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Pandit Dr. S. Ballesh Bhajantri
Pandit Ballesh playing shehnai, in a tribute concert for Ustad Bismillah Khan, Chennai
Pandit Ballesh playing shehnai, in a tribute concert for Ustad Bismillah Khan, Chennai
Background information
Birth nameBallappa Sanna Bharamappa Bhajantri
Also known asS. Ballesh, S. Balesh, Baalesh, Ballappa, Balu
BornM.K.Hubli, Kittur, Belgaum district, Karnataka, India
Occupation(s)Shehnai player, classical vocalist
Musical career
GenresHindustani classical music, modern and film music, gospel
Years active1970–present

Pandit Dr. S. Ballesh, born Ballappa Sanna Bharamappa Bhajantri, is an Indian classical Hindustani shehnai player.[1] One of the most well-known disciples of shehnai player Bharat Ratna Ustad Bismillah Khan,[1] he is an expert in Benares gharana shehnai playing, and a Patiala gharana Hindustani vocalist, ghazal singer, Indian Playback singer and musician,[2] often referred by the title Panditji and BadeGuruji. Ballesh is credited with popularizing the shehnai, a reeded woodwind instrument. While the shehnai had long held importance as a folk instrument played in traditional ceremonies in India, Ballesh is credited with elevating its status and bringing it back to the centre stage.[3] He plays often for Prasar Bharati's All India Radio (AIR) and Doordarshan.[4]

He was awarded India's fourth-highest civilian honour, the Padma Shri, in 2022, in the field of Art, conferred by the President of India, on the eve of the 73rd Republic Day, becoming the second classical musician of India after Ustad Bismillah Khan to receive the award.[5][6]

Early life and education

Ballesh was born to Shehnai Samrat Pandit Sanna Bharamanna and Smt. Yellamma in M.K.Hubli, Kittur taluka, Belgaum district, Karnataka.[4]

Ballesh is from a family of well-known shehnai players from M. K. Hubli - tracing back to Court musicians to the ruling Lingaraja Dynasty, with a performance history of over 500 years. His great-grandfather Pandit Yamanappa Bhajantri was a shehnai player. His father and three (Paternal) uncles (father brothers) Pandit Dodda Bharamappa, Pandit Ramappa and Pandit Rudrappa were shehnai players.[7]

He started learning from his father, and later continued from his (uncle) father's elder brother Pandit Dodda Bharamanna and with musicians such as Dr. D.P. Hiremath (Kirana gharana), and Pt. Puttaraj Gawai (Gwalior gharana). He is a member of the Panchakshara Gawai brotherhood,[1] and Sangit acharya Pandit Kodhanda Singh Salunke and Prakash Singh Salunke (Patiala gharana), besides the Ustad Bismillah Khan shehnai in (Benares gharana).[4]

Ballesh was then accepted by Ustad Bismillah Khan as his disciple, and as one of the five, and only surviving direct disciple, Khan Saab bestowed the title “Dakshina Bharat Bismillah Khan” on Pandit Ballesh. In a story told in several versions and interviews, Ustad Bismillah Khan once remarked that Ballesh was the "assurance for the future of Shehnai in Indian classical music".[7][8]

Musical career


S. Ballesh and son in concert
S. Ballesh and son in concert

Ballesh can play various styles on the shehnai: aalaapi and aakaar like khayal singing, jhala like sitar and sarod, tatkar like kathak dancers, meend and harquatts like sarangi and violin, and continuity tones like bansuri.[9]

Ballesh and his son Krishna were accompanied by Ustad Nazim Hussain, the younger son of Ustad Bismillah Khan, in various concerts with his tabla.[10] He has also performed jugalbandis,[1] along with sitarist Ustad Shahid Parvez,[11] mohan veena player Pandit Vishwa Mohan Bhatt and accompanied by tablist Yogesh Samsi, Subhankar Banerjee.[12][13]


Ballesh's singing style is inspired from Ustad Bade Ghulam Ali Khan, Ustad Salamat Ali Khan and Ustad Nazakat Ali Khan, Inspired by the ideals of his Guru Ustad Bismillah Khan and Pandit Puttaraja Gawai, Ballesh and his son Krishna Ballesh founded Tansen Academy of Music,[14][15][11] a school of music, with his musical work continued by his three sons by Prakash, Krishna and Shivanand Ballesh.[16][13][17][4]

Film music

Ballesh has been a musician for many music directors in Hindi, Telugu, Malayalam, Tamil, Kannada, Bengali, Gujarati, Marathi, Rajasthani, and Bhojpuri cinema, performing compositions by Naushad Ali, M. S. Viswanathan, G.K. Venkatesh, Ravindra Jain, Ravendra master, Ilaiyaraaja, A. R. Rahman and M. M. Keeravani.[1] He has sung and played shehnai for more than 9,000 movies background scores[18] and 45,000 film songs in several languages,[19][7] more than 50,000 devotional songs for several religions and languages,[18] he has sung Hindustani music Alaaps for films, and had also collaborated on shehnai with international musicians and composers in recordings.[18] He has sung several songs along with the singers K. J. Yesudas, S. Janaki, S. P. Balasubrahmanyam, Ilaiyaraaja, M. M. Keeravani and A. R. Rahman.[7][19]

Ballesh played shehnai for the Hindi film Raanjhanaa, with music by A.R. Rahman.[20] He also played shehnai for the song "The Dichotomy of Fame" in Imtiaz Ali's 2011 Hindi film Rockstar, with music by A.R. Rahman.[21]

Awards and recognition

Pt Ballesh is conferred with Padmashri award by President of India, Shri. Ramnath Kovind
Pt Ballesh is conferred with Padmashri award by President of India, Shri. Ramnath Kovind

In 2019, Ballesh was conferred with Karnataka Kalashri (Karnataka State Sangeeta Nataka Akademi award), state's highest award given for a musician by Government of Karnataka for his contribution to Indian classical music by Karnataka Sangeeta Nritya Academy [22] In 2021, Ballesh and his son Krishna were conferred with Ustad Bismillah Khan Kala Ratna Samman (Joint Award) by India Tourism Varanasi, Government of India and by Ustad Bismillah Khans family members.[23][24]

In 2020, Pandit Ballesh and his son Dr. Krishna Ballesh both were jointly conferred with Tamil Nadu state's highest civilian honour, the Kalaimamani (Joint) award, conferred by the Chief Minister.[25][26][27][28]

In 2022, he was awarded India's fourth-highest civilian award, the Padma Shri in the field of Art, conferred by the President of India, on the eve of the 73rd Republic Day.[5][6][29]

Other awards


In 2006, Ballesh and his son, Krishna Ballesh,[11][4] played a musical tribute to Krishna Hangal, daughter of Gangubai Hangal, at the presentation award ceremony for the first Krishna Hangal Memorial Award of the Hangal Music Foundation at the Sawai Gandharva Hall in Hubli.[40]

In 2015, Ballesh performed at the 140th Baba Harballabh Sangeet Sammelan that commenced at Shri Devi Talab Mandir, Jalandhar.[41]

In 2016, Ballesh and his son, Krishna, were invited by Executive President of the Arya Sangeet Prasarak Mandal Pt Shrinivas Joshi to perform for the 100th birthday anniversary of their guru Bharat Ratna Ustad Bismillah Khan[42] in the 64th anniversary of the “Sawai Gandharva Bhimsen Mahotsav[43] music festival in Pune founded by Bharat Ratna Pandit Bhimsen Joshi.[44][45]

World tour

Ballesh has conducted several music tours including at least one with the composer Ilaiyaraaja[46]

India tour


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