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

Tuesday, August 09, 2005

Thank you Rashid Khan !

July 4, 2005

Monsoon in the Eastern Himalayas. Everything is lush green. The rain comes down incessantly. For two days, in vain, I have yearned for a glimpse of Kanchenjunga. The weather gods are kind today. It is 6 a.m. Wonder of wonders ! A patch of blue sky ! I leave the house in a hurry. This is probably one of the few opportunities to go for a walk that I will get on this trip !

I make my way to 'The Ridge', a flat and scenic walk that winds around the Palace of the Chogyal, the former ruler of Sikkim, the Royal Monastery and the enigmatically named 'Whitehall' where I remember watching badminton tournaments many years ago as a child.

As I walk, breathing in the washed, crisp mountain air, savoring a few glimpses of some of the peaks of Kanchenjunga and the many many tall mountains all around me, my ears are filled with the majestic strains of Raga Bhairav. No ordinary Bhairav this ! The Badhat of the Raga is slow and measured. Impeccable. The aesthetics are sublime.

Rashid Khan is singing Bhairav. I carry Rashid Khan wherever I go. I have heard him in Oslo. He has given me much joy in Bangalore and in Cape Town and in Shanghai. The half a dozen recordings by him that I always have in my MP3 player are no less precious than my Tanpura recording that is a must for Riyaz on the Road :-)

So, you ask me dear reader, what on earth is Rashid Khan doing in a blog post on Gurmat Sangeet ?

I love all the Ragas in the Sri Guru Granth Sahib, but Bhairav has a special place in my heart. If you remember, in a recent post, I talked about my feeble attempts at singing in Bhai Avtar Singh Ji's presence; the Raga I picked was Bhairav ! Later Bhai Sahib provided a lot of encouragement and gave me a pat on the back for my use of the Ga and the Ni as grace notes (Kann Swar). I was quite bewildered ! The few subtelties I am aware of while singing, such as how to sing the Dha in Bhupali and the Ri in Sarang, I have learned from my Ustad, Warren Senders. He has never taught me Bhairav ! So where on earth did the ever-so-appropriate grace notes come from ? I certainly had no clue that I was even employing them !

Then it struck me ! Rashid Khan ! Of course !

Song of Shiva. That is the title of the CD by Rashid Khan that contains the sublime Bhairav that I am enjoying so much today. I have heard it so many times in the past few years that the poor CD has died a premature death ! Overuse, abandonment in my truck, multiple scratches through accidental proximity to a large hammer that we use to knock cricket stumps into the ground!! Over and over again, Rashid Khan's elegant rendition has permeated my very soul, to the point that I am able to reproduce some of the nuances of Raga Bhairav when I sing !

Isn't it wonderful ? Does he not deserve to be thanked ?

My interest in Gurmat Sangeet is only about 15 years old. It was trigered by two recordings I heard as a young man in Milwaukee. The Bilaval Partaal that I referred to in my last post, by Bhai Avtar Siingh Ji and Bhai Gurcharan Singh Ji. And a recording of a Kirtan Darbar at Bangla Sahib in which the redoubtable Singh Bandhu, Surinder Singh Ji and Tejpal Singh Ji rendered several shabads in Basant, Bahar and other Ragas.

In parallel, I began to develop an interest in Hindustani Classical music which has served me ver well in my journey into Gurmat Sangeet as well. I discovered Pandit Bhimsen Joshi Ji right around the same time that I discovered Bhai Avtar Singh Ji and the Singh Bandhu. Bhai Shamsher Singh Ji Zakhmi and Mallikarjun Mansoor stormed into my life roughly at the same tinme. As did Bade Ghulam A li Khan Sahib and perhaps most importantly Amir Khan Sahib whose stately, majestic renditions of Marwa, Megh, Malkauns and Todi are without parallel.

Of the contemporary musicians in the world of Hindustani Music, I have enjoyed listening to Rashid Khan, Ulhas Kashalkar, Veena Sahasrabudhe and Prabha Atre the most. Of the really young musicians, I have greatly enjoyed live performances by Shounak Abhisekhi and Kaushiki Chakraborty, who I had the pleasere of hearing in Chennai and Jalandhar at Harballabh, respectively.

My interest in Hindustani Classical music has greatly enhanced my appreciation of Gurmat Sangeet, which of course is also Raga based.

It begins to drizzle. I make my way back home, trying to outrun the inevitable downpour that will follow.

Hopefully I will be back tomorrow. Perhaps I will listen to Begum Parveen Sultana singing Gujri. Maybe some day,I will have occasion to thank her as well !