Tribute For Pandit Jasraj, Master Indian Vocalist, Is Dead at 90


Pandit Jasraj, an acclaimed Indian classical vocalist who enraptured audiences around the world, died on Aug. 17 at his home in New Jersey. He was 90.

A spokeswoman for Mr. Jasraj, who did not say where in New Jersey he died, said the cause was cardiac arrest.

Mr. Jasraj’s soulful voice and multi-octave range made him one of the most famous performers in Indian classical music. An exponent of the north Indian style of Hindustani classical music, he was the last surviving member of a generation of virtuoso singers that included Pandit Bhimsen Joshi, Kumar Gandharva, Kishori Amonkar, Bade Ghulam Ali Khan and Mallikarjun Mansur. He continued performing until very recently.

He was also a teacher, instructing generations of musicians in the nuances of the 19th-century style known as Mewati gharana.

Indian history is replete with stories of musicians who were said to summon rains or light lamps by singing ragas. Mr. Jasraj was one such artist.

During an early morning concert in Varanasi in 1996 on the grounds of the Sankat Mochan temple, he was immersed in the Todi raga when a deer bounded up to the stage and stayed to listen until the end, he recalled in an interview with The Hindustan Times. “It was a good omen,” he said.

In May 1998, at the beginning of the hot Indian summer, Mr. Jasraj was invited to sing at an outdoor gathering at the home of a senior bureaucrat in Delhi. After performing for more than two hours, he decided to sing the Dhulia Malhar raga, the first in a series usually sung before the onset of monsoons, when the air is filled with fine dust.

“As he sang, the climate began to visibly change,” his daughter, Durga Jasraj, who was accompanying him on the tanpura, recalled in a 2019 interview. “It got so windy that the backdrop and marigold garlands hung around were ripped off and sent flying. The dust storm turned into a downpour, and all the dignitaries ran for cover. When it wouldn’t subside, the concert was shifted to a room inside.”

Over an eight-decade career, Mr. Jasraj won numerous awards, including three of the highest civilian honors for Indian citizens: the Padma Vibhushan in 2000, the Padma Bhushan in 1990 and the Padma Shri in 1975. Last year, he became the first Indian musician to have a minor planet named after him: Panditjasraj, which orbits the sun between Mars and Jupiter.

Mr. Jasraj spent six months of each year in the United States and Canada, traveling among several music schools he helped found. This year, he left India on Feb. 15 and was at his home in New Jersey when the coronavirus pandemic struck. He remained there, teaching visiting disciples and giving performances on Zoom.

After his death, his body was repatriated to Mumbai, where he was cremated on Aug. 20 with state honors, including a 21-gun salute.

In addition to his daughter, he is survived by his wife of 58 years, Madhura Pandit Jasraj; his son, Shaarang Dev Pandit; and three grandchildren.

Pandit Jasraj was born in the city of Hisar, in the northern state of Haryana, on Jan. 28, 1930, to Pandit Motiram and Krishna Bai. He was the youngest of three sons in a family of classical musicians. His grandfather, father, uncles and brothers were all renowned singers and composers of the Mewati gharana, and his father was his first teacher.

When he was 4 and living in Hyderabad, in south-central India, his father died suddenly on the day his father was to be appointed royal musician in the court of Osman Ali Khan. His eldest brother, Pandit Maniram, became the head of the household and took over his musical education.

Never interested in school, Pandit Jasraj started skipping classes to listen to the classical music being played at a small roadside restaurant. His brother Pandit Pratap Narayan decided to teach him to play the tabla and, when he was barely 7, he started performing with his brothers around the country.

At 14, he gave up playing the tabla. “A very senior musician brought my relationship with my percussion instrument to an abrupt end by deriding me for beating a dead animal’s skin and therefore utterly unqualified to talk about the finer points of music,” he wrote on his website. “I decided then that I would henceforth only sing.”

He spent nearly 14 hours each day practicing his singing. His first public concert as a singer was in the court of King Tribhuvan Bir Bikram Shah of Nepal, in 1952. “After my very first rendition, King Tribhuvan awarded me 5,000 mohurs,” he said in an interview this year. “I was quite stunned by the gesture. It was more than I could count.”

The early years of his singing career were spent on the radio; he later became well known as a stage performer. He is credited with popularizing Haveli Sangeet, a form of devotional music dedicated to the Hindu god Krishna, traditionally sung in temples.

Among those paying tribute was Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who expressed his condolences on Twitter., writing that Mr. Jasraj’s death “leaves a deep void in the Indian cultural sphere.”





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