'Laagi Ram bhajan ni lagani, ke Ramna... ke Ramna thayi gayi che rag rag ni re bhu…'. This Gujarati song marked ghazal maestro Jagjit Singh's entry into the playback singing world. It was featured in producer Suresh Amin's film Bahuroopi and composer Ajit Merchant gave Jagjit Singh this first break in 1969.
From there on, Singh is said to have sung many songs in Gujarati, so much so that during his performances in Ahmedabad or any other city of Gujarat, tears were found rolling down women's cheeks. He was known to bring words to life as he sang, but when he sang Gujarati bhajans, he was known for connecting people of Gujarat to the Almighty.
"He knew the pulse of the people and the atmosphere where he performed. He knew what his audience would like and performed exactly what they expected of him. It was mesmerising to watch him perform on stage," Amiel Best, said. Best was closely associated with Singh for 10 years, providing the maestro with the best of sound systems for his live performances across the world.
While he had performed in Surat, Rajkot, Anand, Bhavnagar, Baroda and other places, Singh visited Ahmedabad at least twice a year. However, what is little known about Singh's connection to Gujarati songs is that he sung his first Gujarati song in 1968, at Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan for Avinash Vyas's composition. This song was sung for Bhavan's 'Song of the Month' produced by Purshottam Upadhyay who paid Singh a sum of Rs250.
Back then he was unmarried and lived as a paying guest in one of Mumbai's hotels. His friendship with Upadhyay grew and Singh would visit Upadhyay at his residence and practice on the latter's harmonium.
"I still remember him wearing his pagdi and sporting a long beard when he first visited us at Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan to sing a Gujarati song. At that time, someone commented on his attire and looks and said he was too young to sing. He changed his image. He removed the pagdi and beard and continued to have that image for a lifetime," reminisces Purshottam Upadhyay.
Born in 1941 to simple parents in Sri Ganganagar, Rajasthan, Jagjit Singh was initially named, Jagmohan at birth, by his devout Sikh father. However, his father rechristened him to Jagjit on the advice of his Namdhari guru.