Ground Report | New Delhi: Narayan Shripad Rajhans (1888–1967), popularly known as Bal Gandharva, was a Marathi thespian who lived and died for his art. He acted as a woman, and with such grace that the audience refused to see him in masculine roles.
From an early age, flamingos were exposed to an atmosphere full of music and drama. He was never inclined towards academics. Rather, he saw his father playing the sitar every morning while his mother sang in Marathi. In addition, his maternal uncle was the co-founder of a drama troupe.
Narayan Shripad Rajhans
At the young age of 10, he sang for audiences, including Bal Gangadhar Tilak. Pleased with his talent, Tilak bestowed the title of ‘Bal Gandharva’ to the flamingos. At the age of 18, she left the audience speechless with her performance as ‘Shakuntala’ in Miraj.
Like many other men, Flamingo too immersed himself in perfecting the art of playing a female role. He trained extensively with senior-actors and teachers. She designed her own sarees and chose her own jewellery.
Within a few years of her first play in 1906, she performed as Nandini (in Gupt-manjush), Subhadra (in Saubhadra), Devayani (in Vidyaharan) and Rukmini (in Swayamvara). Soon, non-Marathi audiences started participating. Her impeccable feminine expressions, voice and movements were observed in her plays. She wore a sari of ten yards instead of the usual nine yards to enhance the shine.
In 1913, he co-founded his own troupe named ‘Gandharva Natak Mandali’ and also received royal patronage of 5000 rupees from the Maharaja of Baroda. He played 36 roles in 27 plays spanning 5000 stages.
Bal Gandharva Rang Mandir, a theater auditorium in the city of Pune, was named in his honour. It was created by the Pune Corporation in 1968 with the initiative of famous Marathi writer and Balgandharva fan, Pu. La Deshpande. It was inaugurated by Acharya Prahlad Keshav Atre. The foundation of this drama theater was started by Balgandharva in his own hands when he was alive.
The film Balgandharva, depicting the life journey of Balgandharva, was released in May 2011 by Chandrakant Productions.
Roles; His famous roles include:
Bhamini in Manapman (1911)
Rukmini in Swayamvar (1916)
Sindhu in Ech Chayala (1920)
Sharda in Sangeet Sharda(1909)
Vasantasena in Mrichchkatika
In 1955 Bal Gandharva received the prestigious “President Award”, now known as the Sangeet Natak Akademi Award, the highest musical honor in India from the then President of India.
In 1964, Bal Gandharva received the Padma Bhushan, the third highest civilian award in the Republic of India.
“Padma Award” (PDF).
Ministry of Home Affairs, Government of India. 2015. Archived from the original (PDF) on 15 November 2014. Retrieved 21 July 2015.