Do you know that the melody of Indian music can be heard even 11 billion miles from the earth’s surface, amid the blinding vastness of space?
As NASA’s ambitious Voyager 2 mission enters its 40th year later this month, not many are aware of the fact that the spacecraft carries a golden record featuring the various sounds of the earth as well as international music. Indian music is one of them.
Launched on August 20, 1977, the Voyager-2 is the first ever spacecraft to have flown past the 4 outer planets – Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, and Neptune. And the music of India is marked by a famous Hindustani Classical composition called ‘Jaat Kahan Ho’ by noted khayal singer of the 20th century, Surshri Kesarbai Kerkar.
A composition that lasts about three minutes and 25 seconds, ‘Jaat Kahan Ho’ forms a part of the 12-inch copper disk carried by the spacecraft into space. Launched on September 5 of the same year, its twin spacecraft, Voyager 1, also carries a similar disk.
According to reports, NASA had appointed a special committee chaired by Carl Sagan to find the probable compositions to be included in the special list. In the 1978 book ‘Murmurs Of Earth – The Voyager Interstellar Record’, Sagan’s wife, Ann Druyan, recalls that Robert Brown, the then executive director of the Center For World Music in Berkeley, had ‘Jaat Kahan Ho’ placed at the top of his list of world music for outer space.
It was after an exasperating effort that Druyan was able to locate a record store in New York. Brown states:
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If I could extend the list, it would include the following: a lively mridangam solo from India in a tala of five beats played by Palghat Mani Iyer who may well be the world’s best drummer …
According to Timothy Ferris, who served as a producer of the Voyager Golden Record, Kesarbai was born in Goa in 1893 and was awarded the title of “Surshri” in 1938 by Rabindranath Tagore on behalf of the residents of Kolkata:
One of my favourite transitions on the Voyager record comes when ‘Flowing Stream’ ends and we are transported, quick as a curtsy, across the Himalayas to the north of India and from the sound of one musical genius, Kuan Ping-hu to another, Surshri Kesarbai Kerkar….The raga heard on Voyager is formally designated for morning performance, but its popularity has led to its use as a closing number, a kind of encore, for concerts day and night.
Furthermore, Ferris writes that it was after the age of 70 that this particular recording was done by Kesarbai. Apart from the song, this composition also carries a record in Hindi, which translates to,
We are citizens of earth: We are greeting you.
The other Indian languages represented in the record are Bengali, Gujarati, Kannada, Marathi, Oriya, Telugu and Urdu.