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“Our Music is a Prayer to the Gods”

By Viren Mayani Email By Viren Mayani
August 2003
“Our Music is a Prayer to the Gods”

Call me "Raj" said Sangeet Martand Pt. Jasraj over the phone to the Delta Airlines associate helping him locate the sarangi of Ustad Sultan Khan. Along with his luggage, it had been placed on a different flight, which the Ustad had been originally scheduled to take. Earlier, Delta had been informed of the importance of the instrument, the performer and the performance; but despite best efforts they had not been able to lay their hands on the missing sarangi.

Without it, the ?Swarnim Utsav' for which these demigods of Indian classical music had descended upon Atlanta for, would be in limbo. And this was not just another concert on another tour. Swarnim Utsav was a tribute to a living legend and doyen of India's ancient musical heritage, Pandit Jasraj himself. The concert was to celebrate the Golden Jubilee of Panditji's performing career.

This episode of the missing sarangi had Ustad Sultan Khan understandably very worried.

Pt. Jasraj, on the other hand, was making light of the situation with his great sense of humor and his unquestionable faith in God. He assured Ustadji that the sarangi will be found and that he will be able to perform with it the next day ? which is exactly what happened!

The venerable Panditji was singing in praise of the gods when I reached the home of Kala Ramnath, who is the principal of the local chapter of Pandit Jasraj School of Arts. Hearing him sing in his sacred space was an unexpected honor, and it made my day. I waited joyfully while Guruji finished his puja and aarti. As soon as he stepped into the living room, he blessed me and offered prasad. It was with such auspice that we began our chat. [During the conversation, Guruji transiently flipped back and forth between English and Hindi and I have not strayed from it, so as to maintain the nuances and sanctity of his answers]

In your fifty years of devotion to music, what has changed and what remains unchanged?

The music of the past and the present has not changed. The aesthetic sense has improved significantly and people have begun understanding music expressions a lot more. Earlier, classical music was "Uttam Sikhir" ? like the top of Mt. Everest. Today it is like the ocean, spread far and wide. It's not limited to the boundaries of India, like the Himalayas, but has expanded all over the world like the ocean.

What about your music listeners?

As I said, the audiences have begun to understand the nuances. First it was the very few, and now there are many who follow this aspect of music. Additionally, this music is not just to understand but also to feel. Music ko mehsoos karna hota hai.

You have had many roles in your life thus far: student, master, husband, father, grandfather. How did your music develop and support you through these stages?

Sangeet to apna saathi hai, dukh-sukh ka saathi. I have had many roles and varied duties to perform, but music is forever mine and has always stayed with me. Music hota hai; usko karna nahi padta hai. The other functions are the duties each person fulfills in life. Roles are not something a person plays, because then it would be just an act. They just fall into place. After all these years, one thing that is becoming increasingly clear to me is that we do not do anything! Whatever I do or you do or anybody else does is what He intends. Karne, karnewala woh hai. Even before I start, I always invite God to be present and ask Him to accept my seva, my music and bless me with more of it. The first thing I teach my students is a mantra that seeks the presence of the disciple's parents, kul Devi/Devta and Guru. I also ask them to seek their blessings and offer to them their seva (i.e. their music). Then I request them to accept the music offerings.

Guruji, at Gurukuls and Vidhyalayas, our foundational music teaches students a lot more than just music. Why is it that a student must learn all the rituals, respect, and daily routines in order to master the music?

Our music is not an art form. It is an aradhana. Our music is a prayer to the gods. It is a seva to him, an offering. There is specific music to wake the Lord up from sleep (you must have heard the famous song Jago Mohan Pyare). Similarly, there is specific music for the Lord's daily rituals. The music is bound to express this and hence it's important that students learn and understand it thoroughly. Our music is not to appease the listener, but to please God and sing His praise. However, because every soul in the audience also has a part of Him, the music automatically appeases them. When all of us are appeased at the same time, we become Ek Aatma (one soul), and that's when the music becomes aradhana ? a prayer. By listening to this kind of devotional classical music, our audience does not begin to dance. It becomes introspective. Sometimes, if the prayer is so powerful that people get lost and forget to applaud, the realization kicks in after a few minutes of absolute silence. The furor of the applause is heard later.

Of all the types of music, why is our classical music tied to religion?

Har ek Dharma mein sangeet hai. Christians sing their prayers through gospel music. Sufi music is very famous in Islam. The entire Guru Granth Sahib of the Sikhs is full of "shabd" and hence sung. There is a strong correlation.

What about the symbolism of Utsav?

The celebration of an important event became an Utsav in our heritage. Dassera brings us Durga Puja ? it is said that "Ma" (Goddess) had to be reborn to destroy the evil. Vijayadashmi coincidentally happened when Lord Rama destroyed Ravana.

Please tell us about your meeting with President Kalaam.

I have had the good fortune of meeting him four to five times. He is a patriotic leader of substance and integrity. Also, he is very intelligent. On my last visit, I asked if he could grant me a five-minute meeting, one on one. I had received two books from Dr.Yogi Goswami (US PhD), who is an authority on solar energy research. He'd requested me to give one to the President and the other to the Prime Minister. My appointment was given but I reached ten minutes late. I apologized to President Kalaam, but he actually waited and said that he'd been looking forward to meeting me for a long time. He stepped out of his office and took me to the Mughal Garden outside. There we sat under the shade of a tree and had a cup of tea. Instead of five minutes, he decided to spend fifty-five minutes with me. He is the first President to receive the prestigious Bharat Ratna before being selected for the Presidency. He thanked me for introducing Dr. Goswami to him, and said that he was presently doing follow-up research on the same topic. The timing for the books was very appropriate.

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