Bhai Ghulam Mohammed Chand Jee's keertan, family history, character, and spirituality are all unknown to the average Sikh of today. It is safe to say that this once Hazoori Raagi is accustomed to being ignored by the Sikh Panth for the past 50+ years. But little do we Sikhs know that a treasure of Raag Vidiya, Keertan Maryada, and Gian of Gurmat Sangeet lies with him. Much is to be said about this Sikh living in Pakistan whose ancestors are the Sikh Rababis of the Sikh Panth, since Guru Nanak Dev Jee’s time up to 1947 when the Rababi’s were banned from doing Keertan any longer in Sachkhand Siri Harimandir Sahib and all Sikh Gurdwaras.
Bhai Ghulam Chand Jee is a descendant of Bhai Mardana Jee Rababi, who spent the majority of his life serving Guru Nanak Dev Jee and playing the Rabab alongside the Guru.
Listening to Ghulam Mohammed Chand, it is difficult to disentangle the musician from the sage. This 77-year-old man has been singing the verses of the Guru Granth Sahib ever since he was a boy of eight. He spouts the names of the 10 Sikh gurus with more ease than he can count the names of the 12 Imams. His ancestors trace their lineage to Baba Mardana, through whom Guru Nanak spoke, and to the strains of whose rabab he sang his hymns. The Baba’s descendants remained rababis to all the 10 gurus, keeping alive the rabab tradition, saving the musical instrument from extinction. His uncle Bhai Chand sang to it in Darbar Sahib in Amritsar.
Passions roused by the Partition dislocated people from their homes and goaded them to accept borders even in the realm of inner faith. The Chand family members left their village Raja Sansi, but took along the fragrance of a faith that was as much a part of their inner life as was the faith into which they were born. “We did not leave Nanak behind but went closer to him”, says Babaji whose home now is Lahore, less than 90 minutes drive from Nankana Sahib, Guru Nanak’s birthplace.
Ghulam Chand goes to Lahore whenever occasion demands. He gives people a peek into his ilm, his lore of sacred music when he sings at a sangat every Friday there, in the home of a Punjabi poet passionate about Punjabi sufi poetry.
“In my youth I did not know what I was singing. Now when I sing, even to myself, I weep. The mind yields to the strength of the holy word and if the fervour is truly felt then a state of bliss is reached and remains. When the mind and heart are in constant consultation, when there is shikwa and jawab-e-shikwa, then your own heart becomes the guru. Gu means darkness and Ru is light. The one who brings light in darkness is a guru. Neither clothes nor appearances make a guru. He goes on to quote Baba Farid: “Kaale merey kapde, kaale mainda bhes/ Gunahi bhara mein phirya, log kahen dervish”.
“Awal Allah noor upaya; Kudrat ke sab bandey; Ek noor sab sat jag upgaya; Kaun bhale kaun mandey” — It was Allah first and then his light;/ All human beings are part of his creation;/ With that one light the entire world came into being/ Is there any among them who is good and any who is evil?” During his recital in Delhi, Ghulam Chand began with Kabir, moving on to Nanak, Baba Farid and Guru Gobind. Their thoughts mingle freely in the Granth Sahib, and his singing was suffused with the ambience of a time when kirtans carried the solemnity and joy of sufiana kalam. A captive audience sat enraptured and then rose to walk slowly up to the stage — lines of men and women, their heads covered, to make their offerings so that he does not return home with an empty jholi (bag). “Who can fill his jholi? It is he who has filled our jholis”, rose a voice in the dark as the basket left on the stage began overflowing with offerings, a gift from apna Punjab for bringing back Nankana’s Nanak and Pak Pattan’s Farid.
“Yeh duniya jo ekhati hai, mujhey accha lagta hai”, says a visibly moved Baba ji , his small eyes smiling. He had returned to India after 60 years. To see people of so many faiths living together in one world touches him. It is in this India perhaps that Baba ji finds his metier. Though home is where his family lives, his work, his calling finds a flowering in a place which, not so long ago, was also home.