Bal Gandharva
Narayan Shripad Rajhans alias Bal Gandharva
Background information
Birth nameNarayan Shripad Rajhans
Born(1888-06-26)26 June 1888
Nagthane, Palus taluka, Sangli, Maharashtra Bombay Presidency, British India
Died15 July 1967(1967-07-15) (aged 79)
Pune, Maharashtra, India
GenresMusicals (Sangeet Natak)
Occupation(s)Singer and stage actor
Years active1905–1955

Narayan Shripad Rajhans, popularly known as Bal Gandharva, (26 June 1888 – 15 July 1967) was a famous Marathi singer and stage actor. He was known for his roles as female characters in Marathi plays, since women were not allowed to act on stage during his time.[1][2]

Bal Gandharva got his name after a singing performance in Pune. Lokmanya Tilak, a social reformer and a freedom fighter of the Indian independence movement was in the audience, and after the performance, reportedly patted Rajhans on the back and said that Narayan was a "Bal Gandharva" (lit. Young Gandharva).[3]

Personal life

Narayan Shripad Rajhans was born into a Deshastha Brahmin family to Shripad Rajhans and his wife Annapurnabai Rajhans.[4] He was born in the Nagthane village of Palus taluka of Sangli district in what is now the state of Maharashtra.

Bal Gandharva married twice. At a very young age, he was married to Lakshmibai, a lady from his own Deshastha Brahmin community and hailing from a respectable family with similar background, in a match arranged by their parents in the usual Indian tradition. The marriage, which was entirely harmonious and conventional, lasted until the death of Lakshmibai in 1940, after more than thirty-five years of marriage. Eleven years later, in 1951, Bal Gandharva married Gauharbai Karnataki (perhaps better known simply as Gohar Bai, and not to be confused with Gauhar Jaan Indian dancer from Kolkata), sister of the famous singer-actress Amirbai Karnataki. Gauharbai hailed from a family full of singers and dancers, and was a Muslim. She had made a career for herself as a stage actress with help of singing skills, and had worked with Narayanraao in theatrical productions, which is how they had fallen in love with each other. The marriage of a woman of her background and religion with a Brahmin gentleman was deeply unacceptable in society. Gauharbai was never received into polite society or acknowledged by any member of Narayanrao's family. The marriage remained childless, and Goharbai died in the year of 1964, three years before when Bal Gandharva died.[5]

Theatre career

Bal Gandharva in the role of Sindhu in Ekach Pyala

Narayan Rajhans was born into an ordinary family. He started his singing career at a very young age singing bhajans. Shahu Maharaj of Kolhapur noticed his talent and was important in getting young Narayanrao's theatre career off the ground. Shahu Maharaj helped him get treatment for his hearing problems at Miraj Hospital. Shahu Maharaj also introduced him to Kirloskar Mandali, the premier Marathi Musical theatre company of that era.[6]

Musical instrument Tamboori on display in a museum behind a glass pane
Tamboori of Gandharva in the collection of Raja Dinkar Kelkar Museum, Pune

He started his career with Kirloskar Natak Mandali in 1905.[3] The company was run by Mujumdar and Nanasaheb Joglekar. After Joglekar's death in 1911, there was discontent surrounding Mujumdar's dictatorial and manipulative style.[7] Bal Gandharva, Ganesh Govind ('Ganpatrao') Bodas and Govindrao Tembe left the company in 1913 to form Gandharva Sangeet Mandali.[8] Bal Gandharva became the sole owner of the debt ridden company in 1921.[9] The debt was paid off in seven years' time. However, Narayanrao, dissolved the company when it again accumulated debt over the next 6–7 years.[10] Bal Gandharva signed a contract with Prabhat Film Company to make six films. However, the contract came to an end after just one film Dharmatma (1935). The film was a major departure for Bal Gandharva in the sense that he played the main role of Sant Eknath.[11]

Bal Gandharva revived his drama company in 1937. With Narayanrao increasingly ill at ease in female roles owing to his advancing years, the company looked for an actress to play female roles and found Gohar Karnataki in April 1938. Bal Gandharva soon formed an intimate relationship with Gohar Karnataki, also known as Gauhar Bai, that scandalized traditional Maharashtrian society at that time.[9] His brother Bapurao Rajhans left the company to protest against Gohar's entry in Gandharva Sangeet Mandali and Bal Gandharva's life, when it became clear that Gohar would have a major say in the company's stewardship.[12]

Bal Gandharva acted in 27 classic Marathi plays and played a big part in making Sangeet Natak (musicals) and Natya Sangeet (the music in those musicals) popular among common masses. He was a disciple of Bhaskarbuwa Bakhale.[13] Bakhale scored music for his drama Swayamwar. Govindrao Tembe scored music for Manapman.[14] In later years, Bal Gandharva's composer of choice was Master Krishnarao (Krishnarao Phulambrikar).[15]

The songs rendered by him are regarded as classics of Marathi Natya Sangeet and his singing style is greatly appreciated by Marathi critics and audiences.[16] The Marathi stage was facing difficult times after the death of Bhaurao Kolhatkar in 1901. Bal Gandharva revived it. His famous contemporaries include Keshavrao Bhosale (known as "Sangeet-Surya") and Deenanath Mangeshkar.[17]

He acted in plays written by Annasaheb Kirloskar, Govind Ballal Deval, Shripad Krushna Kolhatkar, Krushnaji Prabhakar Khadilkar, Ram Ganesh Gadkari, Vasant Shantaram Desai.

Bal Gandharva died on 15 July 1967.



His famous roles include :



Also read


  1. ^ Janaki Bakhle (20 October 2005). Two Men and Music: Nationalism in the Making of an Indian Classical Tradition. Oxford University Press. p. 239. ISBN 978-0-19-029024-5. Retrieved 20 October 2005.
  2. ^ Balgandharva is awkwardly paced, unevenly executed DNA 6 May 2011
  3. ^ a b Hansen, Kathryn (29 August 1998). "Stri Bhumika Female Impersonators and Actresses on the Parsi Stage". Economic and Political Weekly. 33 (35): 2295 – via EPW.(subscription required)
  4. ^ Aruṇa Ṭikekara (1992). The Kincaids, two generations of a British family in the Indian civil service. Promilla & Co. p. 237. ISBN 9788185002132. Bal Gandharva alias Narayanrao Rajhans was a Deshastha Brahmin and not a Chitpavan.
  5. ^ Meera Kosambi (5 July 2017). Gender, Culture, and Performance: Marathi Theatre and Cinema before Independence. Routledge. p. 272. ISBN 9781351565899. Retrieved 5 July 2017.
  6. ^ Mohan Nadkarni (1988). Bal Gandharva, the nonpareil thespian. National Book Trust. p. 10. ISBN 9788123737133.
  7. ^ Dnyaneshwar Nadkarni (1988). Balgandharva and the Marathi Theatre. Roopak Books. p. 47.
  8. ^ Mohan Nadkarni (1988). Bal Gandharva, the nonpareil thespian. National Book Trust. p. 52. ISBN 9788123737133.
  9. ^ a b Sangeet Natak, Issues 83-86. Sangeet Natak Akademi. 1987. p. 67.
  10. ^ Mohan Nadkarni (1988). Bal Gandharva, the nonpareil thespian. National Book Trust. p. 77. ISBN 9788123737133.
  11. ^ Rachel Dwyer (27 September 2006). Filming the Gods: Religion and Indian Cinema. Routledge. p. 76. ISBN 9781134380701. Retrieved 27 September 2006.
  12. ^ Dnyaneshwar Nadkarni (1988). Balgandharva and the Marathi Theatre. Roopak Books. p. 127.
  13. ^ Babanarāva Haḷadaṇakara (2001). Aesthetics of Agra and Jaipur Traditions. Popular Prakashan. p. 18.
  14. ^ Maharashtra, Land and Its People. Government of Maharashtra. 2009. p. 393.
  15. ^ Ashish Rajadhyaksha; Paul Willemen (10 July 2014). Encyclopedia of Indian Cinema. Routledge. p. 52. ISBN 9781135943189. Retrieved 10 July 2014.
  16. ^ Lokrajya, Volume 36. Directorate-General of Information and Public Relations. 1980. p. 61.
  17. ^ Sisir Kumar Das (2005). History of Indian Literature: 1911-1956, struggle for freedom : triumph and tragedy. Sahitya Akademi. p. 160. ISBN 9788172017989.
  18. ^ "Padma Awards" (PDF). Ministry of Home Affairs, Government of India. 2015. Archived from the original (PDF) on 15 October 2015. Retrieved July 21, 2015.