Well-known Odissi vocalist and musician Pandit Raghunath Panigrahi passed away here on Sunday. He was 80. Panigrahi was ailing for sometime after being diagnosed with throat cancer. The end came around 11 am following a cardiac arrest. Though he was rushed to Capital Hospital, doctors declared him brought dead. He was 80 and is survived by two sons.
His wife, legendary Odissi danseuse Sanjukta Panigrahi, pre-deceased him in 1997. Incidentally, Pandit Panigrahi died a day after Sanjukta’s birth anniversary. Raghunath played a pioneering role in popularisation of the 12th century saint poet Jayadev’s immortal ‘Geeta Govind’ across the globe. He is the only Indian to have received the French Government’s Grand Prix Award for ‘Geeta Govind’ in 1982.
The maestro had sacrificed a promising career in film music in Madras to give voice to Sanjukta’s dance renditions. His mastery in ‘Geeta Govind’ still remains unmatched. He was the only person who could sing all the 24 verses of ‘Geeta Govind’ and made most of the challenging songs sound easy with his fine pronunciation. His work on ‘Geeta Govind’ fetched him audience in music festivals of Europe, Australia, the US and the UK where he was invited to sing verses of Jayadev.
Born in Gunupur, Raghunath was brought up in Puri where he was introduced to ‘Geeta Govind’ by his father Neelamani Panigrahi, himself a scholar and classical singer. He then underwent training under Biswanath Das and Narasingh Nanda in traditional Odia music, Carnatic music from Muddu Papa Rao and Hindustani music from D V Paluskar in Chennai.
Raghunath started performing as a regular artiste of All India Radio in 1948. He also lent his voice for several films in Odia, Tamil, Telugu and Kannada. When he was just 19, he did a playback for N T Rama Rao in the super-hit Telugu film ‘Ilavelpu’. Many honours and awards came his way __ the Padma Shri (2010), Sangeet Natak Akademi award (1976), Jayadev Samman (2008), Odisha Sangeet Natak Akademi award (1993) and Odisha State Film award for best playback singer (1997).
Sanjukta and Pandit Panigrahi were the first artiste couple in the country to receive a joint Sangeet Natak Akademi in 1976.