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

Saturday, January 22, 2005

Basant Ki Var

Basant Ki Var

Around two years ago, for reasons that have now faded from my memory, we were lacking a Ragi Jatha at the Boston (Milford) Gurdwara. It is at times like these that the second string gets called in ! Hence I found myself offering Kirtan Seva at the Milford Gurdwara, a couple of Sunday mornings.

In the world of Gurmat Sangeet, particularly at Sri Harmandir Sahib, there is an enduring tradition in place, according to which it is customary to sing Raga Basant, Bahar and their variants from Magh Di Sangrand, which occurs mid January, to Holla Mohalla, which occurs around mid-March. Even the most blasé of Kirtaniyas make it a point to begin their Kirtan with a shabad in one of the Ragas associated with the spring. The singing of shabads is interspersed with the singing of the three Paudis of the magnificent Basant K Var.

I first learned of this tradition back in early 1994, when we used to live in New Jersey. Bhai Gurmej Singh Ji, then Hazuri Ragi at Sri Harmandir Sahib was visiting the Bridgewater Gurdwara. It was a crisp Sunday morning in the middle of winter. Bhai Sahib, accompanied by the young Amarjit Singh on harmonium and the late Bhai Iqbal Singh on tabla, started with a leisurely Mangla Charan in Raga Basant. This was followed by a most magnificent rendition of the shabad Dekh Phool Phool Phule in Basant, set to Iktaal.

I remember being totally mesmerized by his stately, deeply emotional and yet somehow totally detached singing of the shabad. This was followed by the singing of the first Paudi of the Basant Ki Var.

My friend Charanjit Singh, who plays the Sitar and who I have unfortunately lost touch with, was similarly moved. I remember that we were both completely charged up and could not rest until we had hacked out the bandish or melody on the harmonium at the conclusion of the Diwan. Afterwards, I went up to Bhai Sahib and asked him about what he sang, particularly the Var. Until then I had only heard of the Asa Di Var; Basant Ki Var was something quite new ! Bhai Sahib was kind enough to explain the traditions associated with Raga Basant to me !

Since that winter day in 1994, Basant fever grips me from Magh Di Sangrand to Hola Mohalla. I cannot, but cannot sing, learn or teach anything other than Shabads in Basant, Shuddh Basant, Bahar, Basant Bahar, Hindol, Basant Hindol. I think back fondly to the innumerable beautiful Shabads that this wonderful season has gifted to me and those around me. I can remember the particular joy I experienced after discovering, with the help of Bhai Avtar Singh, Gurcharan Singh’s book on Gurmat Sangeet, that another magnificent Shabad that Bhai Gurmej Singh had sung, years ago during his visit to Bridgewater, which I though was in Kafi, was actually in an archaic variant of the Raga, known as Buddha Basant !

Early, another January morning in the late 90s. I remember making a quick trip to Sri Harmandir Sahib. I was in Amritsar to attend a wedding and I was very short of time, but on an impulse, I decided to go to Darbar Sahib. I made a hurried Parrikarma, went inside, paid my respects and was preparing to leave. The current shabad Chowki had ended and a new Ragi Jatha was starting to tune their tables. Then, a somewhat reedy, somewhat nasal voice started a sublime Manglacharan in Raga Basant, set to Vilambit (slow) Iktaal. I stood transfixed. The Manglacharan was follwed by a fabulous shabad in Basant, set to slow Chartaal, in the majestic Dhrupad style. Another Shabad in Raga Basant Hindol followed. The last shabad was a lively rendition, if I remember correctly, of Mouli Dharti Mouliya Akash, in Raga Bahar. And of course, Basant Ki Var ! Fortyfive minutes had passed. All commitments forgotten, I was rooted to the spot ! I had to find out who the Kirtaniya was. I was told it was the Jatha of Bhai Narinder Singh Ji, Banaraswale. How I wish I had my recording equipment with me that day !

Back to the Boston Gurdwara ! It is the winter of 2003. Eighteen inches of fresh snow lie on the ground around us. It is the time of year, when I am a slave to Basant. I joyously sing, Basant in my heart and on my lips. Later in the langar hall, I overhear a young woman expressing her amusement at the incongruity of ‘Dekh Phool Phool Phule’ and ‘Maha Maha Mumarkhi, Chadiya Sadaa Basant’ right after the conclusion of a blizzard ! I do not care ! Basant Ki Var resonates everywhere. In cold, wintery New England, the promise of spring is enough to send the spirit soaring !


Blogger Kulbir Singh said...

Dear Sarpreet Ji,
Sat Sri Akal

First of all I must congratulates you for developing and keeping alive the site "Gurmatsangeetproject" site.
I think, I once told you that it was my dream to develop such site ever since I learnt about internet in late eighties.

I also have similar views to yours about Basant ki Var and every year eagerly wait for the month of February/March, as I was under the impression that this tradition of reciting Basant is for one month only, that is Falgun (Faggan) month. However it is a good news given by you that now I can enjoy this beautiful raag for 2 months and not 1 month.
These days our Head Granthi Ji (Gyani Gurjeet Singh Ji) is on holiday (gone to Mohali India to attend his younger bother's marriage) and our youth got the opportunity of doing Sunday congregation seva (doing Asa Di var and Sunday main Divaan). These day I was asking children to get ready with one/two good shabads in Basant Raag for the coming month.

I always enjoyed listening to the Kirtan down-loaded from you site, especially classical Raags from puratan Ragis, as I have personally listened to these Ragis during my childhood (in Delhi). Every year I specially used to go to Chandigarh to listen to (and record) 3 days Kirtan Darbar at Sector 21 Nirankari Darbar, (not Nakli Nirankaris) 29, 30 and 31st January. At that time I had spool type tape recorder (Grundig - Germany). I can't now trace these recordings ever since I moved from India to Australia in 1989.

Currently, Bhai Sahib Rai Singh Ji is the best of the present time Ragis. My these views are shared by my wife, daughter and other friends whom I have given the CD of Bhai Rai Singh Ji (down-loaded from your site and distributed to my friend circle).

My other passion is that whenever I get the opportunity to go to India, I make it a point to go to Rakab Ganj during day time and listen to the Kirtan of the young students at Gurmat Vidyalaya.

Keep doing your Seva of distributing this tradition and heritage to our younger generation. Because of Sevadaars like you I am sure that Sikh tradition of Gurmat Sangeet to always blossom.

In my opinion Gurmat Sangeet is good (and a must) for children living in the countries outside India. In addition to upliftment of their spiritual life, it also enhances their three main qualities; i.e.., self esteem, leadership skills and communication skills. And these are the skills are required to be successful in the competitive environment of western countries.

May Waheguru bless you.

Kulbir Singh Malhotra

February 1, 2005 at 6:14 PM


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