Born in Sobala village under Pattamundei block in Kendrapara on May 25, 1929, Bhikari Bal was attracted to music since childhood.
He was trained at the Gokula Chandra Sangeet Sadan in Kendrapara as an adolescent. But his voice was refined under the tutelage of Odissi maestro late Balakrushna Das, who was known as Sangeet Sudhakar in the early ’60s when he came to Cuttack.
Bal was also guided by Kshitij Maitra and soon became a teacher of Odissi vocal at Kala Vikash Kendra. This was the period of struggle for him with the late singer constantly trying for a break in All India Radio, Cuttack. He became an A-grade singer here in 1963 after he received rave reviews for his first broadcast song ‘Prana mitani bareh chahan re’. But his popularity grew manifold with ‘Kotha bhoga khia’ and other such devotional songs in the early ’70s.
His lucid and moving rendition of bhajans written by old generation poets such as Gopalkrushna, Dinakrushna, Baldev, Banamali and Salabega are still popular today.
He had also rendered songs by Dr Prasanna Samal, Raghunath Rout, Kshirod Chandra Pothal, Sirsananda Kanungo, Alekh Biswal, Gourhari Dalei and Srikant Gautam.
His Jagannath bhajans and Gita Govinda recitals made him a household name. He had also sung ‘Champu, Chhanda’, folk songs and Oriya film songs. Bal was awarded the title of Bhajan Samrat by the Puri Gajapati and was given special privileges inside the temple for his devotional tribute to Lord Jagannath. He was also taken to be one of the servitors of the temple for having offered the ‘Chamara seba’ to Lord Jagannath. The 81-year-old singer had last recorded for the devotional album ‘Chagala mana’ in 2005 and had last performed live in May 2006.