Photo: Pandit Jasraj website
Photo: Pandit Jasraj website

1952. A stunningly handsome 22-year-old with a mop of hair that had a life of its own, sat behind his two-decades-older brother Pandit Pratap Narain (father of composers Jatin-Lalit, singer-actor Sulakshana and Vijeta Pandit) performing at a concert. Across the small confines of that chamber sat Nepalese monarch Tribhuvan Bir Bikram Shah. As soon as the elder sibling was done, the younger one insisted on singing. Pt Narain looked at the monarch, who nodded. By the time they had exchanged places, Pt Jasraj had decided what to sing.

He began singing his father Pt Motiram's composition in Raga Desh Gal Bhujang Bhasma Shankar Anuragi. Lost in concentration, thinking of his father, he sang imagining how he would have sung the same words venerating Lord Shiva. When he opened his eyes he saw that the moist-eyed monarch was smiling beatifically. He later learnt that the Nepal monarchy's family deity is Lord Pashupatinath – an avatar of Lord Shiva. So moved was the monarch was by the young Jasraj's singing that he called his aide de camp and asked him to give the young maestro a bag of 5,000 gold mohars.

No surprise then that the Mewati maestro went on to be conferred the title Sangeet Martand (musical sun), has an auditorium in New York city named after him, has a scholarship instituted in Toronto University since 30 years in his name, has founded schools for Indian classical music in Atlanta, Tampa, Vancouver, Toronto, New York, New Jersey, Pittsburgh, Mumbai and Kerala and has also created a veritable army of heavyweight musicians (Saptarshi Chakraborty, Sanjeev Abhyankar, Ratan Mohan Sharma, Kala Ramnath, Tripti Mukherjee, Ankita Joshi, Sadhana Sargam, Anuradha Paudwal, Kavita Krishnamurthy and Ramesh Narayan, among others) who have earned acclaim, laurels and national awards.

Pt Jasraj breathed his last following a massive cardiac arrest in New Jersey, US. He is survived by wife Madhura Jasraj (daughter of legendary filmmaker V Shantaram), son Sharang Dev and daughter Durga. “With profound grief we inform that Sangeet Martand Pandit JasrajJi breathed his last this morning at 5.15 EST (2.45 pm IST) due to a cardiac arrest at his home in New Jersey, USA,” a statement issued by his family read. “May Lord Krishna welcome him lovingly through the doors of heaven, where PanditJi will now sing Om Namo Bhagwate Vasudevaya exclusively just for his beloved Lord. We pray that his soul rests in eternal musical peace,” it added.

India's who's who mourned the loss of the legendary nonagenarian classical vocalist. Among them was Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who took to Twitter to post old pictures with the maestro and wrote: “The unfortunate demise of Pt JasrajJi leaves a deep void in the Indian cultural sphere. Not only were his renditions outstanding, he also made a mark as an exceptional mentor to several other vocalists. Condolences to his family and admirers worldwide. Om Shanti.”

Expressing grief at the passing of the maestro President Ram Nath Kovind tweeted: “Music legend and unparalleled classical vocalist Pandit Jasraj''s passing makes me sad. Spanning a distinguished career of over 8 decades, Pandit Jasraj, a Padma Vibhushan recipient, enthralled people with soulful renditions. Condolence to his family, friends & music connoisseurs.”

Composer & leading vocalist Shankar Mahadevan said, “Devastated after hearing the news that Sangeet Marthand Pandit Jasraj has moved on to the next dimension. A big void in the world of Indian Classical music. His music will live on in this planet.”

Singer Sona Mohapatra reminsced about listening to Pt Jasraj at a live concert 20 years ago. “I heard Pt Jasraj in concert for the first time one early morning at the St Xavier's JanFest over two decades ago. I felt the heavens descend on us. Haven’t forgotten the sparkle of that morning. Indescribable. Panditji will remain with India, inspiring us forever.”

Veteran lyricist-poet Javed Akhtar said, “A huge pillar of Hindustani sangeet has fallen today. My heart felt condolences to Pt Jasraj's family. I can see him standing on the stage with his arms raised as if he is blessig all of us and in his soft and silken voice for the last time he is saying JAI HO !!”

Singer Kailash Kher said, “The divine was a such a huge part of him that it radiated on his face. He was the gold standard of what Indian classical music should be,” and called it the end of an era. “It is a mark of formidable talent that he was able to rule the world of music for over eight decades.”

At this point let's get back to when Pt Jasraj was only four. Soon after his father's demise, his mother Krishnabai encouraged him to learn tabla from the elder brother, Pt Pratap Narayan – which he not only mastered by seven but also began accompanying several greats. Destiny, however, had other plans. At 14, an argument with a senior artiste over the rendition of a raga, he was insulted for “playing on dead skin,” and told he knew nothing of singing. An irate Jasraj decided to pursue singing lessons and became so good that he was invited to teach music at Lahore's Saraswati Music College. Though he had been an ardent Hanuman devotee his music lessons began on Nand Utsav (the day after Janmashtami). “Perhaps this why my music is richly enveloped in both the Utsav aspect and devotion to Lord Krishna,” he had told this writer, recounting a dream he had in 1946 that left him convinced he should dedicate his music to singing about Lord Krishna. “I saw myself sitting among all the top VIPs (viceroys, rajas, nawabs and fellow artists) in a semi-circle in front of the Lord, who appeared in his child form. He looked at me squarely in the eye and said: 'Leave all the puja and rituals to these others around you. You just serve me with your music.' I remember waking up in tears. I can sense the Lord watching over me since.”

The Divine Flautist will surely be glad to have his favoruite musician with him.

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