Last week, Pandit Jasraj, living legend of the Mewati gharana, turned 90. A gharana like Pandit Jasraj’s comes into existence when at least three generations of family perform the same style of music. To keep the tradition alive, musicians must pass on their legacy to the next generation.
The Padma Vibhushan-awardee vocalist, who has performed all over the world at most music festivals, is renowned for ‘ kann ki gayaki ’ (music of grace-notes). The maestro passionately believes every musician should consider their musical notes as god and pay close attention while presenting a raga .
Mewati gharana is known for its refined aesthetics and inclination towards spirituality. “The gayaki (style) of my gharana has touched people from across the world and has made Indian classical music more popular among them,” said Jasraj, who is famous for his rendition of haveli sangeet, an ancient form of Indian classical music performed in temples to invoke god.
With young musicians like Swar Sharma and Ankita Joshi, Pandit Jasraj believes his gharana has a bright future. “Though there are many students learning under my gharana in various parts of the world, these two are the ones I am banking on for the future of Mewati gharana,” said the maestro, reminiscing a recent performance by vocalist Aditya Shah from the Pandit Jasraj Music Foundation, Florida, that deeply moved him.
Durga Jasraj, the maestro’s daughter, believes her father has made an unrivalled contribution to Indian classical music across the world. He is the first Asian under whose name the Queen’s University in North America awards scholarships. “There are hundreds of students the world over who are learning at various music schools named after Pandit Jasraj. There is also an auditorium named after him in New York,” said Durga, who believes that the schools in her father’s name are ambassadors of Hindustani music and are taking the legacy forward. For instance, there are more than five Mewati music schools in Kerala alone, where over 300 students graduate every year. “You may think there should be a domination of Carnatic music in Kerala, but it’s the gayaki of this gharana that has made Hindustani music popular even in the Southern part of the country,” said Pandit Jasraj.
Durga said bapuji (her father) has always believed in vidya daan, where students come and stay with him to learn music. Pandit Jasraj recalled how as a nine-year-old, Ms. Joshi approached him to be her guru. “I was invited to perform at the Sawai Gandharva music festival in Pune by Pandit Bhimsen Joshi. No one was allowed to enter the green room. Suddenly, a girl came up to me and asked me if I would be her guru,” said Pandit Jasraj. “I was taken aback to see how she entered the green room with security guards around, and asked her that. The little girl had travelled 200 km to Pune. How could a green room keep her out?” He believes that this type of determination towards music makes an artiste big. “She has been here with me ever since,” said Pandit Jasraj, who also had a piece of advice for budding musicians. “Consider your guru as foremost; that is what music is all about.”
Pandit Jasraj is the only musician to have performed in all continents including Antartica: at the Oceanus Lounge on board the Sea Spirit Cruise in 2012. A notable achievement is of having a minor planet named after him. The International Astronomical Union has named minor planet 2006 VP32, discovered on November 11, 2006 as ‘Panditjasraj’, which traverses the cosmos between the orbits of Mars and Jupiter.