At the Delhi Classical Music Festival, Pandit Jasraj’s verve belied his 83 years.
Can one really defy age? Where do the energy, inspiration and imagination come from for an 83-year-old man to perform in a manner that would put a young artiste to shame? What kind of voice culture does he practise to keep his voice so tuneful and strong even at this advanced age? How many vocalists ever sang with such verve, élan and enthusiasm at this age? These and such other thoughts were racing across one’s mind as one sat through an exhilarating vocal recital by one of the country’s foremost vocalists, Pandit Jasraj on Tuesday evening. He was concluding the first day’s session of the five-day Delhi Classical Music Festival organised by the Punjabi Academy of the Delhi Government at Kamani auditorium.
The only fly in the ointment was the odd choice of the midnight raga Darbari Kanhda at 8.30 p.m, but when one is Pandit Jasraj, one can perhaps take such liberties. However, the moment he began the vilambit khayal “Jai jai Shri Durge” and elaborated it through an animated alap, bol-alaps and sargams, one forgot the transgression and found oneself completely immersed in the oceanic waves of the melodic play. The long meends, breathtaking gamaks, the effortless switching between ati mandra and ati taar — traversing three-and-a-half octaves — and the forceful taans, the captivating sargams, the astonishing phirat — Pandit Jasraj had kept nothing from his repertoire to himself and was generously offering it to the audience. It was a different version of Darbari and did not indulge in excessive sombreness, as the drut composition “Kit bawari banake gaye” made amply clear. While rendering the fast bandish, Jasraj made a full display of complex and forceful sargam-laced taans as well as aakaar taans and went on increasing the tempo. It was a virtuoso performance all through.
He sang a Shringar rasa composition, “Yugal ban jhoolat de galbaanhi” in Haveli Sangeet style and regaled the audience in his usual manner. After that, it was the popular Jasraj who held sway, speaking in Punjabi and acquiescing to public demand by singing his trademark Adana composition “Mata kalika” and the ever-green “Om namo Bhagwate Vasudevaya” that has almost acquired the status of the national anthem in his recitals. Ratan Mohan Sharma could not fully rise to the occasion to give him expert vocal support. Although the percussion accompanists, Ram Kumar Mishra on tabla and Sridar Parthasarathy on mridangam, were good, one could not fathom the reason behind having two of them together. Mukund Petka provided competent accompaniment on harmonium.
The evening opened with a Vichitra veena recital by Ustad Mustafa Raza, son and disciple of Ustad Ahmad Raza. This veena looks very much like the Saraswati veena of the Carnatic system and was invented by Ustad Abdul Aziz Khan who was employed in the court of Patiala. Mustafa Raza too had two percussionists for accompaniment — Durjay Bhowmick on tabla and Ravi Shankar Upadhyaya on pakhawaj — but one could not discern any rationale for such extravagance. Mustafa Raza chose to play an achhop raga Sugandh with the claim that it was a speciality of the Patiala gharana, although one does not remember any well known Patiala vocalist ever attempting it. The raga resembled Charukeshi of the Carnatic repertoire and the artiste’s handling of it did not impress at all. The alap was languid while the jhala section was full of shrill sounds. The claim made in the festival brochure that “it was traditional to always start a Festival of Hindustani classical music with Dhrupad or the Been” too was not very convincing.
Keywords: Delhi Classical Music Festival