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Pandit Jasraj - 80th Birthday

Felicitation by Martin Lamß
(February 2010)

On January 28th, khyal singer Pandit Jasraj has celebrated his 80th birthday. Among those wishing him many happy returns in a club in Mumbai were a lot of Indian VIPs, including Bollywood actress and dancer Hema Malini.

Pandit Jasraj is the best known exponent of the Mewati-gharana, which became famous during the 20th century mostly due to the maestro's own efforts and charisma. Jasraj received his first impressions of vocal music from his father, the singer Motiram. But Motiram died when his son was only four years old. Thus, Jasraj states, he got his real initiation towards music in a street restaurant which was situated half way to his school. The owner possessed only one record which had been playing there the whole day. This recording by legendary ghazal singer Begum Akhtar fascinated the boy Jasraj so much that he quit school just to be able to listen to it daily. He later received training in vocal music by his brother Maniram and by Maharaja Jaywant Singh Waghela.

Pandit Jasraj's style of singing is characterized by rich ornamentation and elegance. His sonorous voice covers three and a half octaves effortlessly. Perhaps his most original contribution to Indian classical music is the development of a new kind of Jugalbandi between a male and a female voice. In this unique new format, derived from the ancient Indian system of shifting scales (murchana), both voices sing from different tonics and in different ragas - however they sing the same absolute notes, thus creating a harmonious blend.

Besides his activities on stage Pandit Jasraj is also a well-reputated teacher of such celebrated musicians as violinist Kala Ramnath, and he is the promoter of a big music festival taking place in Hyderabad in honour of his late father and brother since 1972. In 1987 Jasraj was awarded the Sangeet Natak Academy Award and in 2000 the Padma Vibhushan, the 2nd highest civilian order in India. His most recent honour has been the fellowship of the Sangeet Natak Akademi (see article 2 above).