Pandit Jasraj: Early life, awards and other achievements of the Padma Vibhushan awardee
Indian classical vocalist Pandit Jasraj passed away following a cardiac arrest at his home in New Jersey, US, his daughter Durga Jasraj said. He was 90.
“With profound grief we inform that Sangeet Martand Pandit Jasraj ji breathed his last this morning at 5.15 EST due to a cardiac arrest at his home in New Jersey, USA,” a statement issued by his family read.
“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. Condolences to his family and admirers worldwide. Om Shanti,” Prime Minister Narendra Modi tweeted. Along with the tweet, the PM also posted old pictures of him felicitating the maestro.
With a career spanning over 80 years, Pandit Jasraj was a recipient of various prestigious awards and honours including Padma Shri (1975), Padma Bhushan (1990) and Padma Vibhushan (2000). Former Prime Minister of India Atal Bihari Vajpayee honoured Panditji as ‘Rasraj’, on February 2, 2002 when he sang at Panchavati, the residence of the Prime Minister.
Pandit Jasraj was introduced to vocal music by his father, and later trained as a Tabla accompanist under the tutelage of his elder brother, Pandit Pratap Narayan. Panditji belonged to the Mewati Gharana, a school of music known for its traditional performances of khayals (genre in Hindustani Classical music).
In the 80 years of his musical career, he has been conferred with numerous awards. His classical and semi-classical vocal performances have become albums and film soundtracks. Pandit Jasraj has taught music in India, Canada and the US and until recently, was also teaching music on Skype due to the coronavirus-led lockdown.
Pt. Jasraj is known to have credited the popular vocalist, Begum Akhtar, as being his inspiration to take up classical music.
He had begun training as a vocalist at the age of 14, after renouncing Tabla-playing owing to the harsh treatment of accompanists at the time. He had performed live infront of an audience and also on the radio for several years.
He had trained as a classical vocalist under Pandit Maniram, and later with Jaiwant Singh Waghela, and Gulam Qadir Khan of Mewati gharana. Additionally, he trained under Swami Vallabhdas Damulji of the Agra gharana.
A popular anecdote is often narrated about the power of Pandit Jasraj’s voice. At a concert in 1996, when he was performing raga Todi, a deer ran into the venue and stood alongside the stage, mesmerised by his singing. Much to the likening of the Mughal-era singer Tansen, who according to legend, attracted a herd of deer while singing the same raga during a court performance in Agra.
“It was about 6am in the morning and there were over 5,000 people in the audience,” he recalled in an interview with HT earlier. “It was a good omen. I offered a namaste to the deer and continued singing.”
Technique and style of singing
Mewati gharana is a school of music known for its traditional performances of khayals (genre). Pandit Jasraj has sung these khayals with some flexibility, adding his own elements, including the thumri.
Jasraj is also credited with creating a new form of jugalbandi called Jasrangi. The Jasrangi is styled on the ancient system of moorchhana, between a male and a female vocalist, who individually sing different ragas at the same time. Pt Jasraj’s official website calls it a yin and yang in music. A variety of rare ragas including Abiri Todi and Patdeepaki are also said to have been created by Panditji.
He also popularised semi-classical musical styles, such as Haveli Sangeet, that involves semi-classical performances in temples.
A planet named after Pandit Jasraj
A minor planet located between Mars and Jupiter, has been named after Pandit Jasraj, the doyen of Hindustani classical music.
International Astronomical Union (IAU) has named the minor planet 2006 VP32 (number-300128 - which is Pandit Jasraj’s date of birth in reverse order). It was discovered on November 11, 2006 and been named Panditjasraj. This planet traverses the cosmos between the orbits of Mars and Jupiter in the solar system.
After being felicitated with this honour, Padma Vibhushan awardee Pandit Jasraj has become the first Indian musician to join immortal composers like Mozart, Beethoven and Tenor Luciano Pavarotti in the galaxy.