Untold story of Bapu’s favourite bhajan, ‘Raghupati Raghav Raja Ram’ : The Tribune India

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Untold story of Bapu’s favourite bhajan, ‘Raghupati Raghav Raja Ram’

Pandit Vishnu Digambar Paluskar was the maestro behind ‘Raghupati Raghav Raja Ram’

Untold story of Bapu’s favourite bhajan, ‘Raghupati Raghav Raja Ram’

‘Raghupati Raghav Raja Ram, Patit Pavan Sita Ram’ — the simple, soul-stirring bhajan is etched in the consciousness of millions across India. It also happened to be the signature hymn of Mahatma Gandhi and became synonymous with his life and times, as also with the freedom struggle.



Krishnaraj Iyengar

‘Raghupati Raghav Raja Ram, Patit Pavan Sita Ram’ — the simple, soul-stirring bhajan is etched in the consciousness of millions across India. It also happened to be the signature hymn of Mahatma Gandhi and became synonymous with his life and times, as also with the freedom struggle.

In his autobiography, ‘Satyana Prayogo’ (‘My Experiments with Truth’), Gandhiji reminisces about his nanny Rambha, who taught him to chant ‘Ram Naam’ in the wake of fear and insecurity. Until the very end, this remained his spiritual base. No wonder, the bhajan touched his soul. Apart from the simple lyrics, the magic lies in its melody. “No exaggeration, this bhajan has the unique and indescribable power to literally transport the listener into a trance. The melody embodies Raga Gara and nuances of Khamaj, both light ragas,” shares flautist Pt Nityanand Haldipur.

Pandit Vishnu Digambar Paluskar was the maestro behind ‘Raghupati Raghav Raja Ram’

The composer happened to be none other than the towering Gwalior gharana colossus, vocalist Pt Vishnu Digambar Paluskar (1872-1931). A life of ceaseless tragedies, it is said, led him to deep spirituality. “Having lost his eyesight very early in life, the agony led him on the path of perpetual ‘Ram Naam’. The tune reflects his intense yearning for god and his musical genius,” says Pt Haldipur.

Having popularised Hindustani classical music across undivided India, Pt Paluskar strived to make raagdari (study of science and art of raga music) a part of every Indian household. He thus established the famous Gandharva Mahavidyalaya in Lahore in 1901 and in Bombay in 1908. “Classical music learning was confined to the families of the Khan sahabs and to royal courts. Paluskarji broke the monopoly. Being the missionary and visionary that he was, he strived to make classical music available for everyone to learn,” says vocalist Pt Vidyadhar Vyas. The son of Pt Narayanrao Vyas, Pt Paluskar’s eminent disciple, Vyas is the last living source for the Paluskar lineage.

A powerful vocalist of his time, Pt Paluskar was an outstanding guru who groomed numerous eminent disciples, including his son, the legendary Dattatreya Vishnu (DV) Paluskar, along with veterans Vinayakrao Patwardhan, Shankarrao Vyas, Omkarnath Thakur and BR Deodhar, to name a few. “He was among the most luminous personalities in Indian musical history, a visionary, an institution builder, a composer and a revolutionary propagator of Hindustani classical music. The tune he composed for ‘Raghupati Raghav Raja Ram’, besides many other works, are hallmark creations which have stood the test of time. ‘Raghupati Raghav’ is an iconic composition set to Raga Gara with a hint of Jaijaiwanti, which is popular across the length and breadth of our country,” says sitar and tabla maestro Pt Nayan Ghosh.

Apart from regular ‘jalsa’ concerts, a part of Pt Paluskar’s endeavours to popularise raga music among the masses was to tune popular bhajans to classical ragas. “Although there is no documented evidence, as his grand-disciple, I would justifiably believe that among the first bhajans he tuned was ‘Raghupati Raghav’, followed by ‘Paayo ji maine Ram ratan dhan paayo’ and ‘Thumak chalat Ramchandra’,” Vyas believes.

Though Tulsidas is popularly believed to have penned the bhajan, many believe it was written by the Maharashtrian saint Ramdas. However, Pandit Vyas insists that, despite theories, the writer’s name remains unknown.

In a short, pain-stricken life of 59 years, he accomplished the impossible. “Having lost 11 children, all except ‘Bapurao’ (Dattatreya), the 12th, his only hope was ‘Ram Naam’. He even acquired bhagwa vastra (saffron robes) as he advanced in age and lived the life of an ascetic,” Vyas shares. The vocalist says that this bhajan, categorised as ‘naam sankeertana’ (chanting of the divine name), was an offering of the maestro’s ever-bleeding heart.

Pt Paluskar was known for his fierce nationalism. He and Gandhiji shared deep mutual respect. In fact, at the Mahatma’s behest, he would commence every Congress meeting with ‘Vande Mataram’ that he had tuned to Mishra Kafi. This stands very different from the current version in Raga Des. While the verse, ‘Ishwar allah tero naam, sabko sanmati de bhagwan’, was Gandhi’s addition to the bhajan to give it an inclusive touch, the most authentic version is a Pt DV Paluskar recording available on YouTube.

Speaking of inclusivity, ‘Raghupati Raghav’ surpasses all religious boundaries. While Bismillah Khan famously rendered it on the shehnai, the late sitar maestro Ustad Abdul Halim Jaffer Khan, too, lent it his colourful touch. His son, noted sitarist Zunain Khan, follows suit. The hymn, he believes, is the ‘pinnacle of Indian spirituality’ and the greatest example of pluralism. “Just this morning, while exploring Khamaj, I spontaneously entered the domain of ‘Raghupati Raghav’. What a coincidence!” Zunain gleams. He believes that there lies an inexplicable universal spirituality about the bhajan which touches the very core, be it Hindu or Muslim.

Interpreting the verse

Raghupati Raghav Raja Ram Patit Pavan Sita Ram

  • The guardian of the Raghu kul (the Sun clan), the King Rama. With whose grace, the patit (impure and lowly) become pavan (sacred and pure)
  • Here, ‘Sita Ram’ is a form of praise, where the name of Lord Rama’s wife, Sita, is also enjoined, suggesting their eternal, inseparable bond.

#Mahatma Gandhi


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