With his masterly virtuosity and incomparable voice, Pandit Jasraj, who passed away on August 17 at 90, was one of the greatest proponents of Hindustani classical music. But his reputation was built on a range of other equally important qualities, which will define his legacy.
Pandit Jasraj was an innovator who believed in crossing boundaries that other gharanas of Hindustani classical musicians held dear. He brought elements of thumri to khayal; though both are types of musical compositions, stalwarts consider the former soft and non-serious, and the latter, a sacrosanct form in the tradition. He also brought elements of other gharanas into his music. He pioneered a form of jugalbandi between a male and female singer called Jasrangi, based on a shifting of notes or swaras to allow for their pitches to match, and for different melodic ragas to be sung together in harmonious tandem. He brought bhajans (devotional music) to the stage defying genre-based hierarchies. And, at a time when tensions between India and Pakistan were high, in the 1960s, he composed Mero Allah Meherbaan (My Allah is kind) in raag Bhairav, a melodic raga presumed to have been created by the Hindu god, Shiva.
His music was for everyone — he gave classes, on Zoom, till the very end; he often chaffed against the elitism that adhered to classical music; and he did not stand for false distinctions. There are many apocryphal tales that surround Pandit Jasraj — he also has a planet named after him — which will add to the legend of the man. But one will stand out. A few decades ago, performing in a temple in Benares, a deer came close to him and stood as though mesmerised, while the musician sang with his eyes closed. When he opened them and saw his unusual audience, Pandit Jasraj folded his hands and reportedly murmured, “Jai ho!” Perhaps it is this oneness — between humans, and between humanity and nature itself — that he embodied in his life and work, which will remain his true legacy.
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