“At this time in life, I realise that I know nothing and never know anything,” says 89-year-old Pandit Jasraj in a brief interview from 2019. While Jasraj was not a religious man, his life was connected with Bhakti, a sense of belonging and devotion to the spiritual that was not necessarily religious. The Mewati Gharana has become linked with the late vocalist Jasraj because of his lyrical awareness and ability to develop a style distinct from Begum Akhtar, who was once his inspiration. A more exact medium than visual art, music, is more easily conveyed through it. For starters, its supply is limited, and its usefulness is short-lived. Jasraj was an expert in the magic re-creation, which must be repeated. He left us as the doyen of both Bhakti and Gayaki, and It’s important to understand his life and experiences to understand his musical quest for God.
There are so few Indian musicians’ records that Wikipedia contributors must fill in the gaps. Since its inception, the Films Division (FD) at the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting has done an admirable job conserving and contextualising our rich cultural history by focusing on people’s lives rather than just their professional endeavours.
Pandit Motiram, a poor classical vocalist, was the father of Jasraj, who was born in a tiny village in Haryana. He listened to Begum Akhtar’s songs as a five-year-old. His first instrument, the tabla, was something he learned to play in Hyderabad, India, where he spent much of his formative years. When Jasraj was a young man, the way accompanists were handled angered him, as he would describe years later. He gave up the tabla in his early twenties and began studying the voice. After Partition, Hyderabad descended into a state of civil unrest. Ahmedabad, the capital city of the princely state of Sanand, had accepted the 14-year-old as its official vocalist, along with his mentor and elder brother, Maniram.
Faith and experience, two very individualised viewpoints, may have inspired Jasraj’s devotion. FD’s Sangeet Martand Pandit Jasraj tells his granddaughters the story of Maniram’s voice loss and miraculous recovery after singing for Kali in the FD film titled after him. After Sanand’s sovereignty was abolished in post-independence India, Jasraj travelled to Kolkata to worship this deity of the east. In other words, as the singer put it, “God’s hand was tugging me ahead.” According to an interview, “I have witnessed numerous miracles of spirituality and bhakti, and I believe that the almighty grabs your fingers and pulls you along this path without even being aware of it,” he stated in the interview.
In addition to his extraordinary abilities, Jasraj was well-known for his fierceness as a practitioner. Even though he rarely played the tabla personally, he spent a lot of time tuning his music and rhythm over it. As a disciplined and motivated practitioner, Jasraj was always open to questioning and reimagining the current structures. It was a means for him to reinvent the male-female duet in performance, and he named it the jugalbandi. For the first time, male and female performers cooperated on the same piece of music. As soon as this new jugalbandi was introduced to the city of Pune, rapturous applause from the audience was spurred by incredulity. They adored it and named it ‘Jasrangi.’ According to Jasraj, this seeming binary poses a problem. It is a mystery to him why a man and woman can’t be ones like air and water, land, and sky.
Several Bhakti musicians have strayed into the Bollywood market. composers Jatin-Lalit are the nephews of Pandit Jasraj.) His voice was hardly used in films by Jasraj. The director of Ladki Sahyadri Ki, V Shantaram, whose daughter he would marry, asked him to sing for the film (1966). After ten years, he teamed up with Pandit Bhimsen Joshi for Birbal My Brother’s film, which Joshi directed. 1920, directed by Vikram Bhatt, was his most mainstream break (2008). Digital sounds may not be up to experiencing Jasraj to the fullest. That may be the case with Indian classical music as a whole. The greatest way to experience it is to go to a concert.
Pandit Jasraj’s devotion to the divine is unique among artists, even though they may or may not be touched by it. To ensure the Gharana, which he helped resurrect from obscurity, would endure, he dedicated his life to the arts and their preservation of it. Jasraj has pupils throughout the world, and even during the pandemic, he continued to teach over Skype. It will be difficult for anybody to match not only his addictive music but also his educated and trained commitment to spreading his knowledge to the world, but in a manner, they are all part of his goal. It is easy to get distracted by celebrity and pop culture when you’re a household name like Pandit Jasraj.