Pt. Govindrao Desai


Founded on July 1, 1918, the Gopal Gayan Samaj Sangeet Mahavidyalaya, located in Sadashiv Peth, was the brainchild of Indian classical musician Govindrao Desai. Named after his father, Gopalrao Desai, the institute has produced some of the greatest Marathi classical singers and musicians in the country. The institute is now run by Govindrao Desai’s descendants.

Desai was born in the month of Margashirsha (the ninth month in the Hindu calendar, which corresponds to December–January in the Gregorian calendar), in Sangli in Maharashtra. He grew up in a country writhing with nationalist fervour and left school in 1908 to protest Lokmanya Tilak’s arrest in Pune. From there he went to the town of Talegaon Dabhade in Pune and started teaching at a school owned by Annasaheb Bijapurkar, a local proprietor. By 1910, the city had introduced him to the enticing and exciting world of classical Hindustani music. A year later, he joined the Akhil Bharatiya Parishad’s Gandharva Mahavidyalaya as a student in Mumbai, which was run by the renowned Marathi musician Vishnu Digambar Paluskar. Paluskar, whom Desai reverently referred to as Panditji, guided him as a guru for four years.

By 1917, Desai started teaching at Gandharva Mahavidyalaya. A year later, Paluskar asked Desai to start his own music institute in Pune. Following his guru's instructions, Desai left for Pune in 1918 and started Gopal Gayan Samaj in a small rented space in a building owned by a person named Kokate, located on present-day Kumthekar Road.

Desai instilled a sense of pride and nationalism in his students through his music, and his classes became increasingly popular. He organised melas (fairs), processions of people singing Bhakti Geets (devotional songs), and powadas (ballads about historical events) related to the freedom struggle of India. His students were active participants in these processions. Gopal Gayan Samaj also began receiving invitations to perform the 'Vishwa Prarthana' (world prayer) at the start of several conferences, some of which were attended by prominent personalities such as Mahatma Gandhi, Motilal Nehru, Sarojini Naidu, and Pandit Madan Mohan Malviya, among others.

By 1923, the number of students in Gopal Gayan Samaj reached 40. Unable to accommodate all his students in the small rented space, Desai started looking for a new place to conduct his classes. The founder of the S.P. College in Pune, Sir Parashurambhau offered Desai a piece of land on rent to start his music school. The construction of a new building on this land thus started in 1923 with funds obtained from students, and was completed in 1927.

Three sons of Govindrao took forward the legacy of Gopal Gayan Samaj after him and, in turn, handed it over to the current generation of his grandsons. The music school still operates from the same building and continues to produce fine classical musicians in Pune. A number of renowned Marathi musicians have learnt music from Govindrao Desai, including Krishnahari Mehendale, Ram Marathe, Leela Joshi, Sudha Bhagwat, Narayanrao Desai, and Sindhutai Modak, among others. Desai also taught Deenanath Mangeshkar and Govindrao Tembe while he was a teacher at Mumbai’s Gandharva Mahavidyalaya for a year. Apart from imparting classical music lessons, Gopal Gayan Samaj also actively organises musical events at its own premises as well as at forts like Raigad and Sinhagad on auspicious occasions.

Govindrao’s contribution to the Indian freedom struggle is also often associated with Gopal Gayan Samaj, and he received recognition for his artistic contribution to the Independence movement from several leaders like Savarkar and Gandhi. Mahatma Gandhi personally thanked him for singing the powadas of Tukaram, Namdev, and Tulsidas to entertain him while he went on a hunger strike for 21 days in Pune.