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date: 13 November 2019

Joshi, Bhimsenfree

  • Bonnie C. Wade
  •  and Inderjit N. Kaur

(b Karnataka, 14 Feb 1922; d Pune, 24 Jan 2011).North Indian (Hindustani) classical music vocalist. His attraction to vocal music from a very early age led his father to find local instructors for him. However, Joshi was inspired by recordings of the khayāl singer Abdul Karim Khan of the Kirana gharānā, and by a concert of Khan’s disciple Sawai Gandharva, and ran away from home at the age of 11 in search of a guru. Singing for sustenance, he travelled to Gwalior where he garnered the support of Hafiz Ali Khan for study at the Madhav Sangeet Vidyalaya. Leaving there after six months in search of individual rather than group tutelage, Joshi wandered from place to place and from teacher to teacher, until he reached the town of Jalandhar in Punjab, the site of the famous and oldest Indian classical music festival, Baba Harballabh Sangeet Sammelan. Here for the first time his musical training as well as board and lodging were looked after. He stayed there for one year, receiving tutelage from Mangat Ram, a blind dhrupadia, and getting ample food and exercise. At the following Harballabh festival, the Gwalior master Vinayakrao Patwardhan advised him to return home to study in Kundgol with Sawai Gandharva. After five years of traditional guru-śiṣya-paramparā (teacher-disciple genealogy) with Gandharva (1935–40), a concert in Pune on the occasion of his guru’s 60th birthday launched Joshi on a career as a Kirana singer of khayāl.

Joshi took some instruction beyond Kirana with Mushtaq Hussein Khan of the Sahaswan/Rampur gharānā and also borrowed stylistic traits from Agra and Gwalior gharānā singers. His vocal style revealed that eclecticism. He had particularly cultivated Kirana subtlety in intonation, and his use of ornamentation was highly controlled for dramatic effect. He exploited dynamic contrast, singing loudly in the high register and almost soundlessly thereafter, and varied tāns by means of a series of sudden, rhythmic vocal thrusts followed by a volley of rapid pitches. Almost uniquely, he sang to the vowel ‘i’ in the high register, and unlike most Hindustani singers he used physical movement to punctuate his improvisation. He had effective breath control, singing long melodic phrases in one breath.

Joshi’s structuring of khayāl was also distinctive. Unlike other Kirana singers, he enjoyed playing with rhythm, including cadential tihāīs; he seldom used the sargam syllables as text, and he did not dwell on slow improvisation. He gave generous performance time to the antarā, the second section of the khayāl composition, and he dramatically exploited vocal silence after cadences. In addition to khayāl and ṭhumrī, Joshi performed popular Marathi songs (pad) and gave concerts of devotional songs in Marathi and Kannada languages set to classical tunes. His rendition of the bhajan Jo Bhaje Hari ko Sada received wide popularity.

Joshi tended to perform a small set of rāgas, including Yaman Kalyan, Darbari, Miyan ki Malhar, Marwa, and Pooriya. Shudha Kalyan was a favorite in performance, and was his most recorded rāga. He created rāgas Kalaśrī, Lalit-Bhaṭiyār, and Mārvā-Śrī. His recordings, numerous by the standards of Hindustani classical vocal music, display a broad range of repertory. In honour of his rare contribution, HMV awarded him a platinum disc. Documentaries made about him include Music Mirror: Pandit Bhimsen Joshi directed by the eminent lyricist Gulzar (Film Division, Government of India, 1992), and Gurus of Bandish: Pandit Bhimsen Joshi by Shemaroo Entertainment (Mumbai, 2005).

In honour of his guru, he founded the Sawai Gandharva music festival in Pune in 1953, which has continued to be a top class annual Indian classical music event. His students include Pandits Madahav Gudi, Shrikant Deshpande, Shripati Padigar, Upendra Bhat, and Vinayak Torvi.

Joshi began foreign tours in 1964, first to Afghanistan and then to America, Canada, Europe, and the Middle East. He won multiple awards and recognitions, including India’s most prestigious awards: the Padma Shri, which he received from the President of India in 1972, the Sangeet Natak Akademi Award for Hindustani vocal music (1975), the Padma Bhushan (1985), the Tansen Samman from the government of Madhya Pradesh (1992), the Padma Vibhushan (1999), and India’s highest civilian award, the Bharat Ratna (2008).


And other resources
  • V.H. Deshpande: Gharandaj gayaki (Marathi, 1961; Eng. trans., 1973, 2/1987, as Indian Musical Traditions: an Aesthetic Study of the Gharanas in Hindustani Music)
  • C. Karnani: Listening to Hindustani Music (Bombay, 1976)
  • M. Nadkarni: Bhimsen Joshi: the Man and his Music (New Delhi, 1983)
  • B.C. Wade: Khyāl: Creativity within North India’s Classical Vocal Tradition (Cambridge, 1984)
  • A. Majumdar: Bhimsen Joshi: A Passion for Music (New Delhi, 2004)


  • Raga Miyan ki Todi, Raga Puria Dhanashri, perf. B. Joshi, HMV EALP 1280 (1963)
  • Raga Komal Rishabh Asavari-Todi, Raga Marwa, perf. B. Joshi, HMV SMOAE 5010 (1968)
  • Raga Lalit, Raga Shudh Kalyan, perf. B. Joshi, HMV ECLP 2264 (c1975)
  • Raga Shudha Kalyan, Dadra, Bhajan, perf. B. Joshi, Moment ASIN B00000163W (1994) [live performance]
  • Raga Malkauns, perf. B. Joshi, Times Music EAN: 8902633100671 (2011)