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End of an era in devotional music
- Bhikari Bal’s recital of bhajans and folk songs are still popular among music lovers

Bhubaneswar, Nov. 3: Singer Bhikari Bal, whose voice has been connecting devotees to Lord Jagannath for more than four decades with his bhajans and devotional songs, died on Tuesday evening. The octogenarian was suffering from Parkinson’s disease and was under treatment at the SCB Medical College hospital in Cuttack since October 25.

Born in Sobala village under Pattamundei block in Kendrapara on May 25, 1929, Bal was attracted to music since childhood.

He was trained at the Gokula Chandra Sangeet Sadan in Kendrapara as an adolescent. But his voice was refined under the tutelage of Odissi maestro late Balakrushna Das, who was known as Sangeet Sudhakar in the early ’60s when he came to Cuttack.

Bal was also guided by Kshitij Maitra and soon became a teacher of Odissi vocal at Kala Vikash Kendra. This was the period of struggle for him with the late singer constantly trying for a break in All India Radio, Cuttack. He became an A-grade singer here in 1963 after he received rave reviews for his first broadcast song ‘Prana mitani bareh chahan re’. But his popularity grew manifold with ‘Kotha bhoga khia’ and other such devotional songs in the early ’70s.

His lucid and moving rendition of bhajans written by old generation poets such as Gopalkrushna, Dinakrushna, Baldev, Banamali and Salabega are still popular today.

He had also rendered songs by Dr Prasanna Samal, Raghunath Rout, Kshirod Chandra Pothal, Sirsananda Kanungo, Alekh Biswal, Gourhari Dalei and Srikant Gautam.

His Jagannath bhajans and Gita Govinda recitals made him a household name. He had also sung ‘Champu, Chhanda’, folk songs and Oriya film songs. Bal was awarded the title of Bhajan Samrat by the Puri Gajapati and was given special privileges inside the temple for his devotional tribute to Lord Jagannath. He was also taken to be one of the servitors of the temple for having offered the ‘Chamara seba’ to Lord Jagannath. The 81-year-old singer had last recorded for the devotional album ‘Chagala mana’ in 2005 and had last performed live in May 2006. Since then, he had been bedridden due to Parkinson’s disease.

The Puri Gajapati Maharaj Divyasingh Dev visited him at his residence in Rajabagicha.

Many of his students, who are established singers now, also visited him when he was unwell. Culture minister Debi Prasad Mishra had announced financial assistance for his treatment last year while chief minister Naveen Patnaik and health minister Prasanna Acharya had visited him earlier this year.

Survived by two sons and a daughter, Bal breathed his last at 11:20 pm on Tuesday after which his body was taken to his village and later taken around Cuttack.

His last rites were performed in Puri on Wednesday evening. Apart from the music fraternity, thousands of admirers across the state are mourning his demise.

“His voice will remain immortal through his bhajans. His faith and devotion towards the Lord was incomparable. That’s why his songs were always enchanting,” said singer Laxmikant Palit.

“He was like our Guru and we had learnt a lot about Odissi music from him,” said singer Geeta Patnaik.

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