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

Friday, September 23, 2011

ko banajaaro raam ko maeraa ttaa(n)ddaa laadhiaa jaae rae

September 22 2011

At the Seattle Gurmat Sangeet Darbar, earlier this year, I had the good fortune to listen to Nampreet Singh, a fine young Kirtaniya from Vancouver. Nampreet, who has become a good friend over the years epitomizes the renaissance that is now evident in the world of Gurmat Sangeet. He has been diligently learning the Dilruba and the Taus and has poured a tremendous amount of effort in preserving Puratan Compositions, sung by Ragis such as Bhai Santa Singh Ji, Bhai Avtar Singh Bhai Gurcharan Singh Ji and many others.

We first encountered Nampreet Singh in Toronto in 2005, when for the first time Mehr Kaur and Amrit Kaur traveled outside of Boston to sing at a Gurmat Sangeet Darbar. They had diligently worked on their first Partaal in Raga Basant Bahar, which we had painstakingly tried to recreate from Gian Singh Abbotabad Ji's book. The only probelm was that we didn't have a tabla player! Inderpreet Singh, who lived in Toronto then and was one of the organizers of the Darabr suggested the multi-talented Nampreet Singh, who counted playing the Jori among his skills!

Recordings from this event can be found at

This was a hugely important trip for us in many ways. We met many young kirtaniye in Toronto, who have become close friends and integral members of the extended Gurmat Sangeet Project family, Rupinder Singh, Onkar Singh, Gursev Singh and several others. The experience motivated and energized the Boston kids greatly and in a sense provided the impetus and fuel for our future activities. That same year we organized our First Annual Gurmat Sangeet Darbar in which we honored S. Harbhajan Singh Ji.Several Toronto Kirtaniye including Nampreet Singh attended this Darbar.

Over the years, young Kirtaniye like Nampreet have continued to energize and inspire me beyond measure. Their love for Gurmat Sangeet, their humility,their staggering effort as they immerse themselves deeper into Gurmat Sangeet while pursuing busy careers and the deep sense of camaraderie that binds them together has to be seen to be believed!

But anyway !! Back to Seattle !! Six years after our first meeting Nampreet Singh, Accompanied by Preet Singh on Taus and our own Shamsher Singh on Jori, takes the stage at the Renton Gurdwara Sahib in Seattle. The first shabad he sings moves me beyond measure. It is 'Kou Banjaro Ram Ki Mera Tanda Ladya Jae Re'. The melody is profound, melancholy and beautiful, in a way that gives you goosebumps. Later I ask him.... Is that a Bhai Santa Singh Bandish ? The style is unmistakeable. Nampreet smiles and nods.

When I get back to Boston, he sends me the recording by Bhai Santa Singh Ji, which I would like to share with you:

Bhai Sahib Santa Singh Ji

In the past few months, I have listened to this recording innumerable times, pondering the beauty of the shabad and its profundity. Marveling at the Rasa that Bhai Santa Singh Ji's rendition is drenched in. I have tried to sing it, trying capture a fraction of the magic. I want to gift this great treasure to every young kirtaniya I know !!

gauVI bYrwgix rivdws jIau ]
Gt AvGt fUgr Gxw ieku inrguxu bYlu hmwr ]
rmeIey isau iek bynqI myrI pUMjI rwKu murwir ]1]
ko bnjwro rwm ko myrw tWfw lwidAw jwie ry ]1] rhwau ]
hau bnjwro rwm ko shj krau b´wpwru ]
mY rwm nwm Dnu lwidAw ibKu lwdI sMswir ]2]
aurvwr pwr ky dwnIAw iliK lyhu Awl pqwlu ]
moih jm fMfu n lwgeI qjIly srb jMjwl ]3]
jYsw rMgu ksuMB kw qYsw iehu sMswru ]
myry rmeIey rMgu mjIT kw khu rivdws cmwr ]4]1]

ik oa(n)kaar sathigur prasaadh ||
urree bairaagan ravidhaas jeeo ||
ghatt avaghatt dd
oogar ghanaa eik niragun bail hamaar ||
eeeae sio eik baenathee maeree poo(n)jee raakh muraar ||1||
o banajaaro raam ko maeraa ttaa(n)ddaa laadhiaa jaae rae ||1|| rehaao ||
ho banaj
aaro raam ko sehaj karo byaapaar ||
ai raam naam dhhan laadhiaa bikh laadhee sa(n)saar ||2||
uravaar paar kae dhaaneeaa likh laehu aal pathaal ||
ohi jam dda(n)dd n laagee thajeelae sarab ja(n)jaal ||3||
aisaa ra(n)g kasu(n)bh kaa thaisaa eihu sa(n)saar ||
aerae rameeeae ra(n)g majeet(h) kaa kahu ravidhaas chamaar ||4||1||

And here is my attempt to translate this shabad for my dear readers to enjoy :

First a glossary that lists all the difficult words in the shabad :

ghatt Path
avaghatt Difficult
oogar Mountainous
aa Extremely
iragun Feeble
ail Bullock
aar Mine
eeeae Waheguru
io To
baenathee Request
oo(n)jee Capital (used for trading)
aakh Preserve
uraar Waheguru
banajaaro Trader
aa(n)ddaa Caravan of carts loaded with goods for trading
laadhiaa Loaded
sehaj Contentment; Calmness
aapaar Trade
ikh Poison
aar The world
uravaar This world
aar The next world
aaneeaa The one who bestows
ikh laehu Write
l pathaal Nonsense
jam dda(n)dd The punishment that the cycle of death and rebirth represents
aagee Catch (as in getting infected by a disease)
eelae Renounce
sarab All
aal Attachments and worries
aisaa Like
ra(n)g Color
u(n)bh The safflower, whose color is not fast or permanent
aisaa Just Like
aar World
eet(h) The Madder, whose color is fast and permanent
aar A low caste (leather-worker)

Translation :

Gauree Bairaagan, Ravi Daas Jee:
My path is very treacherous and mountainous, and all I have is this feeble bullock.
Oh Lord, I beseech to preserve my capital ||1||
Is there any other merchant of God that I can join? My cargo is loaded and I am leaving. ||1||Pause||
I am the merchant of God; I trade in peace and contentment
While I have loaded the wealth of the Lord's Name; the world deals in poison. ||2||
You, who know this world and the next: write what you will about me.
I don’t care; the cycle of birth and death will not strike me; I have cast off all entanglements. ||3||
This world is like the temporary color of the safflower. The color of my Lord's Love is permanent, like the dye of the madder.
So says Ravi Daas, the tanner. ||4||1||

Reflection :

In a few simple and powerful words Bhagat Ravidas Ji cautions us about the perils that we face in our journey. The feeble ox, laden with our capital, our senses that enable action, is a metaphor for the human condition. Temptation abounds; Kaam, Krodh, Lobh, Moh, Ahankar; they surround us constantly! It is easy to despair, but Bhagat Ji gives us hope. Seeking the company of other like-minded ‘traders’, who seek to ‘trade’ in God’s name and grace, earning not monetary profit but peace and contentment, is the only way to negotiate this treacherous, mountainous path! Further, Bhagat Ji strengthens our resolve even more by reassuring us that if we embrace this ‘trade’ in the company of other ‘traders’ we can be liberated from the cycle of birth and death and forever imbued in the permanent color of Waheguru.

At a very personal level, this shabad makes me ponder the perils of pride. Many of us have a tendency to become vain and arrogant if we do anything that is good or worthwhile. Our piety, our willingness to share, our desire to serve can very easily be perverted by Haumai. After all this ‘bullock’ is very feeble. Sangat is just about the only thing that can save us from this grave peril. Ever since I have heard this sublime shabad, the lines : Gt AvGt fUgr Gxw ieku inrguxu bYlu hmwr ] rmeIey isau iek bynqI myrI pUMjI rwKu murwir ]1], forever resonate in my mind.

A few words on the composition :

This is a most beautiful composition, sung in Bhai Santa Singh Ji’s inimitable style. There are several flavors of Raga Gauri in the Sri Guru Granth Sahib. This shabad is in Raga Gauri Bairagan. The bandish however does not really conform to the definitions of Raga Gauri Bairagan that I have been able to find. Listening to the shabad, I definitely ‘feel’ that it belongs to the Bhairon Parent Scale or Thaat. Both Gauri and Gauri Bairagan belong to the Bhairon Thaat. However, Gauri Bairagan employs both flavors of the Dhaivat, while Gauri employs only the Komal Dhaivat. To my ears at least, this bandish eschews the Shuddha Dhaivat, which makes me think that this is Gauri rather than Gauri Bairagan. Unfortunately the plot thickens further because Bhai Sahib Ji also slips in the Tivar Madhyam when he sings the line ko bnjwro rwm ko myrw tWfw lwidAw jwie ry Unfortunately both Gauri and Gaur Bairagan do not employ the Tivar Madhaym at all! The Tivar Madhyam features prominently in Gauri Poorbi, yet another flavor of Gauri. That said, this bandish ‘feels’ nothing like Gauri Poorbi. In Gian Singh Abbotabad’s book however, I did find under Gauri Poorbi, a bandish that is close to the one that Bhai Santa Singh Ji sings. It liberally uses the Shudh Madhyam, which is really not a valid note in Gauri Poorbi! At this point I must throw up my hands and leave the parsing of the correct Raga to someone more adept than I J I can say this much with confidence; this is a beautiful bandish, in some flavor of Gauri, well worth listening to and appreciating.

Thank you Nampreet Singh! For making this beautiful composition come alive by singing it. As a special bonus, here is Nampreet Singh’s rendition from Seattle.

Preet Singh, Nampreet Singh and Shamsher Singh


Blogger Gurmat Gian Group said...

Bhai Santa Singh is wonderful.

September 24, 2011 at 7:39 PM

Blogger Gurmat Gian Group said...

Sarbpreet ji, in Raag Gauri Bairagan, both the Dhaivats are Not used. Rather Both Nishads with komal Dhaivat is the norm.

September 27, 2011 at 7:50 PM

Blogger malhimanjit said...

This shabad is masterpiece of bhai santa singh.veerji can u send me recording of this shabad by Nampreet singh .I m unable to download this .

May 7, 2012 at 9:35 PM

Blogger mUNISH said...

Thank you so much veer ji... I was originally looking for the lyrics of this Shabad, but found so much more here! Thanks again ji.

February 8, 2017 at 11:25 PM


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