Pandit Jasraj is without doubt one of the great vocalists in the modern era of Indian classical music. He has been a favourite with concert audiences for more than forty years and his performances have become a major highlight of the prestigious Saptak Music Festival, held annually in Ahmedabad, Gujarat.
Jasraj was born into a family of outstanding musicians but suffered the misfortune of losing his father, Pandit Motiramji at an early age. The responsibility for his music education was handed over to his elder brother and guru, the late Pandit Maniramji who trained the young Jasraj thoroughly in the intricacies of the Mewati School of singing. Since then, he has developed a unique vocal style which places equal emphasis on the wording, pronunciation and poetic value of compositions, as well as the distinct mood of each raga. His voice and style are instantly recognisable and his music expresses an emotional quality, which touches the soul of his listeners.
This recording captures one of his most compelling performances given on the last night of the twelve-day Saptak Festival.
His rendition of the late evening raga Maru Behag combines sublime spiritual expression with outstanding technical virtuosity.
Maru Behag is a combination of two ragas, Behag and Kalyan, and is widely thought to have been created by the great vocalist Alladiya Khan in the early part of the twentieth century.
The performance begins with a short alap, in which characteristic phrases of the particular raga are presented in a slow deliberate manner, outlining the romantic mood of Maru Behag. In the introduction (track 1), Jasraj recites the name of 'Narayan', in the style of a mantra. According to ancient texts, the syllables of God's name, contains inherent spiritual power.
The performance develops with the introduction of the tabla (track 2), which plays a slow rhythmic-cycle of twelve beats known as vilambit ektaal. The rhythm is played in such a way, that it takes almost one minute to complete a series of twelve beats.
This deliberately slow measured pace adds to the spiritual intensity of the performance. The words of the composition depict the happiness and peace that God brings to one who has true devotion.
Throughout, Jasraj is joined on stage by several of his students with supporting vocals, accompanied by the outstanding Kala Ramnath on Violin. Occasionally the backing vocalists are given the opportunity to elaborate on the raga with their own improvisations. As the pace increases, Jasraj introduces more elaborate patterns, based on imaginative combinations of the musical syllables Sa, Re, Ga, Ma, Pa, Dha, Ni, Sa.
The second faster composition (track 3) is sung to a lively rhythmic cycle of sixteen beats (teentaal). Track 4 features a popular Bhajan, 'Om Namo Bhagawate Vasu Devaya' a devotional composition praising the greatness of God, based on Raga Bhimpalashi.