Hailed in Karnataka as a 'living god' and 'light of the blind' because of his social services, particularly for the visually impaired, Gavai passed away at 12.10 p.m. in Gadag district in north Karnataka, 480 km north of Bangalore.
The entire Gadag district observed undeclared bandh (shut down) to pay homage to the doyen, who had turned near blind when he was just six months old.
The children he was nurturing in his Veereshwara Punyashrama (complex) in the Gadag city sobbed uncontrollably over the loss of their guardian.
Hundreds of admirers flocked to the Punyashrama to pay their last respects to the man who had mastered Carnatic style of music as well and wrote plays, poems, books on music.
Gavai had established Veereshwara Punyashrama to make the visually impaired self-reliant by teaching them music. The ashram looks after the educational needs of over 1,000 destitute children, many visually impaired.
Musicians, writers and political leaders expressed grief over the passing away of "a great soul", as Jnanpith award winner U.R. Ananthamurthy described him.
"He was a great soul and a self-made man. He was an alert person. It is our ill-fate that we lost him," Ananthamurthy said.
Rajshekhar Mansur, a Hindustani classical vocalist, said: "He was the light of thousands of blind children whom he fed and educated."
"Some of them have grown to earn international fame under his guidance. He should have lived 100 years. His presence would have been an inspiration for us," Mansur said.
Gavai had been showered with many honours - Padma Bhushan, the country' third highest civilian award; Kendriya Sahitya Academy award; 'Kalidasa Samman' by the Madhya Pradesh government; and Karnataka Rajyotsava award, an honorary doctorate by Karnatak University.
Gavai was born in Haveri district, 300 km from Bangalore March 3, 1914. He was named Puttajjaiah.
He learnt Hindustani music from Pandit Panchakshari Shivayogi, who passed away in 1944.
Gavai also played several instruments like harmonium, tabla and violin.
He was a scholar in Hindi and Sanskrit and also wrote books in those languages besides Kannada, his mother tongue. He wrote about 80 books.
Grieving the death of the doyen, Chief Minister B.S. Yeddyurappa described Gavai as "gyan dasohi and anna dasohi" -- one who offers education and food to the deprived as service to God.
Gavai's body will be cremated at his ashram Saturday evening