|Pandit Bhimsen Joshi|
Last week I was listening in rapture to Bhimsen Joshi singing Raga Gaur Sarang. He has been an old favorite for years, the first classical Indian musician of whom I became aware when my dad brought one of his recordings home in the mid 1960s. I am sure one of the reasons my father bought the record was because Joshi was a Gadag boy, raised in the same district town in what is now, northern Karnataka, that my parents began their 36 year career as missionaries.
Pandit Bhimsen Joshi was the greatest living exponent of an ancient musical tradition, Hindustani gayaki (classical Indian singing). It is a ‘serious’ form of ‘high art’. An enterprise that demands utter and complete devotion and subjugation of the individual to the demands of the Guru, the tradition and the ideal. Those who attain the heights are regarded as demi gods and their lives are perceived to be somehow removed from the mundane round experienced by mere mortals.
Yet Bhimsenji’s start in music and subsequent life was not dissimilar to a thousand other musicians including many pop stars. His young spirit was captured by what he heard on the radio and at first opportunity hit the road, without his parents’ approval to find a place and a mentor who would lead him deeper into the mystic. Throughout his career he struggled with alcohol abuse and nurtured an enthusiasm for fast cars!
The Kirana gharana (school) of classical singing was Joshi’s maidan. Especially popular with singers from the Karnataka/Maharashtra region it blended elements of Hindustani and Carnatic traditions in the same way as the Bijapur kingdom of the 18th century developed a syncretic northern-southern culture in India’s central Deccan area.
On January 24 Pandit Bhimsen Joshi passed away. I’ve included an obituary from the Economist which ran the entire final page of this week’s edition.
His favourite composition, in a raga named after a town linked in Hindu mythology to the god Krishna, used words in praise of a 12th-century Sufi saint, Khwaja Moinuddin Chisti, the saviour of the poor. But there was not one sectarian note in Bhimsen Joshi. He loved the syncreticism of Hindustani music, with its mixture of Hindu and Muslim influences. Music had no religion or caste, he often said. The religion of music was music.
1. Raga Brindabani Sarang
2. Raga Gaur Sarang
3. Raga Multani
4. Raga Shudh Kalyan
5. Raga Kalashree
6. Thumri Jogiya
7. Bhajan Bhairavi