Renowned classical vocalist Pandit Jasraj died on Aug. 17 of cardiac arrest at his home in Colonia, New Jersey. He was 90, and is survived by his wife, Madhura Shantaram, and his children, Durga Jasraj and Sharang Dev Pandit. “With profound grief we inform that Sangeet Martand Pandit Jasraj ji breathed his last this morning at 5.15 EST due to a cardiac arrest at his home in New Jersey, USA,” a statement issued by his family said.
Jasraj was in the U.S. when lockdown and travel restrictions were enforced due to the COVID-19 pandemic, and he decided to stay back.
Belonging to the Mewati Gharana, Jasraj is considered the doyen of Indian classical vocal music. Mewati Gharana is a school of music known for its traditional performances of khayals. In a career spanning over 80 years, Jasraj has added his own elements to the genre, including the thumri. According to his website, Jasraj’s greatest contribution to music is a new form of jugalbandi called ‘Jasrangi,’ styled on the ancient system of moorchhana, between a male and a female vocalist, who individually sing different ragas at the same time. He also popularized semi-classical musical styles, such as Haveli Sangeet, that involves semi-classical performances in temples. He has created a variety of rare ragas like Gyankali, Dhanashree, Abiri Todi, Bhavsakh, Patdeepki and Purba. “The highlight of Jasraj’s vocalization is his perfect diction, clarity in sur and his extreme tunefulness,” his website says.
Jasraj received the Padma Vibhushan in 2000, the Padma Bhushan in 1990, the Padma Shri in 1975 and the Sangeet Natak Akademi Award in 1987 for his contribution to the Indian classical music.
In the U.S., Jasraj co-founded the Pandit Jasraj Institute for Music Research, Artistry and Appreciation – the Mewati Gurukul, with locations in Colonia, New Jersey; Brooklyn, New York; Mars, Pennsylvania and Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. The institute aims “to foster the preservation, growth and teaching of Indian Classical Music in the tradition of Mewati Gharana. The institute is headed by co-founder, Pandita Tripti Indira R. Mukherjee.
Condolences poured in from political leaders as well as singers and musicians. “The unfortunate demise of Pandit Jasrajji leaves a deep void in the Indian cultural sphere,” Prime Minister Narendra Modi said. “Not only were his renditions outstanding, he also made a mark as an exceptional mentor to several other vocalists. Condolences to his family and admirers worldwide. Om Shanti.”
Singer and actress Shweta Pandit, who is also the grand-niece of Jasraj took to Twitter to share her memories with her grandfather. She tweeted: “So many insanely beautiful memories you have given me.. but I have no words now.”
Music maestro A. R. Rahman, in a tweet said that “Indian classical music has lost one of its shining stars.” Lyricist Saved Akhtar wrote: “A huge pillar of Hindustani sangeet has fallen today. My heartfelt condolence to Pandit Jasraj’s family. I can see him standing on the stage with his arms raised as if he is blessing all of us and in his soft and silken voice for the last time he is saying jai ho.”
Music composer and singer Vishal Dadlani, in his tweet, wrote: ”Just heard of the passing of the legendary Pandit Jasraj ji. My condolence to music itself and to every musician on the planet. A truly monumental loss. My heart goes out to my friends Jatin and Lalit Pandit, Shweta and Shraddha Pandit and of course Durga Jasraj ji, and the family.”
Singer Shankar Mahadevan wrote: “Devastated after hearing the news that Sangeet Marthand Pandit Jasraj has moved onto the next dimension. A big void in the world of Indian Classical music . His music will live on in this planet.”
Born in a family of outstanding musicians over four generations, Jasraj was initiated into music by his revered father, Pandit Motiram, until the age of three, when his father passed away. Later, he underwent music education under his elder brother and teacher Pandit Maniram. He also received education later from Maharaja Jaywant Singh Waghela and also with Ustad Gulam Kadar Khan of Mewat Gharana. In addition, he also took training under Swami Vallabhdas of Agra Gharana. Thereafter he underwent intensive tutelage under his elder brother and Guru, Pandit Maniram. Later, along his turbulent path of hard-earned maturity, he was guided by his spiritual Guru Maharaja Jaiwant Singh.
Jasraj lent his voice to a few Bollywood films like V. Shantaram’s “Ladki Sahyadri Ki” (1966), jugalbandi with Pandit Bhimsen Joshi in “Birbal My Brother” (1973) as well as the song “Vaada Tumse Hai Vaada” in Vikram Bhatt’s horror film “1920.” He has contributed to the soundtrack of the 2012 movie “Life of Pi.”
In September last year, a minor planet, between Mars and Jupiter, was named after him. International Astronomical Union (IAU) named minor planet 2006 VP32 (number -300128) , discovered on Nov. 11, 2006, as ‘Panditjasraj’ which traverses the cosmos between the orbits of Mars and Jupiter.
In an earlier interview with the Press Trust of India, Jasraj said he listens to “western music, African music and also cinema music.” He said his “all-time favorite is Lata Mangeshkar, there is no one like her. I often talk to her,” he said. He also told the news agency that he watched movies. “I catch up on films on OTT platforms. Whatever my granddaughter plays it, I see it.”