Musings on Gurmat Sangeet, or Gurbani Kirtan, Sikh Sacred Music

Wednesday, March 09, 2005

A Journey

Hopkinton
March 9, 2005

Last Saturday all of us piled into a car and drove down to New Jersey to attend a wedding reception. The wedding reception was like all other wedding receptions; that is not what this post is about. My first instinct was to head back early the next morning so that we could be back at the Boston Gurdwara for Sunday school classes.

However, that was not to be. This was the first time that we were returning to New Jersey after we moved to Boston in 1999. We decided to attend the Sunday Diwan at the Bridgewater Gurdwara and catch up with the New Jersey Sangat after our long absence. The organizers were kind enough to allow us some time for Kirtan Seva in the Diwan and we got to Bridgewater at 11:30 a.m. just as Bhai Parkash Singh Ji and his Jatha were starting the morning’s Kirtan Program.

We were a newlywed couple when we first started going to Bridgewater in 1991. At first we were not very regular visitors to the Gurdwara. Slowly we started getting to know some of the Sangat, particularly people close to our age. Some of the first friends I remember making were Inderpal Singh and Gurparkash Singh, both of whom inspired me to begin working with children in the Sunday School program, what was being run by Mrs. Surinder Kaur Puar and Mrs. Veronica Sidhu.

We also met several other Gursikhs who influenced us in profound ways. Gurmat Sangeet is undoubtedly one of the most important things in my life today and has been for many years. The years in Bridgewater played a very significant role in my learning and growth in the context of Gurmat Sangeet.

One of the people who inspired me greatly was S.Hardev Singh Sahota. A Sehajdhari Sikh, he poured great effort into the study of Gurmat Sangeet. He was an absolute and ardent admirer of Gyani Dyal Singh Ji and Bhai Dharm Singh Zakhmi Ji, who I will easily count among my key influences as well! Hardev Singh Ji painstakingly studied Gyani Dyal Singh Ji’s books and spent a lot of time teaching his two young children, who developed in to fine Kirtaniyas. The children are all grown up now and I have lost touch with them; the last I had heard they had got into top notch universities and were doing very well. May the gift of Gurmat Sangeet that their father gave them always stay with them. All those who enjoy Bhai Dharm Singh Zakhmi’s Kirtan on the http://www.gurmatsangeetproject/ website have S.Hardev Singh Ji to thank as he was the one who gifted to me a set of 30+ ninety minute tapes of Kirtan by Dharam Singh Zakhmi Ji’s Jatha.

As I talk about my journey into Gurmat Sangeet, I would be remiss in not mentioning several other individuals. S. Harjap Singh Aujla, a connoisseur of Gurmat Sangeet was always a significant figure in Bridgewater. Whenever a particularly good Ragi Jatha would visit Bridgewater, Aujla Sahib could be found sitting by the Jatha, endlessly tweaking the positioning and recording levels of the mics and very visibly having a whale of a time listening to the Kirtan. In the years I spent at Bridgewater, growing up in many profound ways, Aujla Sahib was one of the individuals who always provided me with a lot of affection, support and encouragement.

S.Manjit Singh Ji and S.Manjit Singh Deeoray Ji also deserve special mention. They have always been uncompromising in their standards where Gurmat Sangeet was concerned. They would never hesitate to confront Ragi Jathas who blatantly plagiarized film tunes and used them for Kirtan and keep a constant pressure on successive management committees to invite only the best Kirtaniyas to Bridgewater.

I have to mention my good friend Dr.Gurparkash Singh Ji, who I admire for many different reasons including his uncompromising steadfastness. When Bhai Prakash Singh and his Jatha visited Bridgewater in the mid 90s, Gurparkash Singh immediately realized the tremendous value that they could add by instructing children in Gurmat Sangeet. Without much support from the managing committee, but with the support of parents and a small portion of the Sangat, he instituted a Gurmat Sangeet teaching program, funded in part by the parents of the children who were interested in learning. The net result is that 7-8 years later a large group of young men and women in New Jersey have developed into fine Kirtaniyas, comparable to fine Ragis in their musical sophistication, in their ability to sing Dhrupads, Partaals and Guldastas.

My friend Dr.Inderpal Singh, who several years ago moved to Dallas, I remember for similar reasons, including the principled stands he took on many different issues. Recognizing in me a fellow lover of Gurmat Sangeet, I remember Inderpal painstakingly recording literally hundreds of hours of Kirtan for me, cassette by cassette and then patiently writing down each shabad and the page it appeared in, in the Sri Guru Granth Sahib and the Amrit Kirtan Pothi on the jacket of each cassette.

As my interest in Gurmat Sangeet and its study deepened, all of these individuals encouraged me to get more involved in managing the Gurdwara, which I did, with some trepidation. Despite the somewhat turbulent times that the Gurdwara went through in the late 90s (in fact in 1998, I was brought in playing the role of peacemaker) it was an overwhelmingly positive experience. I was constantly humbled by the tremendous love and support that I got from the Sangat at large and the individuals I have mentioned above.

During those years at Bridgewater, with the grace of the Guru there were several positive things that happened, relating to Gurmat Sangeet. We had several memorable Kirtan Durbars graced by the finest Kirtaniyas in the Panth, such as Bhai Avtar Singh Ji, Gyani Dyal Singh Ji, Bhai Gian Singh Jogi, Bhai Gurmej Singh, Bhai Gurmel Singh, Bhai Surjit Singh, Bhai Chhatter Singh, Bhai Dilbagh Singh Gulbagh Singh, Bhai Sarbjit Singh Rangila, Bhai Sant Singh, Bhai Ajit Singh Alankari, S. Pargat Singh Ji Matharu, Bhai Surjit Singh (Amritsar), Bhai Nirmal Singh, Bhai Gurmit Singh Shant, Bhai Kanwarpal Singh and numerous others. In fact a lot of the recordings on the http://www.gurmatsangeetproject.com/ site were made during this period.

Bridgewater slowly acquired the reputation of a Gurdwara, where the ‘Shrot’ of the Sangat was very much aligned with Gurmat Sangeet as opposed to the normal film and popular music inspired fare that most Ragis dish out today, masquerading as Gurbani Kirtan. In several Kirtan Durbars, Ragis vied with each other to present Dhrupads, Dhamars, Partaals, Guldastas and Puratam Reets, knowing that the Sangat would appreciate their hard work and their efforts to preserve the noble traditions of Gurmat Sangeet.

So as I stepped into the Bridgewater Gurdwara last Sunday, you can perhaps imagine the wellspring of emotions in my heart. It felt like a homecoming! Within a few seconds of entering the Gurdwara, I was crushed by the weight of the debt that I owed this Guru Ghar and this Sangat.

It was uplifting to see the familiar smiling faces that reflected heartfelt joy at our return as they welcomed us. The dignified and scholarly Gyani Bachitter Singh Ji, the truly Nimaana Sevadar Kehar Singh, the young Tabla player Binod Singh and the wonderful Bhai Parkash Singh and Harbhajan Singh.

All of a sudden, it was as if we had never left. The Kirtan, as always was magnificent! Bhai Parkash Singh started out with a beautiful Shabad in Bilaskhani Todi followed by a Shabad in Basant Hindol. At the end the Jatha sang a beautiful shabad in Raga Basant Bahar.


Bhai Parkash Singh and his Jatha



The Kirtan from the Sunday Program on March 6 can be heard at: http://www.gurmatsangeetproject.com/Pages/bridgewatermarch205.asp

A particularly emotional moment for both me and my wife was when our ten year old daughter, Mehr, got up to sing a shabad in Raga Basant. We could remember the day when we first brought our newborn to Bridgewater to receive the Guru’s blessing. And here she was, singing a shabad in that very Guru Ghar, ten years later. The warmth, appreciation and the blessings the Sangat poured upon her were humbling. In particular, I was moved by the reaction of Bhai Harbhajan Singh, who played Table when she was singing.

Mehr Kaur, accompanied by Harbhajan Singh


Dear Readers, until now I have never put any of my own shabads on the Gurmat Sangeet website for two reasons; I thought it presumptuous and I deemed my singing unworthy. While none of that has changed, I felt impelled to include the shabad I sang on Sunday at Bridgewater, on the page referenced above. Please accept it as a personal tribute to a place I still call Home.


A tribute to Bridgewater and its Sangat, accompanied by Harbhajan Singh


With my good friend Dr.Gurparkash Singh

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