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Pandit Jitendra Abhisheki – An Unforgettable Maestro

It was prestigious Savai Gandharva Music Festival of the year 1992 and it appeared that the singer on the stage was being troubled by his throat. His son and two disciples who were sitting beside him for vocal support were anxious. And their feelings were being shared by the large audience present specially to hear him. But Pandit Jitendra Abhisheki was a man of fighting spirit. He started his alap with “Anant Hari Narayan… “ and slowly note by note as Raga was advancing he regained his control. “Nahin hi mo mein gun aiso aaj jo piya aave more mandirva” (I don’t have such a virtue in me today that would attract my dear one to my abode) – the bandish in Raga Anand Bhairav was aptly expressing his feelings. Soon he began to move effortlessly in all the three octaves and started delighting the audience with complex taans and beautiful phrases. The overwhelmed audience was praising him when he was singing the speedier composition “Ae man moorakh jaan” in Teental. After Anand Bhairav he presented Raga Mala-a garland of as many as 18 Ragas. The listeners were enthralled as if they were watching a rainbow of Ragas. An alap in one Raga and suddenly taans in another- the audience was certainly on a pleasure-trip. He concluded this memorable programme with Kabir Bhajan-“Rahana Nahin Des Birana Hai” in Raga Bhairavi.

Born in 1929 in a priestly family traditionally attached to Mangeshi shrine of Lord Shiva in Goa, the proficiency in Sanskrit and Marathi came naturally to Pandit Jitendra Abhisheki. His father Balwantrao Abhisheki, who himself was a kirtan-singer, taught him the basic principles of Hindustani classical music. After receiving a degree in Sanskrit literature he came to Mumbai in 1954 and joined All India Radio (AIR). Though this was a short association but it proved highly fruitful. During this period he not only came in contact with several musicians but also expressed his talent by composing many pieces for radio programmes. During the same period he received government scholarship for advanced training in Hindustani classical music under Khansaheb Ustad Azmat Hussain Khan of Agra Gharana. He was also privileged to receive training from Pandit Jagannathbuwa Joshi of Gwalior Gharana, Ustad Azizuddin of Jaipur Gharana and Gulubhai Jasdanwala. But Panditji was not an ordinary student and was able to absorb the best elements of these different schools of Indian classical music to create a style of singing which was very much his own. In 1969 he received Homi Bhabha fellowship and went to the US to teach in the music school run by the renowned Sitar maestro Pandit Ravi Shankar.

Pandit Abhisheki will always be remembered as one of the finest classical vocalists and a composer and music director of the highest level. His contribution to Marathi Natya Sangeet is unparalleled. He was responsible for the revival of Marathi Theatre Music during 60’s. He composed vocal as well as background scores for many Marathi plays and remained for decades the most sought after composer and music director. For this contribution he was duly awarded with Maharashtra Gaurav Puraskar (1990), Balgandharva Puraskar (1995), Master Dinanath Smriti Puraskar (1996) and Balgandharva Puraskar (Natyaparishad) (1997).

Though Pandit Jitendra Abhisheki was equally fluent in presenting Bhajans, Thumri and other semi-classical forms of music, yet his repertoire of classical Ragas was the richest. In every concert he would come with something new, often compositions in complex and unheard Ragas. Whether it was Shivmat Bhairav, Amrit Varshini or popular but very demanding Raga Marwa he was always at ease. Right from the first note he would enthrall the listeners with his meditative alap in Nom-Tom style and develop the Raga in accordance with a definite plan. But at the same time he would spare equal space for spontaneity to take his audience to unknown planes of bliss. Throughout his life his approach towards music was that of a researcher. Indian government awarded him Padmashree in 1988 and in 1989 came the coveted Sangeet Natak Academy Award. The maestro spent his last years in teaching music in Pune and trained many disciples before passing away on 7 November 1998 in the same decade in which Indian music lost two of its greatest vocalists- Pandit Mallikarjun Mansur and Pandit Kumar Gandharva.

Legacy of Pandit Jitendra Abhisheki

The special relationship between Guru and Shishya has always been central to the continuity of excellence in the field of Indian Classical Music. It is the lifeblood of a rich and vibrant music culture built over hundreds of years, based on the commitment of the knowledgeable guru combined with the unwavering dedication and devotion of the shishya, or disciple. A true guru endeavours to nurture the innate talent of the student so that he or she may one day blossom, to adorn the rich tapestry that is Indian Classical Music. Pandit Jitendra Abhisheki was not only one of the most talented classical vocalists but also a great teacher. Besides son Shounak Abhisheki, Abhisheki’s well-known musical disciples include Asha Khadilkar, Devaki Pandit, Shubha Mudgal, Ajit Kadkade, Raja Kale, Prabhakar Karekar, Hemant Pendse, Dr Mohankumar Darekar, Vijay Koparkar, Mahesh Kale, Makarand Hingne, and Sudhakar Gopal Deoley.

Recently Raga Ranga has released an audio CD with the title “Reverence – A Unique Homage to Pandit Jitendra Abhisheki “. This recording features a collection of splendid compostions performed by Devaki Pandit, Sanjeev Abhyankar and Shounak Abhisheki, who each bring their own inimitable styles to this unique homage to Pandit Jitendra Abhisheki. All the bandishes and Taranas are composed by Pt. Hemant Pendse, a disciple of Panditji. The album features melodies including Ahir Bhairav, Parmeshwari, Ahir Lalit, Miyan Malhar, Malkuans, Kaushik Ranjani, Shiva Abhogi and Yaman. Kaushik Ranjani is a rarely heard but highly aesthetic raga which carries shades of more familiar ragas such as Kaushi Kanada and Chandrakauns. Parmeshwari is a contemporary creation of Sitar genius Ravi Shankar whereas Shiva Abhogi was conceived by C R Vyas, one of Mahahastra’s most influential vocalists of the late twentieth century.

Mahesh Kale, another disciple of Pandit Jitendra Abhisheki, is currently teaching music actively in the San Francisco Bay Area (US). He has also voiced the songs sung by the character of “Sadashiv” (portrayed by Subodh Bhave) in the Marathi movie” Katyar Kaljat Ghusali” which was released on 12 November 2015. For his song “Aruni Kirani Dharani Gagan Chamke” in the movie, Mahesh was conferred with the National Film Award for Best Playback Singer (Male) 2015.

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