Pandit Jasraj: Classical music’s greatest voice falls silent!

Pandit Jasraj Ji , the classical vocalist, who infused life into the most complex ragas and held audiences spellbound with his craft, died of cardiac arrest in New Jersey, in America, on Monday.  It was only last year in September that the International Astronomical Union named a minor planet after Jasraj, an honour that was previously only reserved for classical greats like Amadeus Mozart, Ludwig van Beethoven, Luciano Pavarotti -- and then Pandit Jasraj.
The music legend, who celebrated his 90th birthday in January this year, also had a great love for ghazals and once wistfully quoted the popular Ghalib ghazal, “Hazaaron khwahishen aisi ki har khwahish pe dam nikale” to describe all the things left undone in his life.
Born on January 28, 1930, in Haryana’s Hisar district, Pandit Jasraj was initiated into classical music by his father, Pandit Motiram, and honed his craft under the guidance of his elder brother Pandit Maniram. He belonged to the league of great vocalists such as Bade Gulam Ali Khan, M S Subbulakshmi and Bhimsen Joshi. Jasraj Ji made classical music accessible to all with his soulful renditions of ‘khayal’ mixed with ‘thumri’.
He loved listening to music from every part of the world and was someone who could appreciate the Beatles and Mehdi Hassan as much as he did Bhimsen Joshi. He married great director V Shantaram’s daughter Madhura also sang in the movies. His first song was in 1966 with the bhajan “Vandana Karo” in raga Ahir Bhairav for his father-in-law V Shantaram’s “Ladki Sahyadri Ki”. The bhajan was composed by Vasant Desai. He is credited with creating new ragas such as ‘abiri todi’ and ‘patdeepki’ besides introducing a new style of ‘jugalbandi’, the ‘Jasrangi’.
Awarded the Padma Vibhushan, the Padma Bhushan and the Padma Shri, Pandit Jasraj also popularised semi-classical music like ‘haveli sangeet’ and reached out to devotees with his ‘bhajans’, a particular favourite for his fans being “Om Namo Bhagavate Vasudevay” and “Govind Damodar…” in praise of Lord Krishna. He will live on – in his endless recordings and also in the many students he mentored.

- Prabhakar Purandare

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