On Pandit Bhimsen Joshi’s 98th Birth Anniversary, Here Are Four Of His Jugalbandis Where He Builds Heritage From Duet  Friendships

Sumati Mehrishi

Feb 04, 2021, 05:05 PM | Updated 05:04 PM IST

Pandit Bhimsen Joshi.
Pandit Bhimsen Joshi.
  • This natural budding of thought, theme, raag and mood was possible only with the friendships that Pandit Bhimsen Joshi shared with his co performers, and with his peers.
  • One of the natural responses to celebrating Pandit Bhimsen Joshi's birth anniversary is to turn to devotional compositions performed by him.

    It's where many of us have 'found' him when we have gone 'looking for him' outside of the concerts we have attended, and outside the greenrooms, after 2004.

    A temple in Karnataka, a radio set at a railway station in Varanasi, a ghat, he erupts in bhakti at the most unexpected places.

    On his 98th birthday, I look at something different. Four of his duets available on the YouTube. Pandit ji's friendships spoke in his duets in every virtue, value and valve that connects two styles and voices.

    These friendships in music grew and evolved to give us a heritage of jugalbandis. They opened music. They celebrated gayaki. They aligned with that one element that makes jugalbandis live for ages: respect for the other's art — and hence jugalbandi.

    These are small samples, that reveal the generous artiste he was. Notice the missing pedestal that many attributed to him.

    With Vidwan M Balamuralikrishna

    Pandit ji's duet with M Balamuralikrishna ji is synonymous with "jugalbandi" in its meaning and in friendship. It's at the pinnacle of duets that have brought the mother rivers of Hindustani and Carnatic music to meet. On one ground.

    For decades, I have turned to these recordings just to see how Pandit ji turns to Balamuralikrishna ji every time he begins and ends a new taan. Balamuralikrishna ji doesn't even have to look at his friend every time to present his take. There is immense comfort in how they acknowledge what they know of each other — in music.

    The composition is dedicated to sangeet (music — in its definition). There is one jugalbandi where one seeks to hear just the sargam — as it exists in the ascent and descent of the raag, and the basic of music being explored.

    With Manna Dey

    This composition in Basant Bahar was the first composition he performed in playback singing. He sang it along with Manna Dey. Pandit ji mentions an interesting point here.

    He recalls during the interaction that Shankar Jaikishan (who themselves were popular and successful Indian composer duo) told him, "bole wo classical ka humko kuchh samajh mein nahin aata hai, yeh jugalbandi jaisa ek gaana karna hai wo tum aur Ram Narayan dono milkar karo (they said we don't know much of classical music, do a jugalbandi with Ram Narayan)."

    The reference, probably, is to world renowned sarangi maestro Pandit Ram Narayan.

    True to the character of the raag and the time of the year it marks, the composition walks into the flora. "Ketaki, gulab, juhi, champak bana phooli."

    He mentions that Manna Dey was nervous.

    Manna Dey admits it (during the interaction).

    Pandit ji made an offer. Riyaz (practising). Together. Together, they wove not only the flora into the musicality but the meeting of Manna Dey's rounded taans into the mirror sharp taans.

    "Main usmein haar gaya (I was defeated)," Pandit ji says, sportingly. Manna Dey refutes the claim. "Main jeet kya gaya, jita diya gaya mujhe, main hero ke liye gaa rahaa thha na (I was made to win as I sang for the hero)."

    Manna Dey gives a special mention to Pandit ji's strength and style of using his breath to move up, swara after swara, level after level, in a taan. He adds in a tone of surprise, "When he descends, I thought that he will catch the mukhda (the beginning phrase in the lyrics), but then he climbs up again."

    With Lata Mangeshkar

    This is a popular bhajan from a popular album. It reached the masses through the radio morning hours. Then, through cassettes. It also happens to be one of the fine albums rarely played at temples in north India.

    This album was part of this author's growing up (early teens) through the three — radio, temple, cassette.

    It's an important album. It opens up a new dimension of devotional music that reached people who are not initiated into classical music, not initiated into the style of bhajan performed alongside khayal singing, and/or not initiated into Pandit ji's singing of abhang or abhang in general.

    The bhajan begins with Pandit ji singing the words "Ram ka". Of Ram.

    This is slightly different, unconventional and beautiful for a simple reason. The rhythm cycle of his thoughts follows the beat cycle. In "Gungaan kariye Ram ka", he chooses to begin and break into the bhajan with "Ram ka".

    Makes it seem as if Pandit ji was engrossed in his thought of Ram, and in the middle of his thoughts, just happens to pick the mukhda at a point where he collects the lyrics to sing. If this happened during the course of the composition, it would have been a normal.

    Then, Lata ji softly blends in. Notice where she joins him to begin singing the bhajan. She walks in. As if she walks into a temple and notices Pandit ji. They describe Ram in a narrative style, catching where the other leaves. It's like an overlap of thoughts from two bhakts.

    With Pandit Jasraj

    In the short alaap, Pandit Bhimsen Joshi takes to begin Malkauns, he lays out his mood, character and intention for approaching Malkauns. A night raga sung by the two maestros — in a duet — is a gift from the full moon itself.

    The raag is Malkauns (choosing it would have not taken second thoughts, I can safely assume). There is nothing left to reveal when Pandit Jasraj catches the alaap from his duet partner and friend. He would give the raag and composition the swaroop, while Pandit Bhimsen Joshi, the roop.

    The two sing of a woman enviously rebuking her beloved of spending time, intimately, with the "sautan" (the other woman). The part where the woman begins to list her accusations, the first take of accusations, is sung by Pandit Bhimsen Joshi. The reiterating of her pain, by Pandit Jasraj.

    I doubt if this natural friendship between singularity in duality, in the theme, in the meanings, in the voices, in their two different goldmark styles, even needed a conversation between the two.

    They are so passionately approaching the composition that it sounds all hurried, so quickly their thoughts and expression of those intricacies, arrive to them.

    This natural budding of thought, theme, raag and mood was possible only with the friendships that Pandit Bhimsen Joshi shared with his co performers, and with his peers.

    Sumati Mehrishi is Senior Editor, Swarajya. She tweets at @sumati_mehrishi 

    Get Swarajya in your inbox.