Read Editorial with D2G – Ep 477

The Indian Express

Music of the gods

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Pandit Jasraj, who passed away in New Jersey aged 90, was one of the last great Hindustani classical vocalists. Birbal My Brother, a nondescript ( lacking distinctive or interesting features or characteristics )  film released in 1975, has a jugalbandhi of Pandit Bhimsen Joshi and Jasraj. For years, admirers ( a person who has a particular regard for someone or something ) have argued over who fared ( perform in a specified way in a particular situation or over a particular period ) better in this rare Malkauns: Joshi, the Kirana gharana legend or Jasraj, the Mewati gharana master who was eight years junior to Joshi?

There is no conclusive answer because both the musicians refused to confine ( keep or restrict someone or something within certain limits of (space, scope, or time) ) themselves in their gharanas ( (in South Asia) any of the various specialist schools or methods of classical music or dance ) and included what they liked in other schools to embellish ( make (something) more attractive by the addition of decorative details or features )  their own personal styles.

Like Joshi, Jasraj too didn’t consider music an elite art. He added elements of the thumri to the khayal, giving the latter more malleability ( capable of being shaped, as by hammering or pressing )  and making it more audience-friendly. This would have been considered blasphemous ( sacrilegious against God or sacred things; profane ) half a century ago, when the khayal ( a traditional type of song from the northern part of the Indian subcontinent, with instrumental accompaniment and typically having two main stanzas )  was serious business and the bandish would be sung with a certain indifference.

He brought haveli sangeet to the stage and introduced Jasrangi — the male-female duet in different ragas — in concert platforms. He also added bhajans to his repertoire ( the whole body of items which are regularly performed), which enabled him to reach a wider audience.His initial training was in tabla. But when a senior musician questioned his knowledge of music by saying he only “pounded dead flesh”, a hurt Jasraj decided to master vocal music. And master he did. The audience loved him.

How could he, drawn to music in his childhood by the voice of the great Begum Akhtar, not be sensitive to his audience? He was friendly with them, never high strung ( hang (something) so that it stretches in a long line ) and impatient ( having or showing a tendency to be quickly irritated or provoked), unlike many of his illustrious contemporaries. He would oblige ( make (someone) legally or morally bound to do something ) their farmaish and sing popular pieces such as Mata Kalika and Mero Allah Meherbaan. His singing evoked the feeling of being in a place of worship, a space with a heightened level of energy, where God sat with us and listened to the music in admiration.

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