Written by Shridhar Kulkarni & Ravindra Katoti
Pt. R. K. Bijapure, an octogenarian, who was also popularly known as Shri. Rambhau Bijapure, hardly needs any introduction in the music circle. Over the past six decades he had been an extensively famous persona among the music lovers all over India. As an outstanding solo performer, as an accomplished accompanist, as a versatile teacher, as a good music director, as a great institution builder and above all as a humanitarian Pt. Bijapure was a towering multi-dimensional celebrity. He left us on heavenly abode on November 19, 2010.
Education & career:
Born in 1917 at Kagwad (Belgaum district, Karnataka state) Pt. Bijapure developed inclination towards music due to his father late Shri. Kallopant Bijapure, a dramatist and a composer. His compositions were played on harmonium / organ and presented on the stage by another famous harmonium player late Shri. Annigeri Mallayya. As a child Shri.Rambhau was fascinated by the melodies of harmonium and showed a lot of interest in learning the art of harmonium playing. Shri.Annigeri Mallayya took the young Rambhau under his wings and taught him the basics of harmonium playing. Keen to learn further, Pt. Bijapure took advanced training in harmonium from Pt. Rajwade, Shri.Govindrao Gaikwad and Pt. Hanmantrao Walwekar of Dharwad. But for some voice problem Pt. Bijapure would have become a great vocalist as his wish was to become the one. However, this did not deter him from taking lessons in vocal music from stalwarts like Pt. Ramkrishnabua Vaze, Pt. Shivrambua Vaze, Pt. Kagalkarbua, and Pt. Utturkarbua. In fact, systematic training in vocal music helped him in developing his own style of ‘gayaki ang’ in playing harmonium solo.
Pt. Bijapure was a Sangeet Visharad (Vocal) and Sangeet Alankar (Harmonium) both, conferred upon him by Akhil Bharatiya Gandharva Mahavidyalaya. He had also to his credit a shikshak sanad. In his long music career he had worked as a music teacher in Belgaum, as music director and Harmonium accompanist in Shri.Venkobrao Shirahatti’s drama company, as a harmonium accompanist in HMV, as an examiner for Akhila Bharatiya Gandharva Mahavidyalaya- Mumbai, and the examinations conducted by the Government of Karnataka.
After deciding to take-up harmonium as sadhana of his life, Pt.Bijapure never looked back.
With firm determination, continuous riyaz and profound thinking about the technique and presentation of harmonium playing (solo as well as accompaniment) Pt. Bijapure developed his own inimitable style. His solo performance was marked by clear, smooth and unbroken flow of swaras in all the octaves and at different layaas, control over the air-flow (bhaata) and its apt use to express the bhavas in the exposure of a raga. Pt. Bijapure’s solo performances are real treat for the rasikas as they include all the major forms of classical music namely – Vilambit khyals, drut bandishes, light classical compositions, natya-geets and the like. – All played with equal ease, and eloquence. He had rendered his solo performances in all major music centers of the country including Pune, Hyderabad, Bangalore, Kolhapur, Hubli, Dharwad and on AIR. During the Festival of Russia in India, a Russian delegation was mesmerized after listening to Panditji’s solo. They specially recorded on the video his swift finger movements on harmonium keyboard.
As an accompanist he was undisputedly second to none. He had developed a unique style of accompaniment by showing his identity while complementing the main artistes and using the pauses available in between to add charm to the concert. Building a continuous rapport with the audience was another feature of his presentation. In his music career he had accompanied almost all the leading vocalists of major Gharanas of Hindustani classical music. Illustratively,
Pt.Ramkrishnabua Vaze, Pt.Shivrambua Vaze, Pt.Kagalkarbua, Pt.Sawai Gandharva, Pt.D.V.Paluskar, Pt.Utturkarbua, Ustad Amir Khan, Ustad Bade Gulam Ali Khan, Dr.Gangubai Hangal, Pt. Bhimsen Joshi, Pt. Basavraj Rajguru, Pt. Mallikarjun Mansoor, Pt. Kumar Gandharva, Smt. Manik Verma, Smt. Kishori Amonkar, Smt. Malini Rajurkar, Dr. Prabha Atre etc.
Building an Institution:
Pt. Bijapure had painstakingly collected a large repertoire of Hindustani music including a wide range of cheezes, bandishes and compositions from his Gurus. He is too generous to distribute this invaluable wealth among the desired and deserved ones. Towards this end he started “Shri Ram Sangeet Mahavidyalaya” in 1938. Over the last six decades he developed the institute single handedly without any aid from the Government or private bodies. More than 10,000 students have gained under his tutelage. ‘Sir’, as Panditji was lovingly called by his students, was very compassionate towards poor, handicapped and helpless students. He teaches such students free of cost.
Today many of his students have established their names in the field of music. Dr.Sudhanshu Kulkarni – Sangeet Praveen (equivalent of doctorate in music conferred by Gandharva Sangeet Mahavidyalaya), Shri. Ravindra Mane – Sangeet Alankar, Shri. Ravindra Katoti – Sangeet Alankar, Smt. Kunda Welling – Vocalist AIR Mumbai, Shri. Shridhar Kulkarni – Surmani, Smt. Manik Panditrao, Smt Archana Belgundi, Smt. Rohini Kulkarni, Smt. Asha Joshi, Smt. Aparna Chitnis are among the several students of Pt. Bijapure who are committed to carry forward the legacy of their revered Guru to the next generations.
Awards & Recognition:
Recognizing Pt. Bijapure’s achievements, innumerable felicitations, several awards and titles have come his way. Major among them are: “Karnataka Kala Tilak” Puraskar conferred by Sangeet Nritya Academy in the year 1985, “Nadashree” Puraskar given by Hindustani Sangeet Kalakar Mandali, Bangalore in the year 1992, “Sangatkar Puraskar” conferred by Gandharva Mahavidyalaya, Pune in the year 1999, “Rajya Sangeet Vidvan” at the Dasara festival held in Mysore in the year 2001. On 25th July 2003, he was awarded the prestigious “T.Chowdaiah Prashasti” instituted in memory of Violin Maestro Shri.T.Chowdaiah, by the Government of Karnataka at the hands of honourable Chief Minister. Akhil Bharateeya Gandharva Mahavidyalay Mandal conferred upon him the title “Mahamahopadhyay” in the year 2006. Lahari Recording Company, Bangalore had published two of his CDs, featuring his classical solo performances.