Pandit Jasraj believes that his vocation as a singer is a direct communion with god. He once had a dream in which the god Krishna implored the classical vocalist to sing for him. “I sing for God,” Jasraj said in an interview. The singer finds spiritual enlightenment through his music, and his voice acquires a devotional tinge even when he is not singing a bhajan.
Born on January 28, 1930, in Haryana, Jasraj was trained in music by his elder brother Maniram. Their father, Pandit Motiram, was a vocalist of the Mewati gharana. Jasraj soon mastered four-and-a-half octaves in his vocal pitch. Along with his vocal range, Jasraj’s voice is marked by its sonorous quality, clear diction, and impeccable grasp of musical notes.
Not content with being a vocalist, Jasraj took a keen interest in researching and popularising old forms such as the Haveli sangeet style, in which performances are held in temples. Compositions are sung in praise of Krishna. Jasraj is also considered an innovator, having created a unique form of jugalbandi called Jasrangi, in which a male and a female singer sing different raags in their respective scales to merge their individual displays into one unified performance.
Jasraj has been a stage performer all through his life, making his debut as a tabla artist in 1937 and singing at his first public concert in 1952. He also sang in films when the compositions were based on raags.
Jasraj’s first playback song was in V Shantaram’s Ladki Sahyadri Ki (1966). He sings the bhajan Vandana Karo in raag Ahir Bhairav, using intricate vocal notations of alaap and taan to accentuate the simple melody. The tune was composed by Vasant Desai.
His second and rarely heard number was composed by Shyam Prabhakar in the film Birbal My Brother (1975). Jasraj and Bhimsen Joshi collaborated on a jugalbandi in raag Malkauns. The classical number is a testimony of their vocal excellence, but it sadly remains neglected because of the film’s obscure status.
The only time Jasraj made an allowance for a standard tune was when he sang the romantic ballad, Vaada Tumse Hai Vaada, composed by Adnan Sami in Vikram Bhatt’s horror movie, 1920 (2008). It is as though through the haunting melody and reassuring lyrics, Jasraj was making a promise that he would return soon with something more suited for a man of his vocal abilities.