Voyager 2 Golden Record Cover: Kesarbai’s khayal is yet to find a listener in space

Kesarbai, born in Goa in 1893, was awarded the title of Surshri in 1938 by Rabindranath Tagore

The Golden Record cover shown with its extraterrestrial instructions. Credit: NASA/JPL

At the time of writing this article, Voyager 2, one of NASA’s spacecraft that left the earth 39-years ago, has reached a distance of 10,627,042,888 mi and believe it or not, the golden record with collection of different sounds from earth, including music from India, is still waiting to be heard in the unknown vistas of space.

The primary mission of the twin Voyager 1 and 2 spacecraft was to explore Jupiter and Saturn. The mission got an extension after the discovery of volcanic plateaus on Jupiter’s moon Lo and taking a loser look at Saturn’s rings.

Voyager 2, launched on Saturday, August 20, 1977, is the only spacecraft that has ever had an up close view of Uranus and Neptune and is still moving past cosmic rays to the outermost edge of the Sun’s domain.

Voyager 1 is in “Interstellar space” and in 2012 it made the historic entry into interstellar space, the region between stars, filled with material ejected by the death of nearby stars millions of years ago.

On the other hand, Voyager 2 is currently in the “Heliosheath” — the outermost layer of the heliosphere where the solar wind is slowed by the pressure of interstellar gas.

Both Voyagers use real spacecraft trajectories and are updated every five minutes despite being the farthest manmade objects.

Towards the bottom of the two spacecraft, there are the 12-inch Golden Record Covers with an easily recognizable drawing of the phonograph record and the stylus showing how to play the sounds from the beginning.

The 3-minute 30-second khayal “Jaat Kahan Ho”, sung by Surshri Kesarbai Kerkar, a noted khayal singer of the 20th century, is one of the songs that were included on the Voyager record.

Timothy Ferris, the producer of the Voyager record, while writing about India’s contribution to the Voyager mission in his book, ‘Murmurs Of Earth’ had said, “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.”

Ferris said: “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 held in the day and at night.’’

“The words are those of a mother asking her child not to go to a festival because she is still too young. Kesarbai sings them in a tone that indicates she thinks the child will go away,’’ Ferris wrote.

Kesarbai, born in Goa in 1893, was awarded the title of Surshri in 1938 by Rabindranath Tagore on behalf of the residents of Kolkata.

In addition to the music, the record also has “We are citizens of earth: We are greeting you” message translated into Hindi, Bengali, Gujarati, Kannada, Marathi, Oriya, Telugu and Urdu.

The following music was included on the Voyager record.

  • Bach, Brandenburg Concerto No. 2 in F. First Movement, Munich Bach Orchestra, Karl Richter, conductor. 4:40
  • Java, court gamelan, “Kinds of Flowers,” recorded by Robert Brown. 4:43
  • Senegal, percussion, recorded by Charles Duvelle. 2:08
  • Zaire, Pygmy girls’ initiation song, recorded by Colin Turnbull. 0:56
  • Australia, Aborigine songs, “Morning Star” and “Devil Bird,” recorded by Sandra LeBrun Holmes. 1:26
  • Mexico, “El Cascabel,” performed by Lorenzo Barcelata and the Mariachi México. 3:14
  • “Johnny B. Goode,” written and performed by Chuck Berry. 2:38
  • New Guinea, men’s house song, recorded by Robert MacLennan. 1:20
  • Japan, shakuhachi, “Tsuru No Sugomori” (“Crane’s Nest,”) performed by Goro Yamaguchi. 4:51
  • Bach, “Gavotte en rondeaux” from the Partita No. 3 in E major for Violin, performed by Arthur Grumiaux. 2:55
  • Mozart, The Magic Flute, Queen of the Night aria, no. 14. Edda Moser, soprano. Bavarian State Opera, Munich, Wolfgang Sawallisch, conductor. 2:55
  • Georgian S.S.R., chorus, “Tchakrulo,” collected by Radio Moscow. 2:18
  • Peru, panpipes and drum, collected by Casa de la Cultura, Lima. 0:52
  • “Melancholy Blues,” performed by Louis Armstrong and his Hot Seven. 3:05
  • Azerbaijan S.S.R., bagpipes, recorded by Radio Moscow. 2:30
  • Stravinsky, Rite of Spring, Sacrificial Dance, Columbia Symphony Orchestra, Igor Stravinsky, conductor. 4:35
  • Bach, The Well-Tempered Clavier, Book 2, Prelude and Fugue in C, No.1. Glenn Gould, piano. 4:48
  • Beethoven, Fifth Symphony, First Movement, the Philharmonia Orchestra, Otto Klemperer, conductor. 7:20
  • Bulgaria, “Izlel je Delyo Hagdutin,” sung by Valya Balkanska. 4:59
  • Navajo Indians, Night Chant, recorded by Willard Rhodes. 0:57
  • Holborne, Paueans, Galliards, Almains and Other Short Aeirs, “The Fairie Round,” performed by David Munrow and the Early Music Consort of London. 1:17
  • Solomon Islands, panpipes, collected by the Solomon Islands Broadcasting Service. 1:12
  • Peru, wedding song, recorded by John Cohen. 0:38
  • China, ch’in, “Flowing Streams,” performed by Kuan P’ing-hu. 7:37
  • India, raga, “Jaat Kahan Ho,” sung by Surshri Kesar Bai Kerkar. 3:30
  • “Dark Was the Night,” written and performed by Blind Willie Johnson. 3:15
  • Beethoven, String Quartet No. 13 in B flat, Opus 130, Cavatina, performed by Budapest String Quartet. 6:37

(Courtesy of NASA.GOV)

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