Dr. Mukund Lath (October 9, 1937 — August 6, 2020)
The Board of Directors and students of Pandit Jasraj School of Music Foundation in Vancouver, Canada,are saddened to learn of the death of Dr. Mukund Lath on August 6, 2020. In this article we want to celebrate his life by focussing on his extraordinary achievements, his close friendship and connection with our Guru, Pandit Jasraj ji, and his invaluable influence on the Mewati Gharana of vocal music.
Dr. Lath was a thinker, philosopher, scholar, author, poet, cultural historian and musicologist. A prolific author, he worked on and wrote numerous books and articles on the history, tradition and philosophy of Indian music, dance, theatre and aesthetics, in both Hindi and English. It is quite apparent that Dr. Lath was able to relate and connect classical music to major disciplines of his choice and, in turn, this provided him with endless exploration.
Born on October 9, 1937 in Kolkata, West Bengal, Dr. Mukund Lath embarked on his illustrious academic career after completing Senior Cambridge, graduating with a BA Honors in English literature from the University of Delhi, and a MA in Sanskrit literature from Jadavpur University, Kolkata in 1965.He continued his studies at the Institute for Comparative Music Studies and Documentation in West Berlin for research on Dattilam, an ancient text on the music of India. These studies led him to examine the subject deeply and to explore the characteristics of the early sacred form, the Gandharvas, celestial musicians accompanying the higher gods. Upon his return to India, Dr. Lath obtained a PhD on Dattilam from the University of Delhi in 1976.
Dr. Lath started his career in the Department of History and Indian Culture at the University of Rajasthan where he worked from 1973 until his retirement in 1997. As a visiting faculty professor, Dr. Lath taught at many universities throughout India and the world, including those at Oxford, Belgium, Germany and Jerusalem. For his outstanding work, he was very well-recognized receiving numerous awards, among them: Sangeet Natak Akademi Award (2008); Padma Shri from the Government of India (2010);Sangeet Natak Akademi Ratna (2012).
In the late 1960s, Dr. Lath received training in classical music from Pandit Maniram ji, elder brother and guru of Pandit Jasraj ji, and Ramesh Chakravarti ji. Subsequently, Dr. Lath trained in the genre of Khayal Mewati Gharana under the guidance of Pandit Jasraj ji. This was the start of a long collaborative journey of two brilliant minds in the pursuit of understanding and interpreting, the history, theory, traditions and methodology of Indian classical music, at an intellectual level.It is the fervent resolve of every guru that the knowledge they impart goes beyond their disciple. So, it was the same with these two friends. They had long discussions on ways to incorporate Indian Classical Music into the world scene, thereby introducing its beauty and appreciation to a larger and more contemporary audience. Moreover, both artists wanted to play a part in the sustenance of Indian classical music so that future generations would benefit and enjoy this most wonderful ancient art. Their aspirations are truly being realized in the furtherance of the Mewati Gharana of vocal music by the foremost disciples of Pandit Jasraj ji and the students in schools throughout India and North America.
Throughout the years of friendship, Dr. Lath accompanied Pandit ji on many of his concert tours in India and abroad. Dr. Lath wrote numerous poems which Pandit ji set to raga compositions and performed these art songs.
Dr. Mukund Lath had a very close connection with the Pandit Jasraj School of Music Foundation in Vancouver. The President of the Board of Directors and Principal of the School, Acharya Asha Lohia, was his sister-in-law. Ashaji’s younger sister, Neerja, was married to Dr. Lath. Upon, Ashaji’s invitation, Dr. Lath accompanied Pandit Jasraj ji and visited Vancouver several times. He attended classes that Pandit ji gave and presented several memorable workshops himself. Those of us who attended Dr. Lath’s workshops consider ourselves truly blessed to have met him and taken his interesting, informative and fun workshops and lectures, which were rather academic in nature. An unassuming gentleman of quiet dignity, Dr. Lath always sat at the back of the classes and would only come forward at the request of Pandit ji.
Remembering Vancouver is an informative article written by Dr. Lath and published in our magazine, Living Legend Sangeet Martand Padmavibhushan Pandit Jasraj, June 30, 2013, on the occasion of Pandit ji’s concert at the Michael J. Fox Theatre in Burnaby.
In this gem of an article, Dr. Lath describes his experience with our music school, and also gives a succinct,yet comprehensive encapsulation of the elegance, ingenuity and brilliance of Pandit Jasraj ji’s lifetime creative work with the ragas.
Needless to say, music is not a geographical but a cultural entity and hence universal. True, Indian music has its roots in India with a unique history and a singular evolution connected with India as a land and territory. But, being a product of the imagination, it is not limited to any physical boundary. Its character and its individuality are not tied down to any place or country. It can travel with impunity and take root anywhere it is welcome, and begin a new line of growth. This seems to be happening in Canada and the US. Perhaps with time — or even sooner — these places will begin bourgeoning with gharanas of their own.
I, for one, will not at all be surprised. My Vancouver experience has taught me this. A few years back, I had the happy chance of being with Jasraj ji there for a few weeks. Asha Lohia, my sister-in-law, had begun a school named after Pandit Jasraj. Jasraj ji himself had agreed to teach a long and sustained course. He was living with Asha and taking classes attended by a devoted group of students various ages, musical skills and knowledge, every evening. It was a sizable and enthusiastic group, keen and dedicated. My wife, Neerja, and I were staying with Jasraj ji and Asha. I had the rare opportunity, after a very long time, of living with Pandit ji and sharing with him a close, intimate and fulfilling companionship for an extended period. The close company of Jasraj ji was also a period of greater intimacy with ragas. It was an intensely satisfying period of getting closer to many familiar ragas with a deeper and a more sensitively subtle proximity. There are a few musicians who have not only the necessary skill but the brave, bold and creative imagination that allows them to penetrate into a raga with an independent, and yet a profound and searching openness of understanding. Jasraj ji is one of such rare few.
The secret of Ragadari lies in a space where the spirit of a raga is centered not in its given swaras but in-between them. That is where any meaningful gayaki also takes shape. An initiation into this living, pulsing musical space needs a guru, who is not only knowledgeable, but like Jasraj ji, has a weighty gayaki of his own.
The evenings were devoted to classes where ragas were introduced. Students learned bandishes with sargam, taan and badhat. There was great enthusiasm among the students, who were there with a sense of camaraderie, a cause, and a joy-giving seeking of value and fulfillment. A whole cross-section of people of all ages could be seen busily looking after arrangements, while at the same time eager to learn. What pleasantly surprised me was the number of passionate zealous older people who seem to aim at an accomplishment they had dreamt of since they were young: a process of gratification of which they could now be a part. Encouraging was the presence of younger people with no direct experience of India, who showed both passion and promise. Some of these are now, I am told, accomplished musicians.
The school continues its good work. And, I am sure it will keep doing so for a long time to come. It has also created a substantial archive of audio and printed material, recording the teaching/learning process as well as notations of raga-forms and compositions with alaaps. Such material, needless to say, has lasting value.
The author of this article is Teresa Rehman, Secretary, Pandit Jasraj School of Music Foundation, Vancouver, Canada