‘Transcendental meditation in form” is how many of his listeners describe the experience of listening to Pt Jasraj. His fingers caressed the swarmandal as he cast a spell with eyes shut in a deep trance, his luminous and agile voice illuminating every swar. For sitar and tabla maestro Pt Nayan Ghosh, his passing away earlier this month has been a personal loss. The family had a long association with Pt Jasraj, one that spanned three generations.
Days of glory
“Panditji once told me that when he came to Bombay in 1946, he, then 16, and his brothers met my uncle, bansuri pioneer Pt Pannalal Ghosh. On the request of his elder brother and guru, Pt Maniramji, Panna babu played Raga Shuddh Sarang; my father, Pt Nikhil Ghosh, accompanied him on tabla. Panditji spoke eloquently about how deeply moved he was by the music,” Pandit Ghosh recounts.
In 1955, Pt Jasraj delivered his first major performance at the then prestigious Sur Singar Samsad’s Haridas Sangeet Sammelan in Bombay, where Pt Nikhil Ghosh accompanied him on tabla. Their musical association was to continue for decades. “I too have been fortunate to accompany Panditji and shared a special bond with him. In the recent years, he took a fondness for my son Ishaan, who was also blessed to accompany him. Panditji’s long and illustrious career created the opportunity for three generations of tabla players from our family to perform with him,” shares Pt Nayan Ghosh.
A journey begins
Born in Hisar, Haryana, Pt Jasraj began as a tabla player of exceptional talent, something many don’t know. He initially learnt the instrument under his elder brother, Pt Pratap Narayan, who was a disciple of Delhi doyen Ustad Nathu Khan. Later, he switched to vocal music.
Pandit Ghosh says Pt Jasraj incorporated through pure genius, ornate swar embellishments to his khayal gayaki and created a distinct style. His audiences had the privilege of listening to several rare traditional ragas in his magnificent voice, ranging three octaves.
Pt Jasraj’s spiritual approach saw him compose innumerable compositions with devotional lyrics. Three of his hallmark renditions would be requested in almost all concerts — ‘Mata Kalika’ in Adana, ‘Om Namo Bhagwate’ in Bhimpalasi and ‘Govind Damodar Madhaveti’ in Nat Bhairav. “He was a repository of the Vaishnavite Haveli Sangeet of the Pushti Margi tradition. Usually kirtans in Dhrupad style, these added a unique dimension to his evolved vocalism,” shares Pandit Ghosh.
Pt Jasraj was instrumental in transforming a huge body of lay listeners into avid music lovers. “He was always immersed in music and was an introvert by nature, but also had a warm, jovial and witty side to his personality. He was charismatic on and off stage,” Pt Nayan Ghosh reminisces. Pt Jasraj, he says, was among the last of the most popular ambassadors of Indian classical music and an era has ended indeed.
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