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Anadi Naik
Bhikari Bal - The Legendary Odia Bhajan Singer - by Anadi Naik
BlogPosted By: hindtodaynews on:11/16/2010 9:59:02 AM

At a time when Odia language is  being attacked  from all directions the passing of singer Bhikari Bal  throws  a very sad spell on Odisha's music world. Bhikaribabu sang Odia bhajans in a very odia way.
Bhikari Bal was born in Kendrapara district. Pala gayak Hari Nath and pioneering Odia singer  Nimain Harichandan and a generation ago  dramatist Baishnaba Pani were born in the same area. Although Bhikaribabu did not reach the height of Nimain Harichandan in Odia imagination, he proved to be the right replacement of the master. Both men Harichandan and Bal were great devotees of  Lord Jagannath. Both  maintained a pious personal life. While  some of the well known singers of their time indulged in alcohol, bhang  and late night parties, these men woke up early every morning to the tune of " Jagannatha swami Nayana patha gami bhabatu may".
Bhikari Bal's parents  Ramachandra Bal and Gellharani Devi died when he was very young. After the death of his first wife Ramachandra had married Gellharani, Bhikari's mother. Ramachandra's first wife had produced a son, Dhaneswara who was much older  than Bhikari. Gellharani produced several children but none of them survived. So they named their surviving only son " Bhikari".  Out of superstition, the parents pretended to have sold the baby  to an untouchable family from whom they bought their  child back. The child survived but the parents died  not long after.  So, the care of the child Bhikari fell on his  half-brother Dhaneswar and his wife. 
After primary education Bhikari enrolled in Kadalibana High School and studied up to 9th grade.  His village Sobala  had a Jatra party and young Bhikari joined it  Through the Jatra party he  learned to sing and act and play harmonium. In those days boys used to dance as girls in Jatra parties . They were called GOTI PUA.  Late Kelucharan  Mohapatra started his career as a Goti pua also.  Later Bhikari Bal became a music teacher in a local school called Gokulachandra Sangeeta Sadan.  He married at the age 20. For a young man with any talent in any village, Cuttack was a natural attraction. So, he came to Cuttack to find greener pasture.
In those days Kalabikash Kendra was being newly formed and the brain behind it, among others, were  Babulal Dosi, a business man and Baikunthanath Mohanty.a freedom fighter. Because of his fame at the  Gokulachandra  Sangeeta Sadan ,Bhikari Bal  was given a teacher's job at the Kalabikash Kendra. He had no fixed place in town. So he stayed with the family of late Shukadeb Patri, a renowned singer from his village area. In early 1960s Bhikaribabu was a struggling artist. Because of his connection to the Kalabikash Kendra he came to the  attention of Kalichnran Pattanayak, the patron saint of anything Odishi and also of the  well established singer  Balakrushna Dash.  Getting to All India Radio known as  Akash Vani after that was only a matter of time. Long before television dominated the entertainment world, Odias whereever possible used to turn on to giti natyas carrying the  voices of Surendra Mohanty, Balakrushna Dash, Nimaicharan Harichandan, Bina Devi , Jatin Das and others.
Eventually he managed to build a modest house in Cuttack. Bhikaribabu  earned many honors in his professional life. Because of his earlier connection to the Kalabikash Kendra he also received a modest pension from the Government of Orissa.
In appearance and attitude Bhikari Bal was a humble man, a very simple man. Poverty and malnutrition during the  formative years of his life left marks on him   through many ailments for which he found solace in his devotion to Lord Jagannath and the bhajans  about the Lord. One could touch and feel great devotees like Salabega, Bhimbhoi and Dinakrushna through Bhikari Bal's beautiful melodies. He was a vegetarian.
In 2002 Bhikari babu attended the OSA convention along with his son Ashoka and  tabla player  Sharat chandra Pani . In that trip, he also visited  Odia communities in different cities of the US.  For some strange reasons, it fell upon me to drive the singer and his party  from Baltimore to Nashville, about 600 +miles. We started early  in a July morning . It was a hot summer drive.So I had to keep the air conditioner on. But  Bhikaribabu could not tolerate the cold air. And  if  any of the  windows was open, it was too much air for him. Yet, from the back seat I could hear an occasional melody - spontaneous and smooth.
 On the road, snacking on the trip at a fast food place was out of question for he feared the food might have touched meat. Finally, for lunch,  we stopped at a Chinese restaurant because Bhikaribabu wanted " some rice".  The way the Chinese restaurant cooked its  broccoli and other vegetables it was difficult for him to chew - literally! By the time we got to Nashville, he was really sick. I knew , Sukadeb Patri's daughter Arati, her husband Akhyaa Joshi and their children lived in Nashville. So, instead of taking him to any other place I took him to the Joshis. There, he  not only got real Odia food but enough attention and care  to get ready for the next day's bhajan program at the temple. To my amazement I learned that the local organizers were waiting for him to join them in an expensive Chinese restaurant!
Toward the end Bhikaribabu suffered Parkinson's disease and was bedridden for quite some time. Since he came from a very poor back ground,  he was not very much attached to money in in his life. He donated liberally to causes centering around Lord Jagannath. After death, when his body was taken to the Swarga dwara  for cremation, thousands  of people lined up  to pay him their last respect all the way from Cuttack to Puri.
 There is a Bhikari Bal Foundation which is trying to  carry on the projects  the great singer started in his life time. By being eighty two years of age , Bhikaribabu had probably earned a right to pass on to eternity. But the technology will  no doubt keep his voice alive  for many years  and generations of  Odias will get inspiration from his  melodies. Those who knew him would treasure the memory of him. He  was a real jewel for Odisha.   Our heart felt condolence to his sons Ashok and Amiya,  daughter Kalpana and their mother Usharani Devi .  May the departed soul rest in peace.

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