The term Gharana is said to have originated from the Sanskrit word graham from which came the Hindi ghar. A Gharana is a school of Hindustani Khayal music, which has a unique style of singing of its own. The discerning features of singing allow us to distinguish between different Gharanas and also enable us to identify the different approaches to interpretation of ragas. Each Gharana is established by an exceptionally gifted musician, whose style is passed down to successive generations through the Guru-Shishya parampara. The name of the Gharana is usually derived from the place where he lived, taught and practiced his arts for years. Atleast three generations have to be followers of the school for the Gharana to get established and well known. Thus we have the Gwalior, Jaipur, Kirana, Patiala, Rampur, Agra, Mewati, Bhundi-Bazar etc Gharanas.
Mewati Gharana, to which Rameshji’s Parampara belongs to, has its roots in the Mewat region of Rajasthan. The fountainhead of Mewati Gharana, Ustad Ghagge Nazir Khan, born in Birla village in the Mewat region, was the court musician of Maharaja Jaswant Singh of the kingdom of Jodhpur in the Mewat region. Here is the story behind the birth of Mewati Gharana, which happened in the middle of the nineteenth century, according to historical records.
Maharaja Jaswant Singh send his court musician Ustad Nazir khan to the court of Mahadji Scindia, with a note to invite the renowned singing duo of Patiala Gharana, Fateh Ali and Ali Baksh, popularly known Ali-Fatthu, to perform in Maharaja’s court during a festival. They accepted the invitation. However, that night during their concert, unfortunately Ustad Nazir khan, the musician of the host state fell ill due to high fever and could not turn up to grace the occasion with his presence. The duo Ali-Fatthu did not spare this discourtesy and commented that the best of musicians would claim ailment on mention of Ali-Fatthu; such was their supremacy. Maharaja could not withstand this sarcasm and decided to challenge the duo. He summoned Ustad Nazir khan from his quarters and Ustad, who rose to the challenge as never before, gave such a mesmerizing performance that night that Ali-Fatthu indisputably accepted Ustad’s supremacy, being spell bound by his mastery of the lower octaves, with stupendous gamak-kari. A proud Maharaja Jaswant Singh presented Ustad with precious gifts and bestowed a new title ‘Ghagge’ which alludes to Ustad Nazir khan’s deep and sonorous gamak-kari, resembling the powerful rumble of massive ocean waves. With this rare musical feat, began the History of Mewati Gharana; the musical tradition evolved under the influence of Ghagge Nazir khan, which today has flourished and blossomed due to the outstanding contributions made by Parampoojya Guruji, Pandit Jasrajji and his predecessors.
Pandit Natthulalji and Pandit Chimanlalji were direct disciples of Ustad Ghagge Nazir Khan and they underwent fourteen years of rigorous training under the Ustad. Chimanlalji died very young. Pandit Natthulalji however, was resolved to preserve his art. He found a successor in his nephew (Motiram’s mother Sarbai was Natthulal’s sister). But, because of his pledge to his mother that he would never turn his art into a business, he could not give training to Motiramji in public. Making a secret pact with his sister Sarabaiji, Pandit Natthulalji took the child to the privacy of the jungles, after the sun had set and gave training, which went on for seven years without the knowledge of Natthulalji’s mother and villagers.
Pandit Motiramji remained the lone heir to Mewati legacy. When Pandit Natthulalji passed away, Motiram’s education was not complete. It is said that even after his death, therefore, Pandit Nathulaji returned repeatedly as an angel to whisper to Motiramji the remaining part of his education. Thus he continued to guide Motiramji and shower his blessing on the family. Motiramji in turn passed his knowledge on to his brother, Pandit Jyothiramji and sons Pandit Maniramji and Pratap Narayanji.
The Mewati Gharana family tree
Pandit Jasrajji was the youngest child of Pandit Motiramji and had only a brief initiation into vocal music by his father who died when he was three years old. In order to lighten the burden of family responsibilities that were thrust upon the brothers due to the sudden demise of their father, Pandit Jasrajji had to opt for Tabla under the training of his brother Pandit Pratap Narayanji, though he wished to be a vocalist. However, at the age of fourteen, he stopped playing an accompanying artist and decided to sing, rebelling against the humiliating treatment given to accompanying artists in those days. He then underwent intensive tutelage under his eldest brother, Sangeeth Mahamapadhyaya Pandit Maniramji. Thus began his quest for the divine music, which together with his relentless pursuit and single minded devotion to music has made him what he is now, the contemporary doyen of North Indian Vocals, Sangeeth Martand Pandit Jasrajji.
Pandit Natthulalji’s blessings continued to shower on Parampoojya Guruji Pandit Jasrajji also. Once he even came to Pandit Jasrajji in his dreams to teach him a complete bandish in Goonji Kanada, which Parampoojya Guruji did not know. Therefore Pandit Jasrajji’s family continues to rever him as an angelic family guardian and honour him with holy offerings and pooja at all special occasions.
Numerous are the awards and titles bestowed upon Parampoojya Guruji Pandit Jasrajji, and many have also been instituted in his name. Endowed with a rich soulful voice, which transits effortlessly over all three and a half octaves, perfect diction, clarity in sur, and extreme tunefulness, he generates a very sublime emotional quality in his music. Pandit Jasrajji infact has contributed to the resurgence of an interest in the lyrics of the Khayal,which has been missing in many styles. He is also being regarded as a great classical singer who has carefully nurtured the return of Bhakti to music. Thus, this proud legacy, which has been perpetuated for the last one and half centuries by the great Gurus, has been propagated and popularized by Parampoojya Guruji Sangeeth Martand, Pandit Jasrajji. Some of his well known disciples are Girish Wazalwar, Chandra Sekhar Swami, Tripti Mukherjee, Sweta Jhaveri, Rattan Mohan Sharma, Sanjeev Abhyankar, Radha Raman, Guruji Ramesh Narayanan and Kala Ramnath.
The music of Mewati Gharana is Bhava Pradhan. Its prominent feature lies in the importance it gives in developing the mood of the raga through notes forming it, at the same time, highlighting the meaning of the lyrics. The singing style avoids elongating the words for the sake of rhythm, but uses Tans and Sargams where words fall short. Sapat Tan and Merkhand are employed in its ornamentation.
Today, a new generation of Vocalists is being groomed in Mewati Gharana style by Parampoojya Guruji’s disciples who are spread all over the World and are determined to preserve and popularize this distinguished style of singing. Due to Parampoojya Guruji’s musical genius and the standards he has set on his disciples ,there is no uncertainty that Mewati tradition would thrive and reach even greater heights in the years to come.
Sri Swathi Thirunal Rama Varma was the Maharaja of the state of Travancore, in India. Besides being an able ruler, he was a patron of music and a musician himself. He encouraged both broad systems of Indian music, Hindustani and Carnatic music, though he was essentially a connoisseur of the Carnatic music tradition. He is credited with composing over 400 compositions in Carnatic music as well as Hindustani music. In fact, after learning about master composer Swathi Thirunal, Pandit Jasrajji was so impressed that he created and contributed Mewati Swathi Gharana to Kerala with the aim of popularising Swathi Thirunal’s rarely sung khayals, on 18th April 2008, with the presence and permission of the Cultural Minister of Kerala M.A.Baby during the Maharaja Swathi Thirunal Award Ceremony. Pandit Jasrajji also performed some khayals of Maharaja Swathi Thirunal on the same day.