About Jyotsna Bhole

11 May 1914 - 5 Aug 2001


Jyotsna Bhole was a renowned vocal and Marathi theatre artist. She was born Durga Kelekar on May 11, 1914 in Bandivade Goa, to Shri Wamanrao and Radhabai Kelekar. Radhabai had 14 children, of whom 4 passed away in infancy and a son in his twenties. The last of these siblings died in 2012.

From early childhood Durga showed a tremendous inclination towards music. At the Mahalakshmi temple just outside their home in Goa, the sanai and chaughada welcomed the dawn. Bhajan gatherings as well as small concerts held in the temple only fuelled this inclination. Meanwhile, Ramakrishna Vaze (Vaze-bua) returned to Goa from the north, and Durga's older sisters Girijabai Kelekar and Kesarbai Bandodkar began learning classical music from him. By the time she was 8, Durga was memorising and singing whatever her sisters learned. So Girijabai took her to Mumbai, where she began learning from Vilayat Hussein Khan of Agra gharana and later, from Khadim Hussein Khan, also of the Agra gharana. By the time she was 13, she was making a name for herself. Master Dinanath Mangeshkar, a close friend of the Kelekar family was very appreciative of young Durga and a strong influence on her musical style. Then Naganath Khote of Bombay Broadcasting Company heard Durga at a concert and invited her to sing on radio. This was 1925. Durga was paid Rs 10 and began to be invited several times a month to sing on radio. It was princely earnings for those days!

Keshavrao Bhole

By the time Durga was 16 bhavgeet was slowly beginning to make an impact and singer-composer Shri Keshavrao Bhole, was at the forefront of this wave. Durga began learning bhavgeet from him and in 1932, when Durga was 18, they were married. At the time, Keshavrao was doing music composer for the movie Sant Sakhu. Durga was assigned a role in the film. The producer changed her name to 'Jyotsna' because there was another actress Durga (Durga Shirodkar) in the film. Thenceforth, Durga Kelekar became known as Jyotsna Bhole.

Later, Jyotsnabai trained under Tanras Gharana exponent Inayat Hussain Khan as well as Mohammad Hussein Khan in Pune. Ramkrishna Vaze bua too, used to teach Jyotsnabai in Pune. Keshavrao too, continued to guide Jyotsnabai.

Jyotsnabai's stage career began in 1933. Her first play was Andhalyaanchi Shaala, a Natya Manvantar production directed by Keshav Date. This was a landmark play, breaking away from traditional stage productions. It had more than a 100 performances. Then in 1941, Shri M G Ranganekar founded Natya Niketan. Jyotsnabai acted in their first production Ashirwad. She went on to act in many Natya Niketan plays, but it was Kulavadhu's Bhanumati that she became synonymous with. This play created a special place in people's hearts; it enjoyed 2 decades of popularity and had more than 2500 performances. Later, she also became a partner in Natya Niketan. In 1960 she wrote, directed and produced a play called Aradhana. She retired from the stage in 1965.

In 1953, Jyotsnabai represented India in a cultural mission to China. Later, she also visited Nepal. In the course of her musical career she performed in the USA, Canada, UK, and all over India, apart from radio performances. In 1981, she was chairman of Maharashtra Natya Sangha, in a world drama festival held at Seoul, Korea. She also authored two books: an autobiography Antarichya Khuna and a compilation of letters written to her by well-wishers and friends Tumchi Jyotsna Bhole.

Jyotsnabai received many acknowledgements for her contribution in the field of music and theatre. In 1969 she received the Balgandharva Puraskar, in 1976 the Sangeet Natak Academy award in New Delhi, and in 1980 the Vishnudas Bhave medal. In 1984, she was unanimously chosen President of Akhil Bharatiya Marathi Natya Sammelan, which to her great joy, was held in her birthplace Goa, that year. She was also Chairman of Maharashtra Cultural Centre for several years and an active organiser of their programmes.

Vishnudas Bhave medal

Jyotsnabai was a well loved personality. Maharashtra's beloved humourist P L Deshpande wrote about their 3 decades long friendship - (translated) "...in her company, all the labels and glories that life has attached to me for whatever reasons, fall aside, she is such a friend... not only her music, her entire personality reflects her name 'Jyotsna'." Of Jyotsnabai and his experience at Natya Niketan he wrote - (translated) "Professional or business ties are made and broken, but there was one thread apart from these that tied us all together, and this was (through) Jyotsnabai."

Sudha Karmarkar, who was given her first big break by Natya Niketan in Rambha wrote of Jyotsnabai thus - (translated) "Instead of bringing each other down, to freely indulge in creative give-and-take, to allow the audience and oneself a fulfilling experience - this attitude I absorbed unconsciously, in my first foray on stage, from you. As an artiste I was fulfilled, I was enriched."

Balgandharva is known to have commented when he was chairman of Natya Sammelan, "After me I can only see Jyotsnabai."

Gajanan Kher who often accompanied Jyotsnabai on violin, wrote, (translated) "It was her special ability, that she did justice to the varied expectations of each composer and yet left her own stamp on every song she sang."

Cartoonist Mangesh Tendulkar wrote, (translated), "Jyotsnabai's songs have accompanied me all my life... sometimes, when I sit up on the terrace by myself I remember all these songs - and along with their accompaniment - just as I heard them many years ago."

Noted journalist / writer and close well-wisher of the Bhole family, Sulabha Ternikar wrote, (translated) "...her singing was as effortless as breathing..."

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