Pandit Jasraj

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A brief biography

Namita Devidayal & Syed Akbar, Pilgrim of Music Ends His Journey, August 18, 2020: The Times of India

The son of a court musician who became part of Hindustani music’s royalty, Jasraj left behind a rich legacy of songs

Born in Hyderabad, Pandit Jasraj was trained in vocal music by his father Motiram and later his elder brother Maniram, with whom he did many duets before moving into his own solo space. It is said he would often skip school to listen to the songs of the legendary Begum Akhtar played at an Irani cafe.

His family left Hyderabad when Jasraj was 16, but he would return every year in the last five decades to hold the ‘Pandit Motiram and Pandit Maniram Annual Music Festival’ in honour of his father and eldest brother. They were the elite musicians in the department of music and arts of the Nizam VII, Mir Osman Ali Khan. Begum Akhtar and Bade Ghulam Ali Khan were also in the Nizam’s court of music and arts.

Jasraj received training as a tabla player from his brother Pratap Narayan and, in his early years, was veering towards becoming a percussionist. However, he did not like the way instrumentalists were treated. An incident where he was insulted publicly by a vocalist catalysed his decision to become a singer.

The pilgrim of music lived a life filled with struggle and stories, but eventually garnered India’s most prestigious awards – including Padma Vibhushan in 2000 and the Sangeet Natak Akademi Award in 1987. “The devotional aspect of Pandit Jasraj’s musical personality is central to his musicianship,” says musicologist Deepak Raja.

Raja cites an interview in which Jasraj said, “…music is not for only enjoyment. The enjoyment is there every time, but it is a prayer to God. So, when I start to teach my disciples, first, I explain to them, think of your mother, father. Think of your guru. Think of your Almighty. We have plenty of gods, so you can think of whichever god you love and offer, this is my service. Please accept it, and forgive my mistakes. Wherever you are making music, you invite him, because God loves music...”

Jasraj penned numerous lyrics and compositions. He was also a master of stagecraft, and viewed music as theatre, writes Raja. “His charming persona, the swaramandala in his lap, his exceptionally large ensemble, often consisting of 3 or 4 tanpuras and two melodic accompaniments, his body language full of dramatic gestures – all contribute to building a majestic aura that enhances the appeal of his music.”

Personal glimpses

Humanity: Singing to a 6-year-old fan

Anam Ajmal, August 19, 2020: The Times of India

A surprise visit from an unexpected person long ago still remains one of the most enduring family stories for the Khandekars. Twenty-six years ago, Pandit Jasraj came unannounced to their home in south Delhi’s Alaknanda to meet Kedar Khandekar, then six years old, who was born with cerebral palsy.

What prompted that visit in 1994 was a letter written by Kedar’s grandmother, Vijaya Khandekar, to the maestro, telling him about the boy’s obsession with Hindustani classical music in general, and Pt Jasraj’s songs in particular.

Pt Jasraj Struck The Right Notes With His Humanity

Jasraj’s music was an indispensable part of the household, with Kedar having taken a liking to it when he was just an infant. “Our son, Kedar, was born in 1988 with severe cerebral palsy – he could neither talk nor even sit without support. When he was just a couple of years old, he took great fondness to Hindustani classical music. Pt Jasraj’s numbers were his favourites,” Kedar's father, Sreekant, wrote in a tribute to the maestro.

This had led Kedar's grandmother to post a letter to the maestro's house in Mumbai about the little boy's “obsession”. In the letter, she also expressed a desire for Jasraj to drop by whenever possible and bless Kedar. “When Aai wrote that letter, we did not expect Jasraj to show up at our house. But just a few days later, the bell rang and it was Jasraj, waiting patiently at the door,” Sreekant told TOI.

“We were all out on work and Aai was alone at home. When she opened the door, there was Jasraj on the doorstep asking, ‘Where is Kedar’?” Sreekant recounted. Kedar was in school, and would have taken another half-anhour to return, but Jasraj decided to stay, and made himself comfortable in the living room. When Kedar finally returned, Jasraj greeted him warmly, asked Aai about his favourite classical numbers and proceeded to sing a few.

“Aai told us later that Kedar was mesmerised. He sat still and kept staring at Jasraj. He couldn’t fathom how the voice that used to come from the cassette player was emerging from this stranger’s mought! One of the songs, I remember, was the perennially popular Rani Tero Chirjeeyo Gopal,” Sreekant added.

The visit was a reflection of Jasraj’s humanity, said Sreekant, while narrating how his family had hosted Jasraj in their home in Maharashtra’s Amravati on a few occasions. “My grandfather, Kashinath Khandekar, was passionate about Hindustani classical music and while he was not well off, he would put up travelling musicians at his home. Jasraj was one of them,” Sreekant wrote.

But even he had not expected the legendary vocalist to turn up at their Delhi home. “My mom and dad had lost touch with Jasraj over the decades. But he remembered his beginning, even when he became famous and was traveling all over the country for his music. How many artists honour their decades-old associations?” Sreekant asked.

Kedar, who passed away at the age of 22 in 2010, continued to listen to Jasraj’s music all his life. “Kedar could not speak, so it is hard to fathom what he thought of when he listened to music. But he was bound to Jasraj’s music,” Sreekant said, while narrating how Kedar “discovered” Jasraj's music. “It had taken us some time to understand that Kedar wasn’t fond of nursery rhymes that children his age would generally listen to. We changed a lot of cassettes before we arrived at Jasraj's classical music. Once Kedar heard it, he nodded approvingly and over the next few years, we ended up playing Jasraj's songs several times a day."

“Then 64, Jasraj was at the peak of his singing career – both immensely popular and terribly busy. But he immediately made time (and missed a connecting train, by the way) to honour an old, old relationship. I can’t imagine many who would have done that. And certainly not for a sixyear-old they had not even met,” Sreekant concluded.

A few years later, Sreekant's wife ran into Jasraj's daughter Durga at an event and told her of her father's generosity. “That's baba for you,” replied Durga, affirming that the vocalist was more than just his art.

Minor planet named after Jasraj/ 2019

Sep 30, 2019: The Times of India

Minor planet named after maestro Jasraj

New Delhi:

A minor planet between Mars and Jupiter has been named after Pandit Jasraj, the doyen of Indian classical vocal music.

International Astronomical Union (IAU) has named 2006 VP32 (number -300128) , discovered on November 11, 2006 , as ‘Panditjasraj’. The planet traverses the cosmos between the orbits of Mars and Jupiter. “It was made official by IAU on September 23, followed by a citation,” said his daughter Durga Jasraj.

With this honour, the Padma Vibhushan recepient has become the first Indian musician to join the galaxy of immortal composers like Mozart, Beethoven and Tenor Luciano Pavarotti. “Blessed... in this honour one can experience only god’s grace,” Pandit Jasraj said from the US. “Sangeet Martand Pandit Jasraj is an exponent of Indian classical vocal music. A life dedicated to music, Jasraj is recipient of many awards, honours and titles. His distinctive voice traverses remarkable four and a half octave,” the International Astronomical Union citation says. PTI

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