Saturday, April 22, 2006

Sangeet Samrat

His music is soothing and spellbinding. It has the power to transport his audience to the realm of the Divine. Minna Zutshi strings together Pandit Jasrajís striking notes.

Photo by Pawan SharmaITíS a rich, sonorous voice and it comes like a gust of cool breeze on a hot, blistering day. Within a few minutes (it could very well be a nano-second or an hour or an eternity, as you lose track of time), you find yourself awash with peace, and your entire being is suffused with serenity. Your spiritual sojourn has started. No wonder, you are tuned to the soulful music of Pandit Jasraj, the noted vocalist of North Indian classical music.

Divine benediction

Pandit Jasrajís is a different world. Itís peopled by music cloaked in divinity. And he revels in this world with wonderful harmony. His music finds its springboard in divine benediction and he is charmingly frank about it.

To those brought up on a diet of tantalising visuals and frenzied music, Pandit Jasrajís contention that music is akin to divinity may strike a discordant note.

For this classical vocalist of the Mewati Gharana, music meanders its way to the Almighty, come what may. "Before all my performances, I always invite Him to be with me and ask Him to accept my dedication. Without this, even today, I cannot give my best. For me, it is not performance but my worship, my pooja. If my God is not there, how can I do my rituals and pooja with my singing? Without Him, I am nothing. I believe in Him 100 per cent," he says.

If God wants to shower His benediction on a person, He makes him appreciate music. But if God is happier still with a person, He gives him the blessing to be a musician, believes this music maestro.

Interestingly, he considers Lord Krishna to be his divine guide. "My love for Krishna grew as I grew. He loves music and I play it for Him," says Pandit Jasraj, adding, "As for Mahakali, I sing to her gentle expression. She is my protector and my mentor."

He considers religion and spirituality to be two different things that do not necessarily converge. "I do not sing for religion. I sing for God and spirituality. You know that all religions use music as a medium. I feel that to reach His niraakaar form, you have to find some medium. Once you connect to a form or a deity after losing your own self only then you can really see Him," he explains.

He says his "introduction to God happened" when he was barely 14. His brother, who had lost his voice, was able to sing again when their spiritual Guru, Maharaj Jaiwant Singh, the king of Sanand, urged his brother to sing for "God and God alone". Pandit Jasraj and his brother were told to go into the sanctum sanctorum, and once they were in the temple door was closed. For the next six hours, his brother sang without any break.

Dissolving barriers

Pandit Jasrajís music has mesmerised not only audiences in India but also people from other countries and continents, who find solace in his renditions. There has been an overwhelming response to the classical Indian music schools he helps to run in the US and Canada.

In fact, the University of Toronto has instituted a scholarship in his name for "deserving young Canadian students" who are desirous of getting trained in Indian music. He has also been honoured by the Harvard University Art Museum in the US.

He has a rather interesting observation to make about NRIs settled abroad. "The second and third generation NRIs have an amazing affinity with the Indian culture. They are eager to find their roots, unlike the first-generation NRIs who were a bit cynical about their own culture," he says.

He feels music has a universal appeal and it can "dissolve artificially-created barriers". "What is sublime automatically tugs at your heartstrings," he remarks. One of his most memorable moments came when the audience in Pakistan said to him that they Allah through his voice".

Fusion creates friction

With a voice that can traverse over three and a half octaves, and with diction, sur and laya that make for a perfect combination, Pandit Jasrajís music leaves listeners spellbound.

Though a firm believer in the power of music to transcend all barriers, he recognises the essential difference between Indian classical music and western music. "Indian classical music is like a prayer that comes from the inner recesses of our heart, while western music is more like an art thatís honed diligently with practice."

And fusion music is something heís not exactly comfortable with. For him, fusion music may be more like an acrobatic skill thatís gone awry.

A recipient of many an award, including Padma Bhushan, Sangeet Martand, Sangeet Kala Ratna, Sangeet Natak Academy Award, Maharashtra Gaurav Puraskar, Dinanath Mangeshkar Award, Pandit Jasraj had his initial training in music under his father, the late Pandit Motiram.

Later, Pandit Jasrajís elder brother, Sangeet Mahamahopadhyaya Pandit Maniram, took over as his guru.

His unique jugalbandi based on the ancient system of moorchanas, between male and female vocalists, "each singing their respective scales and different ragas at the same time", reminds you of the twin concept of Purusha and Prakriti in the Indian Sankhaya philosophy. In a way, it recognises or rather celebrates the difference, albeit as a harmonious whole. (Of course, the Purusha-Prakriti analogy cannot be carried too far). This jugalbandi has been aptly named "Jasraj Jugalbandi".

His research in "Haveli Sangeet" has added yet another dimension to his music. Most of the music connoisseurs find the bandishein composed by him to be exceptionally eloquent. And, now music lovers in the region are looking forward to his performance in Chandigarh on April 24.