Scintillating ragas, elevating vocals
Pandit Jasraj is one of the most respected and celebrated exponents of North Indian Classical Music, and after more than fifty years of performing he has become an institution in India and a fine ambassador for Indian culture abroad.
Jasraj comes from a family who boast four generations of musicians, and have been responsible for developing a unique style of singing known as the Mewati gharana. Born in 1930 in Hissar [Haryana], Jasraj was cruelly denied the musical guidance of his father, Pandit Motiramji, who passed away when the young prodigy was just three years old. It soon became apparent that he was a gifted child with a melodious voice and the task of nurturing this precocious talent was handed over to his elder brother Pandit Maniram. Jasraj's music is characterised by a very pure approach embracing the Indian concept of 'bhakti' (deep spiritual devotion), which has the effect of both captivating and elevating his listeners. He approaches each raga as a devotee, with humility and reverence, while paying great attention to the choice of composition and words, not always a major consideration of classical singers. Like so many of India's great artists, he started his career as a tabla accompanist, which gave him a firm grounding in 'laya', the control of rhythmic aspects of performance. Apart from his own family, his spiritual guru, late Maharana Shri Jaiwant Singhji of Sanand, has played a major role in his musical perspective.
In this recording Jasraj performs the most popular classical vocal form, Khayal, which literally means 'vichaar' or imagination. It is a style of presentation which gives maximum scope to the creativity and individuality of the singer. The performance of Khayal usually takes place in two parts, the main Bada Khayal, followed by the sub or Chhota Khayal. The presentation largely depends on the style of Khayal singing adopted by a particular school or gharana. The main difference between the Bada Khayal and Chhota Khayal lies in the tempo or laya to which they are sung, and also in the kind of improvisation that follows the main theme. The Bada Khayal is sung in either slow or medium speed, while the Chhota Khayal is sung at a fast tempo.
Jasraj has become a great favourite at all major music festivals in India, and this recording captures a live performance held on the 4th January 2003 at the prestigious Saptak Festival, an annual celebration of India's finest music, held in Ahmedabahd, in the state of Gujarat.
For this recording, Jasraj has chosen to sing Raga Darbari Kanada, one of the monumental ragas of North Indian classical music. It is one of several ragas composed by the legendary Mian Tansen, the court musician of Emperor Akbar in the 16th century. There are several ragas in the Kanada family, but Darbari is marked by its profound, majestic mood, and renowned for its emotional impact on listeners. Jasraj begins with an invocation, giving praise to the gods, incorporating simple melodic phrases outlining the mood of the raga. The first composition 'Hari Virahi Ja Ko Maan' is a khayal sung in a rhythmic cycle of twelve beats, known as Ektaal. The tempo is very slow, in fact it takes nearly one minute to complete just one rhythmic cycle, but this pace, known as 'vilambit', is most suitable to capture the essence of the raga. Throughout the recital, Jasraj is accompanied by Nandan Mehta on tabla, a senior disciple of Pandit Kishan Maharaj of the Benares gharana. The second composition 'Asi Darbari Gunijan Gave' is in a rhythmic cycle of ten beats (jhaptaal), and for this the singer is joined by both Tabla and Pakhawaj. The use of both percussion instruments is unusual in khayal but the addition of the deeper, resonant tones of the ancient Pakhawaj is conducive to the majestic character of the raga. The second raga is rarely heard in Indian music these days. Raga Bhinnashadja is an evening raga consisting of just five notes (pentatonic), the composition 'Aja hun aaye sudhara piya shyam' is in praise of Lord Krishna, the most divine and playful Hindu God.