Sawai Gandharva Bhimsen Festival

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Sawai Gandharva Bhimsen Mahotsav
Sawai Gandharva Bhimsen Mahotsav Logo.jpeg
Dates Traditionally the second weekend of December
Location(s) New English School Ramanbaug,
Pune, Maharashtra, India
Years active 1953 – present
Founded by Bhimsen Joshi,
Arya Sangeet Prasarak Mandal

The Sawai Gandharva Bhimsen Mahotsav (formerly known as the Sawai Gandharva Sangeet Mahotsav[1] and simply known as Sawai) is an annual Indian Classical music festival held in Pune since 1953. Arguably the largest, most popular, and sought-after Indian Classical music festival in the world, the festival is hosted by the Arya Sangeet Prasarak Mandal (ASPM) and initiated by Pt. Bhimsen Joshi as a memorial music conference commemorating the life and work of Pt. Joshi's guru, Pt. Sawai Gandharva alias Rambhau Kundgolkar, the festival's namesake.

While Pt. Joshi was leading the organization of the festival, performing artists received personal invitations from Pt. Joshi to perform at the festival. With an emphasis on Hindustani Classical Khayal music, instrumentalists, dancers, dhrupadiyas, Bhakti musicians, Ghazal musicians, Qawwaliyas, and Carnatic musicians frequent the concert lineup.

A younger artist's debut performance at the festival connotes their "arrival" and promise to the Classical music scene of India (most recently including Rahul Deshpande, Kaushiki Chakrabarty, and Mahesh Kale).

Since its inception, the festival has grown into a prominent cultural soiree for Pune's musical connoisseurs, featuring the foremost musicians of traditional Indian musical forms.


The festival was started in 1953 on a small scale, to commemorate the first death anniversary of Pt. Sawai Gandharva, the acclaimed Hindustani Classical vocalist of the Kirana Gharana.

The festival played a key role in the development of Hindustani Classical music in India's post-independence cultural history. Prior to Indian Independence, Hindustani Classical musicians were supported by monarchs under patronage as court musicians since the beginning of the Mughal Empire. After independence, the political division between India and Pakistan culturally alienated many Hindustani musicians. The newfound Indian Republic resulted in an end to the patronage of musicians. Classical musicians were forced to find new methods of sustaining themselves and their art. Public performances of Classical musicians rose as a result, where the Sawai Gandharva Music Festival played an integral role in establishing a regional audience for Indian Classical music. Within the first several decades following Indian Independence, a great number of music festivals or music conferences were founded in order to provide a platform for Classical musicians to perform.

Arya Sangeet Prasarak Mandal[edit]

Change in leadership[edit]

Pt. Bhimsen Joshi was leading the organization of the festival since its beginning until 2002 when his health problems became of concern.[2] Following, Pt. Joshi's youngest son, Shrinivas Joshi, and senior disciple, Shrikant Deshpande, succeeded Pt. Joshi in organizing the music conference.[3] Since Bhimsen Joshi's death in 2011, Shrinivas Joshi and Anand Deshmukh have been leading organizers of the music conference.[4]


The festival was initiated specifically to showcase performers of the Kirana Gharana and started on a small scale. Gharana-specific music festivals were popular at the time because musicians wanted to commercialize their Gharana style and artists.

Pt. Bhimsen Joshi was instrumental in inviting musicians from varying backgrounds to the festival because of his own appreciation and reverence for diverse approaches to presenting Indian Classical music. By the late 1970s, the festival established itself as a festival that had the fullest representation of the Classical music temperament in India.

As a result, the festival has become an annual event for music connoisseurs worldwide and reinforces the modernity of Indian Classical Music.

Recent years[edit]

During the 2014 festival, there was a heavy rain on 13 Dec which lead for the postponement of the festival to 1 January 2015.[5]

Influence of 2009 H1N1 flu pandemic[edit]

The 2009 Festival was postponed to January 2010 due to an H1N1 scare in Pune. This was the first instance in festival history of any kind of postponement.[6][7]


Recently, many festival regulars have criticized the festival's growing commercial success for causing a decrease in musical quality. Many attribute this to Pt. Bhimsen Joshi's retirement from organizing the festival after 2002. At the 59th festival in 2011, the performances of senior musicians like Utd. Amjad Ali Khan and Dr. Prabha Atre were interrupted due to time restrictions, angering audiences. Many have also criticized the ASPM for inviting fewer musicians of less popularity to perform. The ASPM has also been criticized for not publicly releasing vintage recordings of past festival performances.


When Pandit Bhimsen Joshi passed away on 24 - January - 2011, The Arya Sangeet Prasarak Mandal decided to rename the festival from it's original name ' Sawai Gandharva Mahotsav' to it's new name as ' Sawai Gandharva Bhimsen Mahotsav ' in the honor of the legendary vocalist.[8]


The Sawai Gandharva Music Festival is conducted every year in the first two weeks of December over three days. In the past, the festival runs through whole the night and the days used to end in the morning. Later on, when Pune Municipal Corporation set rule to finish the program before 10 pm which leads to change in the schedule of the program. Traditionally, each festival is inaugurated with a tribute honoring Pt. Sawai Gandharva, with a Shehnai musician performing first, in the early morning. During the first two days, programs begin in the late-afternoon and are supposed to officially end by 10 pm. On the third and final day (previously a Saturday, now usually a Sunday), the programme is conducted in two sessions, the first beginning in the early morning continuing until the early afternoon, the second session begins in the early evening and ends at 10 p.m.

Finale performances[edit]

It has been tradition that the last, finale performance is presented by Pt. Bhimsen Joshi. Since Pt. Joshi's retirement in 2004, other members of the Kirana Gharana have concluded the festival, including Pt. Sangmeshwar Gurav in 2005, leading disciples of Pt. Bhimsen Joshi in 2006. Doyen of Kirana Gharana, eminent vocalist Dr. Prabha Atre has concluded every festival since 2007.

The festival officially concludes with the entire audience and remaining performers listening to the Thumri in Raag Bhairavi recording "Jamuna Ke Teer" by Sawai Gandharva, a tune made famous by and signature of his guru, Utd. Abdul Karim Khan.

List of festivals and performances[edit]

The Arya Sangeet Prasarak Mandal takes the task of recording details of the festival each year. The festival has been recorded in picture, video and audio, some of which is commercially available. Festivals are listed counter-chronologically.








List of performing artists[edit]

The following musicians have performed at the Sawai Gandharva festival (listed by seniority). The featured musicians have included:


Age Unknown:


Harmonium (soloists)[edit]


Age Unknown:




Age Unknown:


Tar shehnai[edit]

Age Unknown:

Tabla (soloists)[edit]

Age Unknown:


Age Unknown:


See also[edit]


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  2. ^ "Still magical". The Hindu. 31 October 2002. Retrieved 2013-04-27. 
  3. ^ "Sawai Gandharva music fest to start from Dec 11 – The Times of India". Times News Network. 25 November 2008. Retrieved 2013-04-27. 
  4. ^ "This year on, Sawai will be Sawai Gandharva Bhimsen Mahotsav". Indian Express. 19 November 2011. Retrieved 2013-04-27. 
  5. ^ "Sawai Mahotsav postponed - Sakal Times". 
  6. ^ "Sawai Gandharva festival postponed". The Times of India. 25 October 2009. 
  7. ^ Sawai Gandharva Festival to be held from January Indian Express.
  8. ^ "Music fest renamed Sawai Gandharva Bhimsen Mahotsav". The Times of India. 19 November 2011. 
  9. ^ a b c d e f g h i Deshpande, A. P. (2002), Swarayadnya: Sawai Gandharva Music Festival's Fifty Years, Rajhans Prakashan, pp. 78–79, ISBN 978-81-7434-242-3 
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  54. ^ Retrieved 7 July 2010.  Missing or empty |title= (help)[dead link]
  55. ^ Retrieved 7 July 2010.  Missing or empty |title= (help)[dead link]
  56. ^ Retrieved 7 July 2010.  Missing or empty |title= (help)[dead link]
  57. ^ Retrieved 7 July 2010.  Missing or empty |title= (help)[dead link]
  58. ^ "Sawai opening day holds music lovers spellbound". The Times of India. 10 December 2010. 
  59. ^ The Times of India  Missing or empty |title= (help)

External links[edit]