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In a career that spanned nearly eight decades, Pandit Jasraj touched countless lives, offering solace through his voice. (PTI)
In a career that spanned nearly eight decades, Pandit Jasraj touched countless lives, offering solace through his voice. (PTI)

Pandit Jasraj, doyen of Indian classical music, dies at 90

Pandit Jasraj was an embodiment of the last generation of Hindustani classical vocalists

NEW DELHI : Ever since my accident in Jan 2020, I’ve been waking up to the strains of #TheBestofPanditJasraj and am deeply grateful for the solace his voice has given me over the years," tweeted actor Shabana Azmi as news of Pandit Jasraj’s demise came in late on Mondayevening. The doyen of Indian classical music passed away in New Jersey of cardiac arrest at the age of 90.

In a musical career that spanned nearly eight decades, Pandit Jasraj touched countless lives like Azmi’s, offering solace and comfort through his voice. However, of all his powerful renditions, the ones dedicated to Lord Krishna are, perhaps, the most soulful—be it Madhurashtakam or Govind Damodar Madhaveti.

Pandit Jasraj, a recipient of the Padma Vibhushan, was an embodiment of the last generation of Hindustani classical vocalists. He was a notable exponent of the khayal.

Born in Hisar, Haryana, he hailed from the Mewati gharana. His family was dedicated to music and he learnt the fundamentals of the tabla from his elder brother Pandit Pratap Narayan. But Pandit Jasraj chose to leave instrumental music for vocals and after learning singing from his brother, Pandit Maniram and later Jaiwant Singh Waghela, he moved to Calcutta on being accepted as a radio artist.

In an interview, he once revealed how he nearly fainted on receiving a prize of 5,000 gold coins from King Tribhuvan Bir Bikram Shah of Nepal after performing in his court in 1952. While that was his first stage concert as a vocalist at the age of 22, Pandit Jasraj went on to perform at several notable concerts later in his life such as the All-Night Concert in New York in May 2019.

One of his contributions—and also one of the biggest criticisms—is that he brought in elements of other gharanas and styles, especially thumri, into his music.

“Everyone was taking what was great in every gharana and mixing it up. Jasraj was at the helm of this," mentioned S. Kalidas in a 2015 interview to Suanshu Khurana of The Indian Express. “But a few years later, people began enjoying this music."

What it did was to make classical music more accessible to the public, not necessarily fluent with the nuances of the style of a particular gharana. Pandit Jasraj is also credited with creating a jugalbandi style called Jasrangi, in which the male and female vocalists sang a different raga at the same time.

Though he didn’t foray into Hindi film music like Pandit Hariprasad Chaurasia and Pandit Shivkumar Sharma, who were known as the duo Shiv-Hari, he occasionally did lend his voice to classical and semi-classical compositions for movie soundtracks. The most notable of these was a duet with Bhimsen Joshi for Birbal My Brother (1975). Pandit Jasraj was also known for mentoring young talent and over the years, several of his students such as Sanjeev Abhyankar and Kala Ramnath became established classical musicians in their own right. Even at the age of 90, he could be found teaching students over Skype.

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