Pandit Jasraj Concert by MITHAS write up By Suchita Rao
On a warm spring afternoon, lavender crocus raised their heads in pride and speckled brown bunnies raced across the lush green grass lawns outside MIT’s Kresge auditorium. The air was abuzz with excitement as MITHAS (MIT Heritage Arts of SouthAsia) was celebrating 21 years of service to the community with a grand concert by the renowned Hindustani vocalist, Padma Vibhushan Pandit Jasraj on April 13, 2014.
Dr. George Ruckert of MIT welcomed the audience and introduced the artists: Mewati gharana exponent Pandit Jasraj, one of the foremost vocal ractitioners of Hindustani music, his tabla accompanist, the well-known Pandit Swapan Chaudhuri and illustrious vocalists, Tripti Mukherjee and Suman Ghosh to whom Pandit Jasraj is esteemed Guru.
Amala Mahadevan, chairperson of MITHAS thanked patrons and struck a spiritual chord with the audience when she conveyed that Pandit Jasraj, through his music, intended to pay homage to the soul(atman) of each and everyone in the auditorium. In Panditji’s words, every atman(individual soul) is a manifestation of the supreme soul (param-atman).
The concert stage decorated by Shobha Shastry was a work of art. Long panels of pleated cream silk drapes flanked by flowing pink and purple fabric served as the elegant backdrop to a raised stage. Soft pastel purple lights reflected from mirrored panels on the ceiling. The celebrated maestro Pandit Jasraj dressed in an elegant silk dhoti, kurta and red waistcoat looked no less than an emperor surrounded by his accompanists and disciples who were dressed in rich hues of gold, red, chocolate brown and mustard silk ethnic wear.
The melodious strains of two taanpuras, the harmonium, the swarmandal and the sound of a perfectly tuned tabla breathed musical life into the auditorium. Pandit Jasraj opened his concert with his signature invocation in Sanskrit, Mangalam Bhagwaan Vishnu, composed in the romantic afternoon raga Madhuvanthy. A vilambit khayal, Mehmaan se kaa lariye, set to 12 beat cycle Ektaal followed with a leisurely and elaborate exploration in the lower and middle octaves. The occasional but deliberate use of rishabh in the ascent revealed the artist’s non-conventional take on the raga and his weaving of intricate solfege patterns with heavy gamak ornamentation created an exquisite and colorful quilt of melodic phrases infused with feeling and emotion (bhaava).
In the two subsequent faster compositions in 16 beat cycle teentaal, Kasturi Tilakam and Kaahe Maan Karo, the confluence of sensitive support on tabla, the blending of male and female vocal support by Suman Ghosh and Tripti Mukherjee created a sober and beautiful atmosphere steeped in melody.
The next khayal in Raag Din Ki Puriya set to medium tempo cycle of 16 beats, Chalo Chhalo Ri Aali Mandirva described the festivities of the spring season. The artist painted a visual landscape of pretty maidens stringing together flower garlands to greet their beloved.
He constructed an impressive array of fast melodic patterns (taans) together with his accompanying vocalists. Pandit Jasraj’s early musical career as a tabla player was evident in the manner of construction of the taans with special emphasis of beats on accompanying rhythmic cycle. His investment in the progress of his accompanists could be seen in the manner he interacted with them, deftly guiding them sometimes and sincerely appreciating their support at other times.
Post-intermission, Pandit Jasraj sang two compositions in Raag Hansadhwani – the first one in praise of Lord Hanuman, son of Wind God, an ardent devotee of Lord Rama (Pavan Poot Hanuman) and the second one in praise of Lord Rama. The energetic renditions were marked by vigorous ornamented gamaks contrasting with graceful glides in three octaves. A question and answer exchange (sawal-jawab) with tabla artist Pandit Swapan Chaudhuri added variety to the presentation much to the delight of the audience.
Pandit Jasraj conversed with the audience with great love after the rendition of Raga Hansadhwani. “It is not my singing that you are listening to – you are listening simply to your own love” he remarked. Pandit Swapan Chaudhuri drew a chuckle from the audience when he shared that Pandit Jasraj was not too sure that he could sing in his normal capacity right before the program. “I told him GOD would take care of him. Now, I think GOD has taken too much care of him….” he said, making the maestro and the audience laugh openly at his humorous comment.
The piece-de-resistance of the evening, an emotionally expressive composition in Raag Adana, “Maata Kaalika” set to 16 beat cycle Addha teentaal was the next item to be presented. Pandit Jasraj sang with devotional fervor and sustained long rests on high notes with uncanny ease. Several imaginative variations on the lyrics added immensely to the prayerful mood. Deepti Nijhawan of Cambridge, ex-chairperson of MITHAS summed up the essence of the presentation. “It was spiritual and sensual all in one! Every member in the first row of the audience sitting next to me had moist eyes. I went home and listened to a you-tube clip of Maata Kaalika rendition several times over” she said.
Pandit Jasraj concluded by honoring the audience’s request to sing a Sanskrit shlok in Raag Bhimpalaasi “Om Namo Bhagwate Vasudevaaya”. This fitting finale with creative harmony and interactive participation of the audience via rhythmic clapping to the recurring utterance of “Vithalam Vithalam” transported the concert attendees to a higher realm of spiritual consciousness and ecstasy.
At the end of the three hour long program, when the audience rose to salute the performers,a visibly moved eighty-four year old Pandit Jasraj wiped off tears with his sleeve and bid an affectionate goodbye with the words “Jai Ho!”. The voice of a member of the audience rang out loud and clear when she said “You are the greatest Panditji!”. The maestro smiled and waved back in joy, acknowledging the love and warmth of his admirers. The receptiveness and affection of Boston’s audience had brought out his best colors, making the concert the kind that etches itself in the hearts of artists and music lovers for a long time.
MITHAS could not have asked for more. The Pandit Jasraj concert had turned out to be a grand celebration of twenty-one years of service to the cause of preserving traditional art and music of South Asia. May MITHAS’s mission touch new heights of success in the coming years!