow speed elaboration of raga), the listeners' attention would not stray a bit. The very power of his voice was unsurpassed. He continued to sing till nearly the end, even giving concerts from his wheelchair.


The Dharwad region where he was nurtured is the cusp, where, though Hindustani music prevails, the Carnatic currents are strong. He had the fire of motivation and transcended the Kirana gharana to gain a much broader spectrum. What he did with the Sant Vani was wonderful. In Hindustani music, word clarity is not given so much weight, but in devotional compositions the lyric is important with Sanskrit phonetics. His diction and emotive enunciation came with the same fervour whether in Hindi, Marathi or Kannada. His voice though not elegant or sweet had tremendous power, and his vocal stamina was special. He used it with vallinam-mellinam (vocal dynamics). Carnatic music is phrase-oriented, so has more gamakas, whereas Hindustani is flowing. This tonal flow with vocal dynamics was his speciality, combined with the typical Marathi (bhakti) sangeet fervour. His command over the micro-tonal areas was fantastic. To master such a powerful voice and make it take on every expression and tonal colour you want, and effortlessly… In Carnatic music, it was Chembai Vaidyanatha Bhagavathar my guru, and in Hindustani it was Bhimsen Joshi. Such musicians come once in a century.

(As told to Anjana Rajan)

Our code of editorial values

Related Topics
This article is closed for comments.
Please Email the Editor

Printable version | Jun 11, 2021 9:34:12 PM |

Next Story