Real Kirtan is performed through words, mind and actions.
Kirtan Tradition The Sikh tradition of Kirtan-Gurmat Sangeet-started by Guru Nanak at Kartarpur in 1521 was strengthened by his successors and particularly by Guru Arjan at Amritsar. In spite of several interruptions, kirtan continued to be performed at the Golden Temple and other historical Gurdwaras with due attention to raga, taal and dhuni.
The three types of Sikh musicians - rababis, ragis, and dhadhis continued to flourish during the period of the Gurus. Guru Nanak started the rababi tradition by engaging Bhai Mardana as his accompanist-musician. Formerly the Muslim singers were called mirasis, but Guru Nanak gave them a new name - rababis, because they played on the rabab (rebec) and adopted the Sikh way of life in food, dress and manners. Some of the notable rababis after Mardana were his son Shahjada. Balwand and Satta, Babak - son of Satta, Chatra - the son of Babak, and Saddu and Baddu - the rababis used to perform kirtan regularly at Amritsar before the Partition in 1947. The last of the line of rababis was Bhai Chand whose kirtan the author had the privilege of listening to, before 1947. After the Partition of India, the rababis migrated to Pakistan, the line of rababis is almost dying out without Sikh patronage.
The second type of musicians-ragis were the amateur singers whom Guru Arjan encouraged to perform kirtan in order to avoid dependence on professional rababis. Some of the bards (bhatts) at the Court of Guru Arjan, whose compositions are included in the Scripture, became ragis and did kirtan before the congregations at different centres. Early in the eighteenth century, Bhai Jassa Singh Ahluwalia - the great warrior-performed kirtan at Mata Sundri’s residence at Delhi, after the passing away of Guru Gobind Singh. Kirtan at the Golden Temple, Amritsar, was discontinued (on account of the persecution and atrocities of Muslim rulers) for many years in the eighteenth century. When the Sikh missals (confederacies) obtained control of Amritsar, kirtan was restarted at the Golden Temple. Bhai Mansa Singh ragi performed kirtan at the Golden Temple during the regime of Maharaja Ranjit Singh. Bhai Sham Singh Adanshabi did kirtan at the Golden Temple for more than seventy years. Outside Amritsar, Sant Attar Singh, Bhai Sujan Singh, Bhai Randhir Singh and his groups proved to be devoted kirtaniyas who did commendable missionary work.
The ragi group generally consists of three persons: one plays the tabla or jori (pair of drums) and he seldom participates in the singing; the other plays the harmonium, and the third plays a stringed instrument or harmonium or cymbals. The leader of the group sits in the centre and the group is known by his name. Even today, ragi-groups are employed by the Shromani Gurdwara Parbandhak Committee to perform kirtan in relays at the Golden Temple and at some historic Gurdwaras in the Punjab. Some of the travelling ragi-parties continue to perform kirtan in different parts of the world where there is a concentration of Sikh residents. Some groups of American Sikhs are particularly devoted to kirtan and sing hymns every morning in their Ashrams or in the local Gurdwara on holidays.
Guru Hargobind first employed the third types of musicians called dhadhis early in the seventeenth century. He instructed them to sing heroic ballads (vaars) in his court to inspire the Sikhs at acts of valour and heroism. Bhai Abdulla - expert in playing the Sarangi, and Bhai Natha - player of dhadh (a small hand-drum) were quite popular. The clash with the tyrannical Muslim rulers appeared imminent. The dhadhi-groups performed before the sangat and groups of Sikh soldiers. These groups subsequently became very popular all over the Punjab on account of the use of folk tunes and their zealous and emotional style of singing. These folk singers had hardly any knowledge of Hindustani classical music, but their appeal to the masses was irresistible. A dhadhi group consists of two or three singers, one playing on the sarangi, another playing on the dhadh, and the third may be their leader, discoursing on the contents of their songs. Though they are expected to sing vars of the Scripture, they usually sing their own poetic compositions on the daring exploits of Sikh warriors and martyrs. One of the famous dhadhi-jathass was that of Bhai Kishen Singh Kartor. Sohan Singh Seetal is also a well-known dhadhi.
The tradition of kirtan developed over the period of the ten Gurus is as follows:
- Hymns from the following compositions only are permitted in kirtan: Adi Granth, Dasam Granth, vaars and kabits of Bhai Gurdas, Bhai Nand Lal’s poems.
- The kirtan-group is generally seated on the right side of the palki of Guru Granth Sahib. No special seats or cushions are provided for the singers. However, in big diwans (Assemblies), the use of platform or dais is allowed, provided it is lower than the palki (seat) of Guru Granth Sahib. This is done to enable the ragis and the congregation to have full view of one another.
- In the morning, kirtan of entire Asa-di-var (24 chhants, salokas and pauris) is completed. The singing of Asa-di-var is not to be interrupted by katha (exposition of a random hymn read from the Scripture) or lecture.
- Appropriate compositions of Gurbani are sung at certain functions. For example at the time of Anand Karaj (Sikh Wedding) Lavan, Anand and suitable shabads ar sung. At the funeral of a Sikh, appropriate shabads relating to death are sung. Kirtan Sohila is recited before cremating the dead body.
- Every hymn should be sung in the indicated raga and tala. The singer should use the appropriate laya, tan and palta. However, he must not forget the rasa and the appropriate ethos, mood and spirit of the hymn.
- Vars should be sung as indicated in the Scripture. For example Gauri var should be sung in Gauri raga, Ramkali var in Ramkali raga, with appropriate dhuni if indicated.
- Display of musical skill and excess of alaap and tan are not permitted, as they tend to make the minds of singers and listeners mercurial and unstable.
- Correct pronunciation and intonation of Gurbani is essential so that the audience may understand the wording and the meaning of the hymn. The singer is not supposed to introduce any words of his own or make interpolations in Gurbani . The use of extra words like ha, ji, wahwah, piyara, etc., is against the spirit of Gurmat.
- The raga-technique and the sounds of instruments are subordinated to the singing of the hymn. What is brought out prominently by the musician is the Gurbani and its rasa, and not the musical expertise. Parallel quotations (parmans) to illustrate the theme are permitted during the kirtan.
- Any hymn that has been commenced should be completed. Lack of time is no reason for stopping the singing of a hymn in between.
- No kirtan is permitted during Akhand Path (continuous reading of the Scripture).
- The listeners should not make offerings (donations) to the musicians while the kirtan is in progress. Offerings can be made at the end of the kirtan. The best way is one followed by Sufi Congregations, where the listeners make the offerings to the president of the function or the organiser who respectfully hands over the collections to the leader of the music-group at the conclusion of the function. No ragi should interrupt his kirtan to acknowledge a donation or offering, nor should he mention the name of the donor. He should make a collective acknowledgement of the offerings at the end of the kirtan. This procedure is in accordance with Resolution No. 5 dated 2nd January 1976 of the Kirtan Sub-Committee of the Shromani Gurdwara Parbandhak Committee, Amritsar. In any case, interruption of kirtan to praise a donor or office-bearer of the Gurdwara or a distinguished visitor by name is absolutely forbidden, as it is against Gurmat (Guru’s instructions).
|Kirtan:||Raga · Taal · Ragmala · Classical Music · Sangeet · Dhuni · Asa di Var · Simran · Shabad · Rababi · Dhadhi|
|Ragas:||Asa · Bairari · Basant · Bhairon · Bihagara · Bilaval · Devagandhari · Dhanasari · Gauri · Gond · Gujari · Jaijavanti · Jaitsri · Kalian · Kanara · Kedara · Maajh · Malaar · Maru · Nat Narain · Prabhati · Ramkali · Sorath · Suhi · Tilang · Todi · Tukhari · Vadahans|
|Ragis:||Harjinder Singh · Maninder Singh · Amolak Singh · Balwinder Singh · Harbans Singh · Anoop Singh · Niranjan Singh · Amrik Singh · Snatam Kaur ·Kamaljit Kaur · Dileep Kaur · Joginder Singh · SS Maskeen|
|Saaj:||Harmonium · Tabla · · Tanpura · Taus · Rabab · Sarangi · Dilruba · · Saranda · Sarode · Sitar · Santoor · Pakhawaj · Dhadh · Dholak ·|