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

Wednesday, May 10, 2006


Hopkinton, MA
May 10, 2006

Everybody who knows him, apprently calls him Virji. I have never met him, but I do know him.

It was probably 1989, or maybe early 1990. I had finished grad school and had moved to Milwaukee from New York. I was fortunate to find in Milwaukee, a few individuals who had a profound impact on my life. One of them was Bhai Sahib Nazar Singh Ji, who initiated me into the joys of the Guru's Sangeet.

But this article is not about Bhai Sahib. I will write about another time.

This article is about Veerji, who I was introduced to by my good friend Dr. Ravinderjit Singh, who now lives in Rochester, MN. The introduction was through a scratchy 90 minute cassette. The recording quality was quite poor. There were pops, clicks and a persistent hiss. And that indescribable sound of an ancient cassette recorder stopping and starting, which had insinuated itself into the recording. Numerous times.

But the kirtan. There was something special in it. It was clearly brimming with love for the Guru.

In my personal experience, there is a quality associated with Kirtan that completely transcends virtuosity, training, voice and preparedness. This quality is really hard to describe; it can only be felt. Those of you who are Kirtaniyas will know exactly what I am talking about !

You sing the same shabad. Over and over again. On may different occasions. Maybe one time, out of a hundred, if you are lucky, you achieve it. Again, it has nothing to do with your voice, your proficiency in Raag, or lack thereof. It has everything to do with Gur Parsad. On that rare occasion, you feel a conenction to the Guru. Your voice drips with Amrit Ras. The Sangat feels it. You do for sure ! It is different.

It is this evanescent, ephemeral connection that every Kirtaniya seeks. The bliss that results when it is achieved is beyond description.

It is this connection that I discerned in Veerji's Kirtan when I first heard it. I suspect that the fact that I can find this connection rarely, if ever, speaks to my inadequacies as a human being and a Sikh. Listening to Veerji, takes me halfway there at least !

I was so enamored of his singing when I frist heard him. I could listen to nothing else. The scratchy tape became scratchier. I starting pestering Ravinderjit Singh and didn't stop until he convinced a friend to part with his entire collection of shabads by Virji, recorded painstakingly over the years.

I remembering excitedly sharing copies with anyone who remotely cared about music. The cognoscenti of the Milwaukee Hindustani Classical scene, who I was starting to hang out with. A dear friend who was similarly immersed in Gurnmat Sangeet and very knowledgeable. The feedback was mixed, but I didn't care. My erudite firend dismissed the recordings as being sung based on 'old film songs'. I didn't care. The connection was what mattered to me.

Several years later, I wrote to Veerji. Told him how profoundly his singing of the Gurus' Bani had impacted me. I asked him if he would ever consider visiting the US. I got a reply from him. It was clearly the work of a mystic. More than a letter. Beautiful prose that read like poetry, which I read haltingly and cherished.

Snippets of information. His name is Prem Singh. Veerji is not a professional kirtaniya. He is actually an entrepreneur in Amritsar, who apparently doesn't pay much attention to his business. Singing the Guru's Bani. Teachig children. Disappearing for weeks on end, to be found, connected to the Guru in some remote oasis.

I ran into S. Mohinder Singh 'Thumri', a Sikh musician from Amritsar at Bridgewater, NJ. After I heard him sing a beautiful shabad in Raga Bihagda, I remarked that I had a similar shabad sung by Veerji. Mohinder Singh Ji acknowledged him as a student.

Over the years, I have had no further contact with Veerji. I have been to Amritsar numerous times, but somehow never met him.

His beautiful Kirtan, which I am digitizing that this very moment, has stayed with me. It will be up on the Gurmat Sangeet Project website at :

After all these years, as my journey into Gurmat Sangeet continues, I return to Veerji's Kirtan. Often.

Partucularly when my heart is heavy.

It never fails to work its magic. Everything else ceases to matter. I am connected to the Guru again.

Thank you Veerji !