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Remembering Pandit Jasraj - The Immortal Singing Legend

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Music aficionado. Amateur singer. Deeply drawn to Indian classical and light music.Believe that different moods call for different music.

The singer who opened doorway to the divine with his music - Pandit Jasraj

Growing up in the South of India, and that too in the bastion of Carnatic classical music,Tamil Nadu,my early training and exposure was naturally to that form of music. And as a young child, my initial introduction to Hindusthani classical music was through Doordarshan, the National Channel, and specifically one mesmerizing performance by Pandit Jasraj.

It was a devotional piece on Lord Krishna was all I could figure out. Nevertheless, young me was in tears. I knew not why. I did not understand what he sang. The music was new to me. And the singer, never seen or heard of him and yet his music had exerted its magic. That was my first introduction to Hindusthani music, a love that only grew over the years.

And therefore, the thought of this soulful sonorous voice merging into the cosmic sound on the 17th of August 2020 is something that Hindusthani classical music lovers will have a hard time coming to terms with. With many of his contemporaries - Kishori Amonkar, Pandit Bhimsen Joshi, Girija Devi - also gone, the curtains have come down on an era.

God resides in Jasraj’s voice

— - M.S.Subbalakshmi

A Little About His Early Life and Musical Training

Pandit Jasraj was born into music on 28th January 1930 in a Brahmin family, the fourth generation of singers from the Mewati gharana. His father Pandit Motiram sang for the royal court and his two elder brothers were musicians as well.

He was initiated into music by his father Pandit Motiramji whom he lost at the tender age of 6. It was then that he shifted to learning the tabla under Pandit Pratap Narayan, his elder brother to support the family as a tabla accompanist. He gave his first stage performance as a tabla artiste in the year 1937 when he was a mere 7-year-old.

"Deewana banana ho to deewana bana de, varna kahin taqdeer tamasha na bana de” (Loosely translated as "Either make me crazy in love, else destiny might make a mockery out of me" ) a song sung by Begum Akhtar needs to be specially mentioned. Her voice cast such a magical spell over him that he knew he had to be a singer. The treatment meted to accompanying artistes also helped cement his decision.

His early Guru in this regard was his eldest brother Pandit Maniram. He also received training under Maharaja Jeywant Singh Waghela and Ustad Ghulam Khader Khan of the Mewati Gharana.

His debut as a singer happened in the year 1952 at the age of 22. The venue - Darbar of King Tribhuvan Bir Bikram Shah of Nepal. So pleased was the King with a young Jasraj’s performance that he gifted him 5000 mohurs, a large sum at the time.

At the age of 32, he married Madhura Shantharam, daughter of famous director V. Shantharam. They had two children, Shaarang Dev Pandit and Durga Jasraj both successful musicians in their own right.

That Divine Voice and the Music

Slowly his reputation as an exponent of the Mewati Gharana (means a lineage or style) grew. This Gharana is renowned for its treatment of khayals – a genre of classical music. Never one to shy away from experiments, he still included elements of other gharanas in his singing. Though a norm now, at the time it was unheard of and criticized.

He popularized a style of singing called jugalbandi with two performers, usually one male and one female singing different ragas at the same time and then culminating in one unified sound. It gained such popularity that it came to be known as Jasrangi Jugalbandi.

Along with his purely classical pursuits, he is also credited with the revival of Haveli Sangeet which is semi-classical temple music and deeply devotional by nature. He brought it out of the confines of the temple.

What marked him out as a legend was his uncanny ability to adopt, adapt, and innovate while staying true to the core. He was equally at home with bhajans, semi-classical, Bollywood (film music) as he was with pure classical music.

And what a delight it was to see him on stage. His was a charismatic personality draped in the bright silks that he was so fond of, and with that fuzzy hair. And then came that voice, soulful, sonorous, silken. It could effortlessly traverse through the ups and downs of 3 and a half octaves.

Music steeped in tradition and soaked in devotion. Yet open to experimentation.

Below is his rendition of a composition by the saint Bilvamangala Thakur of the 13th century AD 'Govinda Damodara Madhaveti' in Raag (melodic scale) Sarasangi. Close your eyes and immerse yourself in the music.

The Guru and his Shishyas

One key reason for Pandit Jasraj’s standing in the world of music was his commitment to his role as a teacher. A believer in the Gurukul tradition, many students stayed at his home and were taught for close to no financial consideration.

Jasraj, the Guru has shaped and molded several students who have become big names themselves in the world of classical and semi-classical music. They include classical musicians Saptarishi Chakraborty, Sanjeev Abhyankar, violinist Kala Ramnath, shehnai player Lokesh Anand, Tripti Mukherjee, Suman Ghosh, flutist Shashank Subramanyam, Anuradha Paudwal, Sadhana Sargam and Ramesh Narayan.

He has also founded Indian classical music schools in Tampa, Vancouver, New Jersey, Toronto, Atlanta, Pittsburg besides of course Mumbai and Kerala in India.

Ever the Innovator

Openly embracing technology, he taught students through Skype and recently Zoom and was as comfortable with virtual concerts as he was with the live one. He believed that technology had made it easier to live-stream concerts thereby reaching thousands and with better audio quality.

Music is what can take you to heaven, yet can bring God from the heaven to Earth.

- Pandit Jasraj

That Divine Power

If one attempts to understand Panditji Jasraj’s music only through the lens of technique, grammar, voice quality, or craft, one misses the point. Because his music encompassed all this and yet was more. His music was simply put, sublime, and could take you to another dimension. Maybe this incident from his life has something to do with that.

He once recounted an interesting story of how the Divine Power restored his brother's voice. His eldest brother Pandit Maniram lost his voice in the year 1944. Maharaja Jaywant Singh of Sawant then told him with great certainty that if Pandit Maniram would sing devotional songs throughout the night in a particular Kali temple, his voice would be restored. In the temple, Pandit Maniram felt guided to sing Raag Desh from midnight to six in the morning. Lo and behold, his voice was restored. After this incident, Pandit Jasraj began his search for the Divine in music.

When questioned about the magical spell cast by his voice, his reply was always “Aradhana (worship) Sadhana (rigorous practice) and God’s blessings.”

Music is not something you can perfect even in a lifetime. With every life you start off from where you left off in your previous life. Once you understand this, age is no more a barrier and death is not the end of your musical pilgrimage.

Pandit Jasraj

What a blessed life filled with music from the womb to the grave. Till the last day of his life, he was both performing and teaching.

A musician can never really die as the most throbbing, vibrant part of him still lives on in his vast musical legacy and through his students. The voice lives on. "Jai Ho" as he always liked to end his concerts with.

Quiz

For each question, choose the best answer. The answer key is below.

  1. What was Pandit Jasraj's father's name?
    • Pandit Maniram
    • Pandit Motiram
    • Pandit Pratap Narayan
  2. Under whom did Pandit Jasraj learn tabla?
    • Pandit Motiram
    • Pandit Ghulam Ali Khan
    • Pandit Pratap Narayan
  3. Which gharana did Pandit Jasraj belong to?
    • Jaipur
    • Kirana
    • Mewati

Answer Key

  1. Pandit Motiram
  2. Pandit Pratap Narayan
  3. Mewati

References:

Let’s know about music and musical instruments of India – Madhumitha Dutta

Essays on Indian music – edited by Raj Kumar

Wikipedia

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2020 sowspeaks

Comments

sowspeaks (author) from Bengaluru on September 11, 2020:

Hi Shibangi, yes old is indeed gold. You can listen to him for a variety of reasons regardless of whether you enjoy classical music. The sheer range of his voice can impress, there is a devotional fervor in his voice than is contagious. Enjoy it!

sowspeaks (author) from Bengaluru on August 27, 2020:

Hi Nikhil, glad to know that you enjoyed this write-up.

Pandit was a giant in his field and his life is peppered with so many many interesting anecdotes of which I have shared just a few.

I find reading and looking up the life of such people very inspiring.

Thanks for the visit and your insightful comments.

sowspeaks (author) from Bengaluru on August 27, 2020:

Hi Vandna, looks like we have a lot of things in common, our liking for this song being one of them. Take care.

sowspeaks (author) from Bengaluru on August 27, 2020:

Hi Risha, thanks for the compliment. I enjoy music and classical music is where one learns all the techniques and intricacies of the seven divine notes. My involvement is the reason behind the little I know. Thanks for the visit and the truly encouraging comment.

sowspeaks (author) from Bengaluru on August 27, 2020:

Hi Danny, yes thankfully a musician never dies. Thanks for visiting and the comment.

Take care.

sowspeaks (author) from Bengaluru on August 22, 2020:

Hi Chitrangada, I really enjoyed your observations.

And so delighted to know that you listen to him everyday.

I agree that traditions need to be preserved and it is heartening to note that younger generations are making use of improved technology and making the best of traditions and technology. Pandit ji was always for this combination.

We will all really miss him.

Shibangi Das from Paradeep, Jagatsinghpur, Odisha on August 21, 2020:

Hii Sowrabha ma'am! What a beautiful piece about the legend! Frankly speaking, I knew very little about Pandit Jasraj ji but reading this article of yours I'm very much intimidated to go straight away and listen to all his composition. As it is said, old is gold and it is indeed. Our culture has many things to be proud of really.

Nikhil Sharma from India on August 21, 2020:

Hi Ms. Sowrabha,

With this article of yours, I get to know many great things about this great artist and personality - Pandit Jasraj. It was really inspiring to know his life story and what his work consists of.

I'm also listening to music since my childhood and will never stop doing that. Although I haven't been very close to classical music. Maybe I should try and explore the music genre as well. Thanks for this detailed article and for giving a small tribute to this great virtuoso.

thoughtsprocess from Navsari (India) on August 21, 2020:

Hi Sowrabha,

An amazingly penned tribute to Pandit Jasrajji.

Divine voice. Everyday I listen to "Govind Damodar Madhaveti".

Thank you so much for sharing with us.

sowspeaks (author) from Bengaluru on August 20, 2020:

Hi Ram, thanks for the visit and the very generous comment. There is so much more to his personality .. I have taken but the cream. Hope you enjoyed listening to his bhajan.

sowspeaks (author) from Bengaluru on August 20, 2020:

Hi Suchi, thanks for those highly encouraging and warm remarks. You really made my day.

You are so right when you refer to the power of music. We’ve all experienced it at some point.

Highly appreciate.

sowspeaks (author) from Bengaluru on August 20, 2020:

Hi Vikram, I deeply connect to music , sing and listen to it quite a bit. It is my personal doorway to the divine. I listen to all music though semi classical , light , folk have their special place. Panditji with his soulful voice is one of my personal favorites along with Ashwini Bhide.

Risha Khan from Bhilai, Chhattisgarh on August 20, 2020:

Hi Sowrabha, your research and knowledge about classical music is truly amazing. This year we have lost so many influential people, their presence is only felt in their legacy they have left behind. I have come to know about traditional music through your article as you have explained everything with simplicity and grace.

Danny from India on August 20, 2020:

Yes Sowrabha, you re right. Pandit Jasraj immortalized the music with his melodious voice. He was truly a Rasraj.

Chitrangada Sharan from New Delhi, India on August 20, 2020:

A very well researched and well written tribute to Pandit Jasraj ji.

What a divine voice, What an irreparable loss to the Indian Classical music!

I listen to his bhajans, almost regularly.

Good of you to have shared your personal experiences. Keep singing, keep the traditions alive and also try to teach some people your great musical talent. The traditions must be passed on and carried forward.

Thanks for sharing.

sowspeaks (author) from Bengaluru on August 20, 2020:

Hi Devika, glad you liked this hub. There are so many more anecdotes related to him that I was unable to add. Take care.

Ramachandra Pai on August 20, 2020:

Wow! Such an immersive yet concise article! Well researched and would give anyone a good overview of the personality that was! Keep writing

sowspeaks (author) from Bengaluru on August 20, 2020:

Hi Devika, thank you for those kind words. There are so many many interesting anecdotes related to his life. Wasn’t able to include them.

Suchismita Pradhan from India on August 19, 2020:

Iam in love with your writing skills Sowrabha,love to read your extensive researched and well structured crafts.Music is a powerful weapon that can melt a heavy mind and fill peace into the soul.I never knew he has a gurukul. thanks for sharing and throwing valuable notes on his life .You are an immensely talented girl.Keep writing .

Vikram Brahma from Assam, India on August 19, 2020:

Very nicely writer my friend, I had no clue that you are also into classical singing. You're very jolly person. Stay blessed. There are many talented classical singers in India and we will get mesmerized by hearing them. He is great.

Devika Primić from Dubrovnik, Croatia on August 19, 2020:

This is well-researched hub. I had no idea of this amazing person and you explained in detail. I learned lots from your hub.