Music

The making of Pandit Jasraj

In a candid conversation, the stalwart talks about the bhakti element in his singing and his association with the legendary filmmaker V.Shantaram

The soulful voice of Pt. Jasraj reached the 72nd Shriram Shankarlal Music Festival to its climax when his devotion-drenched voice ascending in the kirtan-like utterance of ‘Vitthal Vitthal’ ultimately rested at the formidable peak of Taar Pancham.

There was a very thoughtful selection of ragas like Abeer Todi and Hori Sarang, for this concert, adhering to the time theory of Hindustani music. It was not just about the time of the day but also about the season keeping in mind the proximity of Phagun ritu. Opening his morning concert with Abeeri Todi, a very rare and old variant of the timely Todi, which had shades of ragas like Jaunpuri, Desi and Khat, he presented a traditional Bada Khayal set to Vilambit Ektala, while the Chhota Khayal in Teentala, “Braj Banwari….”, was a composition of his father late Pt. Motiram.

It was followed by the Goojri Todi Khayal, a composition of Nayak Dhondu, “Chalo sakhi sautan ke ghar jaihen Maan ghate to ka ghat jaihen, Piya ke darshan paihen…”. Then came the Hori Sarang, prevalent in Haveli Sangeet, that went “Mai mero mann mein Saanvaro, ghar angana na suhaay” sung in typical Hori style set to the Chaanchar Theka of Deepchandi, concluding with the scintillating Benarasi Laggi on Ramkumar’s tabla.

Ultimately, he had to sing ‘Mata Kalika…” the popular adana bandish and conclude with “Om namo Bhagavate Vasudevaya….” on public demand. The heartwarming live orchestra comprised mostly his disciples except for Pt. Ram Kumar Mishra on tabla. There was Tripti Mukherjee on harmonium and vocal support along with Ratan Mohan Sharma and Gargi Siddhant on tanpuras.

One had not yet recovered from his intoxicating music when we met at New Delhi’s India International Centre where he was staying with his wife Madhura Jasraj, the gifted daughter of the legendary filmmaker V. Shantaram.

The unique gayaki of Pt. Jasaraj is no doubt polished and honed on the cutting edge of Mewati Gharana but his penetratingly tuneful voice and the bhakti-soaked content of compositions have his singular signature. Talking of the element of bhakti and devotional compositions in his musical tradition, Pt. Jasraj gives its credit to his lineage. “My father was in the court of Raja Pratap Singh, the Shaivite king of Kashmir, who used to worship Shiva’s Parthiv Ling, which he and the group of Brahmin priests of his kingdom would make out of mud in early morning from 3 a.m. to 6 a.m. and then would merge in the Tavi river as a daily ritual. Being the musician of his court, my father’s day would begin with singing devotional music daily for these three hours. So the element of bhakti, I believe, was there in my genes.”

Return of voice

Then he narrates the miraculous story of his Guru and eldest brother Pt. Maniram who had totally lost his voice for some time. One day their spiritual Guru Maharana Jayawant Singh alias Bapusahib, the Maharaja of the erstwhile royal estate of Sanand in Gujarat, who was a devotee of Goddess Kali Mata, made him sing Mata Kalike and he resumed singing as if he had never lost it. “I have experienced innumerable miracles of spirituality and bhakti in my life and I believe that the almighty holds your fingers and takes you along this path without even you being aware of it.”

He gives full credit to Bapusahib, Maharana Jaswant Singh ji for discovering the element of devotional music in young Jasraj.

He would ask the 14-year-old to sit near him when great poets and musicians would come to recite poetry, discuss musical matters and perform for him. “Listening to them all, this love for good poetry and music gradually evolved in me. In due course, I sensed a spiritual calling inside me and realised that I sing for my Isht (beloved deity) alone. Beckoning Him lovingly through my music became its sole purpose, which you call the melodiousness and the spiritual element of my music.”

Pt. Jasraj was also very close to Jaddu Krishnamurthy (JK), who was very fond of his singing. Pandit ji shares one such memory when in the 1980s in London, Krishnamurthy invited him. “Come home, we would have lunch together and in the evening would listen to your music. J.K. was very particular about time and I reached 10 minutes late. He requested everyone else to carry on with the lunch and himself waited for me. When I tried to apologise, he said in future you need not take an appointment, come whenever you feel like. And this lasted till the end, when I would go to sing for him sitting on his bed, during his last days.”

Madhura ji joins for coffee at this juncture and the conversation turns to her. How does it feel to have two great artistes in one’s life?

“It is simply hard, but you also get to learn a lot. I shall share just one incidence each to give you an idea. We were married for hardly a couple of months and he would wake me up in the middle of the night, say around 3 a.m. and would ask me to note down a bandish (composition) that had just occurred in his mind and then he would go back to sleep. Just think of living with such a man, it’s not a joke!

The other glimpse is about the other great artiste in her life. “I had made a film on father titled ‘Portrait of a Pioneer’. When I showed the rough cut to him, the very first cut came after four hours and fifty-five minutes. He told me, ‘it’s not good to love your subject that much. Cut it drastically short, edit like an enemy. No film should run beyond two hours. This mantra on editing lasted me lifelong.”

Pandit ji said Shantaram loved him a lot. “The most important tip that he gave me was his remark, ‘you sing lovely compositions with the choicest of words but take care about the clarity of those words, so that they reach your listeners with the desired impact.’”

He affirms “I also realise the fact that careful pronunciation of the words supports the emotional expressions of the melody too. He made me conscious of giving utmost importance to the words of a bandish or composition, where the verbal meaning also helps to create the corresponding melodic meaning of the raga.

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Printable version | May 24, 2020 11:06:22 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/entertainment/music/the-making-of-pandit-jasraj/article26743718.ece

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