One thing is sure. The year 2020 seems to have taken away parts of our normal lives – our pastimes, our outings, our regular lives, and, most of all, our beloved people. And, as if not yet satisfied, it has also taken away one of our great musical innovators, Pandit Jasraj.
Pandit Jasraj, 90, went beyond this humdrum life early morning of August 17th, leaving wife Madhura, son Shaarang, and daughter Durga behind. For a man who walked with time, accepting changes and creating changes, one would have thought he could have just stayed long enough to complete a century.
Innovative Musical Style
Music is said to be the highest of performing arts. While a painting may bring back a moment in time, music has the ability to bring back your whole life in front of you. Especially when music is keeping in step with the present times, while remaining at the height of its classic artistry. Pandit Jasraj made sure it did. As did some others before him. Tagore gave us our lovely fusion of poetry and music in the form of Rabindra Sangeet. Pankaj Mallick introduced us to the Western orchestra mingled in Indian music. Ananda Shankar gave us a fusion of western music and dance with classic Indian dance and music. And, most recently, A.R. Rahman has given us a fusion of symphony and traditional Indian melody based music.
Never fearing rejection, Pandit Jasraj gifted us with his innovative style of music, creating wonderful fusion of khayal and thumri, making traditional classical Indian music easier to enjoy in new lighter notes. Trained in the Mewat Gharana, a school of music which follows exact rendition of ragas and khayal, he mingled it with the lighter ‘shrungar rasa’ based Krishna dance songs of the thumri.
He also experimented with ‘jugalbandhi’ where two artists sing classical music in unison, only he had them both singing different ragas, thus creating his own new kind of duet.
Sharing Art and Teaching
Like every great artist, Pandit Jasraj also wanted to pass on his experience, knowledge and art to students, and he kept doing it till the end. Keeping pace with changing times, if the year 2020 required isolation, so be it. He adapted and taught his students through Skype.
Some of his students became acclaimed musicians in their own right, among them, violinists Kala Ramnath, Tripti Mukherjee, Suman Ghosh, Shashank Subramanyam, Saptarshi Chakraborty, Anuradha Paudwal, Sadhana Sargam, and Ramesh Narayan.
Another student, Amit Arya is teaching at The Pandit Jasraj Institute of Music in Toronto, a non-profit institute for preservation, growth and teaching of Indian classical music in the tradition of the ‘Mewati Gharana’, named after Jasraj.
Talent and Training
Born January 28, 1930, to Pandit Motiram and his wife on in Pili Mandori, Hisar district, now known as Fatehabad, Haryana, Pandit Jasraj lost his father four years later on the day he was going to be officially appointed as the state musician by Mir Osman Ali Khan.
Jasraj was the youngest of the three sons. Pandit Maniram the eldest was a classical vocal singer; Pandit Pratap Narayan, the middle son, was a known musician even in Indian cinema.
As an adult Jasraj lived in Hyderabad, travelling frequently to Sanand in Gujarat to train with musicians of the ‘Mewati Gharana’– Thakur of Sanand, Maharaj Jaywant Singh Waghela who was an exponent of classical music, Gulam Qadir Khan of ‘Mewati Gharana’, and Swami Vallabhdas Damulji of the ‘Agra Gharana’.
Trained on classical Tabla, Jasraj made a career move to classical vocal singing with radio singing in 1946, moving to Calcutta.
He found a mate who was equally artistic when in 1962 he married Madhura Shantaram, the daughter of film director V. Shantaram, relocating to Mumbai a year later.
Madhura in one of her interviews spoke of her son Shaarang Dev Pandit and daughter Durga Jasraj, starting their musical journey in childhood, sitting in their parent’s lap when Pandit Jasraj did his riyaaz in the evenings.
A student of Indian classical dance, and also of classical music, Madhura Jasraj carved her own creative and artistic life. She made a documentary film on her husband, ‘Sangeet Martand Pandit Jasraj’ in 2009. In 2010, she directed her first Marathi film, ‘Aai Tuza Ashirwad’, in which Pandit Jasraj sang in Marathi along with Lata Mangeshkar. She has also written her father’s biographies, ‘Shantarama’ in Marathi and ‘V Shantaram: The Man Who Changed Indian Cinema’ in English. She has collaborated with Pandit Jasraj on many projects, including the one declared most dear by her, her dance ballet, ‘Geet Govind’.
Awards and Honors
Predictably, Pandit Jasraj received tremendous recognition and many awards, among them the Padma Shri in 1975, Sangeet Natak Akademi Award in 1987, Padma Bhushan in 1990, Padma Vibhushan in 2000, Swathi Sangeetha Puraskaram in 2008, and Sangeet Natak Akademi Fellowship in 2010.
Some other awards that recognized his lifelong dedication include Pu La Deshpande lifetime achievement award in 2012, the Bharat Ratna Bhimsen Joshi Classical Music Life Achievement Award in 2013, the Sumitra Charat Ram Award for Lifetime Achievement in 2014, and the Gangubai Hangal Lifetime Achievement Award in 2016.
That is not all. Pandit Jasraj also has an Asteroid named after him. In 2006, astronomers of the Mount Lemmon Survey discovered Asteroid 300128 and named it Pandit Jasraj in his honor. The official naming citation was published on Aug. 27, 2019 by the Minor Planet Center.
Expression of Grief
On Pandit Jasraj’s death, a nation mourned.
India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi sent condolences to his family and followers worldwide, and tweeted, “The unfortunate demise of Pandit Jasraj Ji leaves a deep void in the Indian cultural sphere. Not only were his renditions outstanding, he also made a mark as an exceptional mentor to several other vocalists.”
Grammy and Academy Award-winning musician AR Rahman tweeted, “RIP Pandit Jasraj. Indian classical music has lost one of its shining stars,” while Vishal Dadlani, Indian singer-composer called it a “monumental loss.”
Pandit Jasraj’s family also expressed their grief and sense of loss in an official statement, “May Lord Krishna welcome him lovingly through the doors of heaven, where Pandit ji will now sing Om Namo Bhagwate Vasudevaya exclusively just for his beloved Lord. We pray that his soul rests in eternal musical peace.”
Grief cannot steal what Pandit Jasraj has left us with – an ultimate lesson — to keep pace with time otherwise you may lose the glorious gifts of music, and embrace creativity.