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Bhikari Bal - The Legendary Odia Bhajan Singer - by Anadi Naik
Posted 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.
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
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
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
after that was only a matter of time. Long before television dominated the entertainment world, Odias whereever possible used to turn on to
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
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
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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