By Jaya Murthy
Pandit Jasraj performed at India Community Center on Sunday evening. If you have never heard him sing live, this was a chance to get up close and personal with the maestro and the divinity of vocal Hindustani music. And if you have had the good fortune of listening to him before, you would still be amazed that not much has changed!
I last heard him in India 15 years ago and at age 78 now, he was just as energetic, mellifluous and dexterous in his seemingly effortless movement over all three and a half octaves. Even his appearance was remarkably the same – the long flowing white hair in the back of his otherwise balding head, the same slender frame, twinkling but dark circled eyes and gorgeously outfitted in a light wine colored kurta and pleated dhoti. He looked quite “royal”, as he greeted his audience with the hallmark ‘jai ho’ and reminding us all that parmatma resides in each and every one of us.
He began the evening with a long rendition of Madhuvanti; explored fully and patiently through a long alaap followed by the vilambit and drut gat in teen taal. He followed that with maayi mero man mohiyo in Raga Hori Saran. Tripti Mukherjee, (his student who runs the Pt.Jasraj school of music in New Jersey) accompanied his singing melodiously and on the harmonium. The harmony of the male and female voices – the Jasrangi jugalbandi, which is Panditji’s major innovative contribution to Hindustani music, was such a treat. Both Samir Chatterjee and Aditya Banerjee provided solid and clean tabla support. Samir is very accomplished and with his various projects, worthy of another whole article dedicated to him exclusively. (watch this space!)
Although Panditji sang in his customary classical style with intricate laya, beautiful lyrical taans and great voice control …my favorite part was his telling of a little fable.
Apparently one of Emperor Jehangir’s daughters (with a Hindu mother) wanted to learn Sanskrit. He had a renowned Sanskrit scholar named Jagannath Pandit in his court. The daughter was assigned to his tutelage and eventually fell in love with him and asked to marry him. Jehangir considered Jagannath a master of his subject and greatly respected him. His Islamic ministry was horrified when he gave his blessings for the wedding. Needless to say the Hindu intelligentsia was dead against the match too. The matter dragged on and they asked the scholar to find a way to prove his purity. So Jagannath Pandit sat on the banks of the river Ganga and recited some verses. With every verse, the river rose higher to meet him. That 52nd and last verse was what Pandit Jasraj sang for us; vibhushita nanda from the Ganga lehari.
Putting that song in context greatly enhanced the musical experience of it. This is why live concerts are higher musical experiences than audio CDs! And this is where the beauty of the guru-shishya parampara lies. Our modern 30 and 60 minute class formats do not always allow the history, stories, poems, rumors and gossip to be shared. Especially with the kids. My biggest worry is that these tales will quietly be forgotten in times to come. As it is the mystery and secrecy around the non patented compositions of gharanas is quite deep.
By the end of the evening, when Pt. Jasraj sang Vraje vasantham navaneeta choram in praise of Lord Krishna, set to raga Piloo he had the audience completely enraptured and seemed quite bathed in a divine sort of glow himself. I later heard that many people were moved to tears. With his soothing voice, he reminded us that music begins with the basic voice from within – all instruments are but limited imitations.
The evening began late (so what’s new you ask?) by almost an hour – though in all fairness it was not his fault! The accompanying singer’s flight was late and so the whole party came late and the sound checks took a long while. The crowds were lined up outside from 4 pm and getting quite restless at not being let into the hall. Still, with the very first notes of the taanpura and the maestro’s lower octave alaap, everybody’s nerves were soothed and all was forgiven!
The concert was organized by Prabha Gopal of Bay Area Performing Arts (www.bapa.org) in co-operation with ICC. The Malvika Hall at ICC is quite a beautiful room with its airy, well lit and high ceiling décor of flowing fabric. Pt.Jasraj is famously fond of communing with his audience and likes to see them; so the lights were left on throughout the performance!
One hopes that with the inauguration of this superlative classical concert, the pace has been set for many more to come at ICC. Needless to say, we left with a song in our heart!