Acclaimed classical vocalist and Padma Vibhushan awardee Pandit Jasraj is a doyen of the Mewati gharana. On 28 January, when he turned 87, an event was organised by the Navrasa Duende, a production house, to celebrate his contribution to Hindustani classical music. He performed in front of a packed audience at Delhi’s Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium. He also took time out for an exlcusive interview with Guardian 20. Some excerpts.
Q. Your father Pandit Motiram and uncle Pandit Jyotiram were acclaimed classical musicians of repute. Can you tell us how they influenced your music?
A. My father started to teach me at a very early age, but I lost him when I was just four. It was a tremendous shock for me. But I still clearly remember a few things he taught me.
My uncle Pandit Jyotiram ji influenced me a lot. He was the greatest musician in my mind at that time.
Q. At the age of 87, who is Pandit Jasraj singing for?
A. I started singing for my bhagwan Krishna. I sing for him. I see him in the audience, I feel his presence in each and every person present in the audience. My journey in life started with music, and music has been an eternal part of my life. Being a part of a musical family, my musical and personal life revolve around my music and they always will.
Q. What is your average day like?
A. Nowadays I get up quite late. After breakfast, I talk to my friends, my loved ones, my disciples, and discuss matters on music. I also discuss many things with Madhuraji [his wife], Saarang [son] and Durga [daughter] during the day. I do my riyaaz definitely at some point. I also like to watch TV, good sports, especially cricket and relax.
Q. You have also created a novel form of jugalbandi called Jasrangi. What are the prime elements of this form?
A. It is based on “Murchhana Paddhati”. In this universe every creation is complete with two energies — “Purush” and “Prakriti”. This thought directed me to create this jugalbandi. It is a perfect male-female jugalbangi, singing from their own respective scales without compromising any tonal quality, two different ragas at the same time. It is difficult yet very beautiful and unique.
“I remember once when I was performing in Lucknow, there was a lion growling in pain. Unfortunately, he was hurt with a thorn. I faintly remember singing Bhagyashree alaap which soothed the lion and we were able to take out the thorn from the lion’s paw.”
Q. You belong to the fifth generation of the Mewati gharana. Please describe what differentiates this gharana from others.
A. We Mewatis believe that swar [melody] is mata [mother] and laya [rhythm] is Pita [father]. We believe in Shuddha Mudra ShuddhaVani. We sing the praise of all kinds of Gods. Mewati style of singing is bhaavpradhan [feeling first].
Q. Having been associated with the world of music for a long time now, can you talk about the changes you see in this field these days?
A. All Changes are good. If the changes are there, that means it is alive. Our young generation is immensely talented. They know what they are doing. In fact, we are the ones to be blamed for not understanding their far-reaching vision until now. We should not underestimate the youth. I always find the youth in large numbers at my concerts.
Q. Can you recollect any memorable moment from your past performances? Some memory that stands out?
A. Once I was performing at the Badrinath Temple. I was in samadhi for a few seconds. That experience was so incredible! Also, I remember once when I was performing in Lucknow, there was a lion growling in pain. Unfortunately, he was hurt with a thorn. I faintly remember singing Bhagyashree alaap which soothed the lion and we were able to take out the thorn from the lion’s paw. We don’t know, if it was something else but by God’s grace, the power of music that worked.
Q. Time and again, you have mentioned that you were greatly influenced by Begum Akhtar. Can you share how her music influenced you in your career?
A. I was a small child when I was completely surrendered to her music. She was the first inspiration at that tender age — turning my life enough to make me want to become a musician.
Q. What do you think about music education in India?
A. I am very happy and hopeful. Indian classical music is an extremely secular art form. Leave alone India, the fan-following of classical music has gone up worldwide. I keep hearing about people sitting here in India teaching classical music to their students in the USA and other countries. With proponents such as Pandit Ravi Shankar, Ustad Bismillah Khan, and Ustad Zakir Hussain spreading its message of inclusiveness and tolerance through their music, it continues to transcend the boundaries of caste, religion and region. It’s an ever-evolving era.
Q. Do you think that the guru-shishya parampara is taken as seriously as it was in the past? What can be done to promote it?
A. I follow the guru-shishya parampara till this day. I have seen it is being followed by other gurus, too. All my schools in India and USA are based on the guru-shishya parampara. I believe our classical heritage is rich in nature and our roots are strong enough to keep our children connected with the music. .
Q. How do Western audiences respond to Indian classical Music?
A. They are very much interested in Indian classical music. Indian classical Music is being learned, practiced and performed all over the world. As a result, the audience is increasing in every concert.