Legendary classical vocalist Pandit Jasraj unveiled his first authorized biography during a book release ceremony at the TV Asia auditorium in Edison, NJ on July 17.
Titled, “Rasraj Pandit Jasraj,” the biography is written by Sunita Budhiraja and published by New Delhi-based Vani Prakashan.
The event was jointly hosted by the Consulate General of India in New York, TV Asia and the Pandit Jasraj Institute and broadcast live on TV Asia across the US as part of its “Focus Live” nightly show. The event was also the first public gathering in the US announcing the launch of the biography, before the official India release later this year.
The biography’s release was followed by a 90-minute interaction on TV Asia’s “Focus Live” with Pandit Jasraj; Consul General Sandeep Chakravorty; Durga Jasraj, Pandit Jasraj’s daughter; author Sunita Budhiraja; publisher Arun Maheshwari and TV Asia host and senior producer Vikas Nangia, followed by a question-answer session with the audience.
During the panel discussion, Budhiraja said that while Pandit Jasraj’s ragas were soulful, the book focused on several untold struggles that went behind those renditions. “The book is essentially the story behind his music, the challenges and many other yet unknown inspiring aspects of Panditji’s life,” she added.
When asked about the importance of lyrics, Pandit Jasraj said he believed in immersing himself into the words before singing.
“Words are absolutely important in my songs because I want to live them, understand them, go into their depths and then sing the song. The process for me is to completely understand the words and then immerse myself in those words, that world,” he said. He also recalled during the conversation how thankful he was to former Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee for calling him “Rasraj,” which has been borrowed in the tittle for the biography.
One of India’s best known classical vocalists, Pandit Jasraj, 88, was born in Hisar, Haryana, in a family of classical musicians of the Mewat gharana. His father, Pandit Motiram, a noted classical singer, passed away when Pandit Jasraj was just 4. From a young age, Pandit Jasraj began accompanying his elder brother and first guru vocalist Pandit Maniram as a tabla artiste. At 15, stung by a musician’s snide remark about his lack of understanding of classical music because he was a minor artist, Pandit Jasraj decided to take up singing. He gave his first public concert at 22. He was honored by the Indian government with both the Padma Bhushan (1990) and Padma Vibhushan (2000).
Blessed with a soulful and sonorous voice, which traverses masterfully, Pandit Jasraj’s vocalizing is characterized by a harmonious blend of the classic and opulent elements, giving his music a unique and sublime emotional quality.
The live TV event was interspersed with audio-visuals of Pandit Jasraj’s concerts as well as a brief story of his life, frequently applauded by the audience.
Consul General Chakravorty said during the panel discussion that despite Pandit Jasraj’s legendary status as a musician, his “tolerance and respect” for all types of music was unique and a testament to his character.
Durga Jasraj spoke about what it meant to be growing up in a family, where his father was continuously traveling on concerts. “He has a high expectation from himself even at this age. All of us in the family, including our father, have sacrificed for music, but we have also learned so much from Panditji about mental and physical tenacity.”
Earlier, while introducing Pandit Jasraj, TV Asia chairman and CEO H R Shah offered an analogy, saying the legendary classical vocalist was a “rare gem” with a large fan-following despite the challenging nature of his music that yet transcended all age groups.
More than 200 guests, including several prominent members of the Indian American community, attended the book release. Among those present, included Tripti Mukherjee, senior disciple of Pandit Jasraj as well as founder and director of Pandit Jasraj Institute; Dr Naveen Mehta, chairman of Bharatiya Vidya Bhawan USA; president of FIA of NY-NJ-CT Srujal Parikh, who along with FIA board of trustee Ram Gadhvi, presented Pandit Jasraj with a plaque of appreciation; Sunil Nayak, AINA president and Peter Kothari, IACS president.