By Anya Daftary
Thursday, 27th August was a tragic day for the nation as we lost a legend. Pandit Jasraj passed away due to the result of cardiac arrest in New Jersey before he was brought home to Mumbai. His cremation was held in Vile Parle, Mumbai with state honours and a 21 gun salute.
Pandit Jasrajji can be accredited with a significant contribution to Hindustani classical music, specifically the vocal genre. Having a career spanning over 75 long years, the panditji was the recipient of numerous awards and accolades including the Padma Shree in 1975.
The Pandit began his training at the tender age of four years old. Although he began learning the tabla at age seven, by 14, he had decided to pursue being a vocalist. His initial training was under his brother, Pandit Maniram. He later expanded his training under Gulam Qadir Khan of the Mewati Gharana which Jasraj Ji was known for bringing to the limelight. Despite the gharana’s (gharana is a school/clan of music) more intense and traditional style of singing, Jasrajji often added lighter classical elements such as murkis (vocal ornamentation) and styles such as thumris to his repertoire. He also briefly trained under Swami Vallabhdas Damulji of the Agra Gharana but spent most of his youth training in Hyderabad and Gujarat training in the Mewati Gharana.
“I used to cry to learn singing and even grew my hair long, thinking that I wouldn’t cut it till I started singing properly. – Pandit Jasraj
His work also included attempts to popularise semi-classical forms of Hindustani music such as; haveli sangeet. He founded several music schools across India and the United States of America. He was a guru to many of today’s well-known musicians. His death left him the “last surviving member of a generation of virtuoso singers that included Pandit Bhimsen Joshi, Kumar Gandharva, Kishori Amonkar, Bade Ghulam Ali Khan and Mallikarjun Mansur” as put by the New York Times.
He revolutionized the musical style of jugalbandi (a duet of solo musicians) by introducing his own form of it, coined Jasrangi. This specific style of jasrangi is a variant of the jugalbandi but has both a male and female singer, singing two completely different ragas.
The Pandit was a strong supporter in the understanding of Hindustani music and has been compared to Tansen on many occasions. His legacy is grand and he himself is a hallmark of the beauty and intricacies of Hindustani classical music. He is survived by his wife Madhura, daughter Durga and son Sharang and grandchildren. His death was mourned by many across the nation, including PM Narendra Modi, Lata Mangeshkar, and Shankar Mahadevan to name a few.
His grace and the intention in his music is something that any student of music today can learn from. By just listening to any of his pieces, one can imagine and understand the essence of that raga, his every svar evokes and imbibes the ras (emotion) of the raga with perfection.
He may be gone, but his legacy will not be forgotten.