Narayan Shripad Rajhans (Marathi: नारायण श्रीपाद राजहंस), better known as Bal Gandharva (1888 – 1967) was one of the greatest Marathi singer and stage actor. He was famous for his roles of female characters in Marathi plays, since women were not allowed to act on stage during his time. Bal Gandharva got his name after a performance in Pune as an aspiring singer. Lokmanya Tilak, the great freedom fighter and the grand old man of the Indian independence movement was in the audience, and after the performance, reportedly patted Rajhans on the back and said that Narayan was a “Bal Gandharva” (which means “Young Gandharva”).
He began his career with Kirloskar Sangeet Mandali in 1905. The company was run by Mujumdar and Nanasaheb Joglekar. After Joglekar’s death in 1911, there was discontent about Mujumdar’s dictatorial and manipulative style. Bal Gandharva, Gangesh Govind (‘Ganpatrao’) Bodas and Govindrao Tembe left the company in 1913 to form Gandharva Sangeet Mandali. Narayanrao Bal Gandharva became the sole owner of the debt ridden company in 1921. The debt was paid off in 7 years’ time. But the company accumulated debt again over next 6–7 years. Bal Gandharva dissolved the company to make 6 films with Prabhat Film Company but the partnership was dissolved after just one film in which BG was portrayed in a male role, that of Sant Eknath. Narayanrao revived his drama company in 1937, and soon formed an infamous association with Gohar Karnataki (also known as Gauhar Jan) who joined the company in April 1938. With Narayanrao increasingly ill at ease in female roles owing to his advancing years, the company was looking for an actress to play female roles. His brother Bapurao Rajhans left the company to protest against Gohar’s entry in BG’s life when it became clear that Gohar would have a major say in the company’s stewardship. Narayanrao’s heart-broken first wife died in 1940. Narayanrao and Gohar got married in 1951. Gohar died in 1964 and Narayanrao died in 1967.
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