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“Indian classical music is more a worship than art”

December 2005
“Indian classical music is more a worship than art”

Sangeet Martand PANDIT JASRAJ talks with reverence for his music.


Pandit Jasraj is not a musician you can forget. And it's not because he is the winner of Padma Bhushan, Surer Guru, Sangeet Martand and other prestigious awards; not even because he hails from a family of accomplished artists and musicians; nor because he is an innovator who is credited with the introduction of a unique style of jugalbandi aptly named "Jasrangi Jugalbandi." It's his music! Simply and completely.

But he disagrees. He warns us that we are missing the point. We are focusing on him, the person. As he kept repeating during the interview, "I talk to you about limitless things and you keep coming back to limits." It's not him, he tells us. It's not his music at all. It's something that comes through him. He's only a channel. Pandit Jasraj is a deeply spiritual man who also has a great sense of humor and a charisma that diffuses ? whether he is in a small room or an auditorium.

In Atlanta for a Katrina relief concert tour sponsored by The Art of Living Foundation, Khabar caught up with him in Marietta for an interview.

What advice do you have for those not trained in classical music? Is there something that can help us appreciate this art form more?

It is not necessary to understand music [to appreciate it]. Those who learn only to understand are dangerous. You can only analyze if you understand a lot. Those who have half-knowledge, they only focus on faults, mistakes. Those who master, they go beyond that. Indian classical music is more a worship than art. The music played for worship, is that called art? Art form is where the artist presents his art. Our music is worship, it's meditation. Every artist will sing the same raga, but they will sing it so differently, they will put their own color, their own flavor. So will the same artist singing the same raga. The teacher has given the outline, but the student, the artist, will fill it with [his/her] own variations of color.

Don't you think that art can be meditation, worship too?

If you want to transcend boundaries and really experience an art form, you can't limit it within the realm of art. Through discipline you discover art, and when you move a step further, art becomes worship. When you get there, art begins to touch you from the inside. If you sit in a temple, a place of contemplation, suddenly your eyes well up, why? What is that?

So how can you tell the level of an artist apart?

Western music, or even Carnatic music, is more structured, but North Indian Classical music is unique, it's truly improvised. Every artist raises it differently, depends on that artist's sensibility, timing, mood. Jago Mohan Pyare, in Raga Bhairav by each artist will have its own unique construction; the way a raga is invoked differs tremendously from artist to artist. By different I do not mean superior or inferior renditions, only different.

Since most concerts are primarily in the evenings, what do you think of afternoon and morning ragas being played during the evenings?

The way a time has been fixed for each raga, there is a science behind it. I can sing an evening raga right now (morning) and I can get it to work That is because of the training given by a guru. But it helps if you sing a raga at its designated time. The body is affected by it. Your body has a different state of being in the morning, in the afternoon and in the evening. A doctor or a scientist can tell you that your body behaves differently at different times of the day. So every raga is felt fully at a certain time of the day. You can't get that same feeling, fullness when it's not sung at the right time. That raga may touch you, but not in the way that it would when the swar (sound), words, time, everything comes together? where you tend to forget yourself.

Do you think the current generation is moving away from Indian classical music? Do they not appreciate it enough?

Sadhana ke baad Aradhana aati hai? You need the training and the discipline to get to the place and to move above the ordinary. If they are immersed in music, be it rock, pop, or any kind of music, they will find out. But you have to be immersed in music - any kind of music. It should not be a casual interest, but a deeper interest.

What do you think about Asian massive, or the so-called "fusion" music that incorporates Classical music with other modern forms?

Such music is about fulfilling your material needs. There are two ways to look at this, one is to run your household and the other is to think that the One who gave me life will fend for me. There are times I haven't had food to eat for two or three days, but I never gave up my practice. Where do you think I get that energy?

What is unique about the Mewati Gharana style of singing, to which you belong? How can a layperson identify someone from your gharana?

There is an arts college, a science college and a commerce college. If they give you a commerce book in an arts college, that book is not useful for you, or you will read it, but not be able to understand it. Just like that, each gharana has a book. A Mewati Gharana artist will take you to Samadhi. That artist, without thinking, will take you to that spiritual path. My ancestors are the ones who are guiding me through that, taking me to that place. My gurus, through me, affect you.

Do you find the audience experiences this?

I was singing a bhajan in Tampa, "Bhaj Govindam...". There were several non-Indians in the audience some of who started crying. Afterwards, one of the women came up to me and told me, ‘I didn't understand anything. I don't know what you were singing but I couldn't control it." It wasn't her religion, her heritage and she didn't have anything to do with Hinduism, but she was a musician. So, what can tie us together is this music! As I said before that Hindustani classical music is not an art. If you only think of this as an art, you limit it. If you really want to experience it and pass that boundary, you have to understand that this is not art, this is worship.

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