Farewell, Pandit Jasraj, the doyen of Hindustani classical music

Reminiscing the legendary classical vocalist

Culture

August 18, 2020

/ By / New Delhi



Pandit Jasraj

Pandit Jasraj was one of the rare Indian classical vocalists who experimented with classical music to make it understandable and enjoyable for the common people

Pandit Jasraj, who passed away in the US on August 17 following a cardiac arrest, was a vocalist of the Mewati Gharana and was known for his distinctively rich voice.

Decades ago, when Jasraj sang his famous Mero Allah Meherbaan at a concert in Pakistan, he went into a trance with the word ‘Om’ while delineating the word ‘Allah’. The packed hall was on its feet in reverence. With his magical voice, the master of vocals, especially khayal, had managed to efface borders between the two neighbours.

Pandit Jasrajwas one of the rare Indian classical vocalists who experimented with classical music to make it understandable and enjoyable for the common people. He didn’t strictly follow all the rules of the classical but created his own.

Born in January 1930, in Hisar district of Haryana, Jasraj belonged to a family of musicians. His father Pandit Motiram was a noted vocalist, as were his brothers Pandit Pratap Narayan and Pandit Maniram. The current generation of Pandit Jasraj’s family includes his nephews Jatin-Lalit, the famous Bollywood composer duo.

Pandit Jasraj news

Pandit Jasraj was popularly called ‘Sangeet Martand’, a title that originated from a film made by his wife Madhura

He was only four when his father Pt Motiram passed away. He, along with his mother and two brothers moved to Hyderabad, where his brother Pratap Narayan began teaching him the basics of the tabla. By the age of 11, Jasraj was accompanying his elder brother, famous vocalist Maniram, to concerts, helping make ends meet.

In 1946, the two brothers got a job with Akashvani (All India Radio) in Kolkata and moved there. As a radio artiste Jasraj acquired a small circle of admirers and mainly due to his willingness to experiment. At a time when the gharana system was quite rigid, Jasraj, incorporated elements from other gharanas into his music. For almost two decades, he faced criticism from all quarters on this account, until people began noticing the revolutionary sound. Pushing boundaries in the complex and exacting world of classical music resulted in 300 bandish, fixed compositions based on a specific raga, apart from compositions of ancient Sanskrit verses. Jasraj’s range extended to bhajans as well, making a space for them in the world of classical music also.

In a career spanning over 80 years, Pandit Jasraj was honoured with thousands of awards and honoured by various Indian and foreign institutions and organisations. He was awarded Padma Shri in 1975, Padma Bhushan in 1990 and Padma Vibhushan in 2000.

Pandit Jasraj sang his first and only Bollywood song in Vikram Bhatt’s horror movie, 1920 (2008) which was composed by Adnan Sami. Sami recollects this as a ‘rarest of the rare occasion’ and a ‘magical moment in his life’.

Pandit Jasraj sang his first and only Bollywood song in Vikram Bhatt’s horror movie, 1920, which was composed by Adnan Sami

Jasraj was popularly called ‘Sangeet Martand’, a title that originated from a film made by his wife Madhura, while Harvard University bestowed on him the title ‘Kalavati’.

Jasraj was also the founder of schools for Indian classical music in Atlanta, Tampa, Vancouver, Toronto, New York, New Jersy, Pittsburg overseas and in Mumbai and Kerala. Some of his most famous students include violinist Kala Ramnath and vocalist Sanjeev Abhyankar.

Jasraj would be remembered as the man who took niche Hindustani classical music to a global stage and whose voice brushed away disputed borders created between nations. As if to confirm that he possessed a heavenly voice, last September International Astronomical Union named a minor planet, located between Mars and Jupiter, after Jasraj, the first Indian musician to have a celestial body named after him. Thus even after his demise, somewhere between Mars and Jupiter, circling the Earth along with a Mozart, Beethoven and Pavarotti, is Panditjasraj.

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