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Rajan Mishra, Classical Indian Vocalist, Dies at 69

This obituary is part of a series about people who have died in the coronavirus pandemic. Read about others here.

NEW DELHI — On a floating stage draped with garlands of marigold and rose petals, the brothers Rajan and Sajan Mishra, both wearing white kurtas and pajamas, sang verses of a meditative, melodious ancient raga as the Ganges River lapped around them.

Their performance, for a short documentary film about their musical family, was seamless after decades of singing together, each brother picking up where the other left off with perfect intuition.

“In Benares, the tradition was not just to listen to music but to consume it,” Rajan Mishra said in the film, using an alternative name for their hometown, Varanasi.

Despite settling in New Delhi in a joint household of 14 relatives, the Mishra brothers always longed to return to Varanasi, and, in a manner of speaking, they will when India’s catastrophic second wave of the coronavirus recedes: Sajan Mishra, 64, plans to take his brother’s ashes back to the Ganges there and, as is Hindu custom, let the river consume them.

Rajan Mishra died on April 25 at St. Stephen’s Hospital in New Delhi. He was 69. The cause was complications of Covid-19, his daughter-in-law, Sonia Mishra, said. She said the hospital’s lack of ventilators had led to his death. No one immediately answered calls to the hospital on Wednesday seeking comment.

In recent weeks, amid the surge in Covid-19 cases, health care in much of India has all but collapsed, with hospitals in New Delhi, the capital, out of beds, medical equipment and even oxygen. Officials blame an even more infectious variant of the virus.

“He was a national treasure,” Sonia Mishra said. “If we cannot arrange the basic facilities for such people, a common man will never be able to get those facilities, and we will keep losing lives like this.”

Rajan Mishra was born in Varanasi, considered by Hindus to be the spiritual center of the world, on Oct. 28, 1951, a member of his family’s fifth generation of Indian classical musicians. (His grandson is in the seventh.)

His father, Hanuman Prasad Mishra, was considered one of India’s greatest players of the sarangi, a bowled, short-necked string instrument that is often featured in Indian classical music. His mother, Gagan Kishori, was a member of Nepal’s royal family and sometimes accompanied her husband and sons as a vocalist and tabla player.

Rajan Mishra studied arts and sociology at Benares Hindu University. He and his wife, Bina, a homemaker, had a daughter, Rithu, and two sons, Ritesh and Rajnish. The sons also are musicians. In addition to them, Mr. Mishra is survived by his wife and daughter as well as a sister, Indumati, and three grandchildren.

Trained to accompany their father’s sarangi, Rajan and Sajan agreed as children always to sing together.

When, in 2007, India’s prestigious Padma Bhushan prize was awarded to Rajan Mishra, he refused to accept it, saying it would have to be given to both him and his younger brother or not at all.

The brothers, who achieved global renown, established a school in Uttarakhand State, in the foothills of the Himalayas, where they welcomed students from around the world to immerse themselves in Indian classical music. The more extroverted of the two, Rajan was the school’s public face.

The brothers also traveled across India to promote the art among young people.

Rupinder Mahindroo, a friend who teaches Indian classical music outside New Delhi, recalled hearing the brothers sing for the first time in 1979 in Lucknow, India. She had traveled to the city as a member of the national women’s cricket team. No sooner had her match finished than, still in her cricket uniform, she took an auto rickshaw to attend their recital.

“I was so transported by their divine music that life was never the same after that,” Ms. Mahindroo said.

Rajan likened music to an ocean, she said: “The more deep you delve into it, the more beautiful it is, and the closer it brings you to your spiritual being.”

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