Forty years ago, humanity embarked on an audacious mission to explore the depths of space with the launch of the Voyager spacecraft. As these remarkable vessels travelled beyond the confines of our Solar System, they carried with them a compelling message for any extraterrestrial beings who might encounter them in the distant future: the Voyager Golden Record. This cosmic time capsule, comprised of songs, images, and sounds of Earth, was designed to provide a glimpse into the diverse tapestry of our planet's life and culture.
Inspired by the metal plaques the Pioneers 10 and 11 carried, NASA envisioned a more ambitious project—a time capsule intended to convey Earth's story to potential extraterrestrial explorers. The result was the Voyager Golden Record, a 12-inch gold-plated copper disk. Apart from the images and greetings in ancient languages, the record had a 90-minute selection of music from across nations. Among the mesmerizing compositions by Beethoven, Bach, Mozart and Stravinsky, was an Indian track called Jaat Kahan Ho, sung by Surshri Kesarbai Kerkar, a Hindustani classical singer of the Jaipur-Atrauli Gharana.
Listen to the song below.
The inclusion of India's musical heritage on the Golden Record was not a haphazard choice. The selection committee, led by renowned astronomer Carl Sagan, meticulously curated a compilation that aimed to portray the breadth and depth of Earth's cultural treasures. In the book Murmurs of Earth: The Voyager Interstellar Record, published in 1978, Ann Druyan, Sagan's wife, recollects how Robert Brown, then Executive Director for the Center for World Music in Berkeley, ardently championed Jaat Kahan Ho as a paramount representation of world music for outer space. After a relentless search, Brown finally secured the record at a shop in New York, cementing its place among the cosmic melodies.
Within the Golden Record, Jaat Kahan Ho holds a special place, guiding our possible alien listeners from one auditory landscape to another. As Timothy Ferris, the producer of the album, explains, “One of my favourite musical 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 Kesar Bai Kerkar. This raga 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.”
Jaat Kahan Ho is sung in raag Bhairavi, known as the queen of morning ragas, producing a rich, devotional melodic atmosphere. If the line from the track that translates to 'where are you going, lone girl?' isn't enough to make you think of a solitary extraterrestrial traveller stumbling upon this cosmic artefact as they float through space, the song itself has the quality, or the melodic structure which are referred to as raags to transport you out of this world; to a place and time that existed far from where we are, a raag that musicians claim to have originated from the Gods themselves.
The Golden Record, which has already travelled beyond Neptune is said to survive at least partially for a span of over 5 billion year — longer than humanity will likely exist. And if indeed 'there's anyone out there', they might just find this proof of our existence in a distant planet, where carbon-based lifeforms condensed their emotions and experiences into pieces of art;a little souvenir for our alien friends from an extinct species saying, "We were here."
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