Fun Interview On Wishlist, Pandit Jasraj Talks Of Cricket, Deer And Krishna

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Legendary Indian classical vocalist Pandit Jasraj, a doyen of Mewati Gharana, turned 87 this year.

New Delhi:  On the eve of his 87th birthday, Pandit Jasraj is in no mood for serious questions on classical music, its future, or on his politics views. "It's my birthday. I'm entitled to a fun interview," he said.

So of the nine languages he speaks, which one does he dream in? "When I see my mother in a dream, it is in Haryanvi. That's where I come from. For everyone else, my dreams are in Hindi."

As another reporter calls up from Bhubaneswar, he responds to her questions on age with his trademark wit. "Madam, don't worry about my age. Think of me as a man as young as you."

It is "music and everything to do with music" that keeps him young, he says later. Sport, too, keeps him youthful.

"I never had the patience to listen to a cricket commentary on the radio, but once television came, I was gripped. I watched every great player and now of course Virat Kohli, who is today's hero," he said.

Panditji, who comes from the Mewati gharana of classical music, has received every honour, including the Padma Vibhushan. But he says the most touching tribute he received was from the people of his village Pili Mandori, who made a park in his name.

"Last year -- or was it the year before -- the villagers celebrated my birthday in that park. I felt most loved," he said.

Soon enough he is onto his favourite topic -- his love for Krishna:  "I used to be a Hanuman bhakt, doing every Hanuman fast and through him I reached Lord Rama. One day in my dream Lord Krishna came to me, in the form of a baby, nang dharang (naked) and said to me Jasraj, when you sing you reach me quickly and since then I'm hooked to him".

It is this devotion that is embodies in his love for Haveli Sangeet, a genre of Vaishnav devotional music sung in temples which are seen as Krishna's haveli.

There's a lovely anecdote, frequently recounted, linked to his music. In 1996, at a concert in the Sankat Mochan temple in Benares, when Panditji was performing Raga Todi, a deer ran past the audience, and stopped next to the stage, transfixed by the music.

The moment invoked an older legend -- of a concert five hundred years ago, when in the 16th Century, legendary singers Tansen and Baiju Bawra sang at a recital in Agra. It is said that when Tansen began to sing the Todi, a herd of deer, drawn by his voice, came rushing into the audience.

That's why Raga Todi in the Ragmala miniature paintings, which create visual imagery for every raga, is depicted as a woman playing a musical instrument, surrounded by deer.

Asked if he remembers that concert and the herd of deer, he corrects us: "Oho, it was only one deer. I will always remember the moment. You can't forget things like that. I had my eyes closed while I was singing and when I opened my eyes, the deer was looking straight into them."

Is this why he is called a legend? "Well, I'm told I also sing well," he quipped.

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