The Sawai Gandharva Bhimsen Mahotsav (formerly known as the Sawai Gandharva Sangeet Mahotsav and simply known as Sawai) is an annual Indian Classical music festival held in Pune since 1953. Arguably the largest, most popular, and sought-after Indian Classical music festival in the world, the festival is hosted by the Arya Sangeet Prasarak Mandal (ASPM) and initiated by Pt. Bhimsen Joshi as a memorial music conference commemorating the life and work of Pt. Joshi’s guru, Pt. Sawai Gandharva alias Rambhau Kundgolkar, the festival’s namesake.
While Pt. Joshi was leading the organization of the festival, performing artists received personal invitations from Pt. Joshi to perform at the festival. With an emphasis on Hindustani Classical Khayal music, instrumentalists, dancers, dhrupadiyas, Bhakti musicians, Ghazal musicians, Qawwaliyas, and Carnatic musicians frequent the concert lineup.
A younger artist’s debut performance at the festival connotes their “arrival” and promise to the Classical music scene of India (most recently including Rahul Deshpande, Kaushiki Chakrabarty, and Mahesh Kale).
Since its inception, the festival has grown into a prominent cultural soiree for Pune’s musical connoisseurs, featuring the foremost musicians of traditional Indian musical forms.
The festival was started in 1953 on a small scale, to commemorate the first death anniversary of Pt. Sawai Gandharva, the acclaimed Hindustani Classical vocalist of the Kirana Gharana.
The festival played a key role in the development of Hindustani Classical music in India’s post-independence cultural history. Prior to Indian Independence, Hindustani Classical musicians were supported by monarchs under patronage as court musicians since the beginning of the Mughal Empire. After independence, the political division between India and Pakistan culturally alienated many Hindustani musicians. The newfound Indian Republic resulted in an end to the patronage of musicians. Classical musicians were forced to find new methods of sustaining themselves and their art. Public performances of Classical musicians rose as a result, where the Sawai Gandharva Music Festival played an integral role in establishing a regional audience for Indian Classical music. Within the first several decades following Indian Independence, a great number of music festivals or music conferences were founded in order to provide a platform for Classical musicians to perform.