Bhikari Bala was born in Kendrapara district. Pala gayak Hari Nath and pioneering Odia singer Nimain Harichandan and a generation ago dramatist Baishnaba Pani were born in the same area. Both men Harichandan and Bala were great devotees of Lord Jagannath. Both maintained a pious personal life. While some of the well known singers of their time indulged in alcohol, bhang and late night parties, these men woke up early every morning to the tune of ” Jagannatha swami Nayana patha gami bhaba tume”.
Bhikari Bala’s parents Ramachandra Bala and Gellharani Devi died when he was very young. After the death of his first wife Ramachandra had married Gellharani, Bhikari’s mother. Ramachandra’s first wife had produced a son, Dhaneswara who was much older than Bhikari. Gellharani produced several children but none of them survived. So they named their surviving only son ” Bhikari”. Out of superstition, the parents pretended to have sold the baby to an untouchable family from whom they bought their child back. The child survived but the parents died not long after. So, the care of the child Bhikari fell on his half-brother Dhaneswar and his wife.
After primary education Bhikari enrolled in Kadalibana High School and studied up to 9th grade. His village Sobala had a Jatra party and young Bhikari joined it Through the Jatra party he learned to sing and act and play harmonium. In those days boys used to dance as girls in Jatra parties . They were called GOTI PUA. Late Kelucharan Mohapatra started his career as a Goti pua also. Later Bhikari Bala became a music teacher in a local school called Gokulachandra Sangeeta Sadan. He married at the age 20. For a young man with any talent in any village, Cuttack was a natural attraction. So, he came to Cuttack to find greener pasture.
In those days Kalabikash Kendra was being newly formed and the brain behind it, among others, were Babulal Dosi, a businessman and Baikunthanath Mohanty.a freedom fighter. Because of his fame at the Gokulachandra Sangeeta Sadan ,Bhikari Bala was given a teacher’s job at the Kalabikash Kendra. He had no fixed place in town. So he stayed with the family of late Shukadeb Patri, a renowned singer from his village area. In early 1960s Bhikari Babu was a struggling artist. Because of his connection to the Kalabikash Kendra he came to the attention of Kalicharan Pattanayak, the patron saint of anything Odissi and also of the well established singer Balakrushna Dash. Getting to All India Radio known as Akash Vani after that was only a matter of time. Long before television dominated the entertainment world, Odias where ever possible used to turn on to giti natyas carrying the voices of Surendra Mohanty, Balakrushna Dash, Nimaicharan Harichandan, Bina Devi , Jatin Das and others.
Eventually he managed to build a modest house in Cuttack. Bhikari babu earned many honors in his professional life. Because of his earlier connection to the Kalabikash Kendra he also received a modest pension from the Government of Odisha.
In appearance and attitude Bhikari Bala was a humble man, a very simple man. Poverty and malnutrition during the formative years of his life left marks on him through many ailments for which he found solace in his devotion to Lord Jagannath and the bhajans about the Lord. One could touch and feel great devotees like Salabega, Bhimabhoi and Dinakrushna through Bhikari Bala’s beautiful melodies. He was a vegetarian.
Toward the end Bhikari babu suffered Parkinson’s disease and was bedridden for quite some time. Since he came from a very poor background, he was not very much attached to money in in his life. He donated liberally to causes centering around Lord Jagannath. After death, when his body was taken to the Swarga dwara for cremation, thousands of people lined up to pay him their last respect all the way from Cuttack to Puri.
There is a Bhikari Bala Foundation which is trying to carry on the projects the great singer started in his lifetime. By being eighty two years of age , Bhikari Babu had probably earned a right to pass on to eternity. But the technology will no doubt keep his voice alive for many years and generations of Odias will get inspiration from his melodies. Those who knew him would treasure the memory of him. He was a real jewel for Odisha. Our heartfelt condolence to his sons Ashok and Amiya, daughter Kalpana and their mother Usharani Devi . May the departed soul rest in peace.