indian cinema heritage foundation

Pandit Jasraj

  • Born: 28 January, 1930 (Hisar, Haryana)
  • Died: 17 August, 2020 (New Jersey, USA)
  • Parents: Pandit Motiram and Krishna Bai
  • Spouse: Madhura Shantaram
  • Children: Durga Jasraj , Shaarang Dev Pandit

One of the greatest Indian Classical Music vocalists, known for his soulful voice and multi-octave range, Pandit Jasraj is deeply embedded in India’s national psyche, a deep part of its cultural ethos, who enabled Indian vocal classical music to resonate across the world. Considered the last of a great quartet in the classical vocal tradition—including Pandit Bhimsen Joshi, Kishori Amonkar, and Girija Devi—Pandit Jasraj carved a musical career spanning 75 illustrious years. Decorated with key honours, including the Padma Shri (1975), Sangeet Natak Akademi Award (1987), Padma Bhushan (1990), Padma Vibhushan (2000), the Pu La Deshpande lifetime achievement award (2012), and the Bharat Ratna Bhimsen Joshi Classical Music Life Achievement Award (2013), he delivered performances across genres including semi-classical, devotional, and film soundtracks. He was also a teacher, instructing generations of musicians in the nuances of the Mewati gharana, a 19th century style.
Born on 28 January, 1930, in Pili Mandori village, Hisar, Haryana, he hailed from a family of outstanding musicians over four generations. Initiated into music by his revered father, Pandit Motiram, until the age of three, when his father passed away, he went on to be intensively trained by eldest brother and Guru, Pandit Maniram. His elder brother, Pandit Pratap Narayan, also an accomplished musician, trained him in tabla from the age of 7. By age 14, Jasraj decided to renounce performing as a table accompanist, and decided to focus on singing. His training included rigorous practice of close to 14 hours a day. Spending his youth in Hyderabad, he would travel to Sanand, Gujarat to learn music from the musicians of the Mewati gharana, getting trained by Maharaj Jaywant Singh Waghela, the Thakur Sahib of Sanand, a classical music afficionado. He also trained under Gulam Qadir Khan of Mewati gharana, and Swami Vallabhdas Damulji of the Agra gharana. Moving to Calcutta in 1946, he started singing classical music for radio. At the age of 22, he performed his first stage concert as a vocalist in the year 1952, at the court of King Tribhuvan Bir Bikram Shah of Nepal in Kathmandu. 
Developing his own unique style as a vocalist, he added elements of lighter styles such as the thumri to the traditional performances of the khayal, which was the hallmark of the Mewati gharana. He also evolved a form of jugalbandi that came to be known as the Jasrangi in his honour, based on the ancient system of moorchhana, where a male and a female vocalist sing different ragas at the same time. Pandit Jasraj worked to popularise semi-classical musical styles such as Haveli Sangeet. His work in films saw him rendering classical and semi-classical compositions for film soundtracks. These include the songs Vandana karo for the film Ladki Sahyadri Ki (1966), a duet with vocalist Pandit Bhimsen Joshi for Birbal My Brother (1973), and Vaada tumse hai vaada for the film 1920 (2008). While he rendered playback for Susman (1987), and Gour Hari Dastaan: The Freedom File (2015), he performed Raga Ahir Bhairav for Life of Pi (2012), and composed the music for the short films Dhamma (2010), and Satyagrah se Swachhagrah Tak (2019).
Blessed with a soulful, sonorous voice that traverses four and a half octaves, Pandit Jasraj’s vocalising is marked by a harmonious blend of the classic and opulent elements and pure spiritual expression. The unique and sublime emotional quality of his music thus reaches the soul of the listener. He proved to be an excellent mentor and guru, presenting to the world several illustrious disciples, such as Sanjeev Abhyankar, Saptarshi Chakraborty, Sandeep Ranade, violinist Kala Ramnath, shehnai player Lokesh Anand, flautist Shashank Subramanyam, Sadhana Sargam, Anuradha Paudwal, Tripti Mukherjee, and Suman Ghosh. Having founded Indian classical music schools in India and abroad, he was known to spend half the year in the USA and Canada, teaching and touring. He also organised an annual musical festival, the Pandit Motiram Pandit Maniram Sangeet Samaroh in Hyderabad, in memory of his father and brother, since the year 1972. 
On the personal front, Pandit Jasraj married Madhura Shantaram, daughter of film director V. Shantaram, in 1962. They had two children, Shaarang Dev Pandit and Durga Jasraj
Pandit Jasraj passed away in New Jersey on 17 August, 2020. His body was cremated with state honours and a 21-gun salute at Vile Parle, Mumbai. 


Image courtesy: news18, The Telegraph India