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The Song of The Sikhs




The following is the topic for discussion for this week's ROUNDTABLE OPEN FORUM # 76


Hands down, my favorite part of Marine Corps. Basic Training was drill. Performing rifle movements, marching patterns, singing cadences … and of all those things, the evening jog cadence with our Senior Drill Instructor is what I miss most.

I still remember the Marine Corps. Hymn – a short composition which speaks about the history and mentality of the United States Marine. We chanted this in our squad bay (where everyone slept and kept their gear) every night before bed:

From the hall of Montezuma
To the shores of Tripoli
We will fight our country’s battles
In the air, on land, and sea
First to fight for right and freedom
And to keep our honor clean
We are proud to claim the title
Of United States Marine

Man, that still gives me chills.

You could say then, that hymns and chants are ingrained in me. One of my favorite parts of each faith are the hymns, chants, and mantras associated with worship, and the Sikhs really go over the top.

Called kirtan, the Sikhs perform rhythmic recitations of scripture from the Guru Granth Sahib on a daily basis. Indeed, one of the three “pillars” of Sikhi is Naam Jappo, meditation on God’s name, and this is often done via kirtan.

Here is a recitation of the Mool Mantar, which is the opening of the Guru Granth Sahib and the Sikh ideal of God (it also includes the beginning lines of the Jabji Sahib) - CLICK HERE for the experience!

Gorgeous, huh? Man I could put this stuff on “repeat” all day, and often do.

The Mool Mantar is the first composition made by Guru Nanak upon enlightenment at age 30. Like the Marine Corps. Hymn for the Marines, the Mool Mantar is the root and foundation of Sikh beliefs because of its universal description of Sikhi concepts. I listen to this every day and it’s my goal to memorize the prayer in the original language of Gurbani.

One could say that the Sikh faith was founded on kirtan, hymns that sing the praises of Waheguru  (the God of all creation) and the spiritual life. When Guru Nanak began his teaching, he traveled thousands of miles accompanied by his long time friend, Mardana, and together with Mardana’s rabab (a stringed instrument) they sang the hymns that would later become the foundation of the Guru Granth Sahib. Later, the Gurus continued the tradition of kirtan as a method of teaching the faith and helping the sangat (Sikh congregation/ community), remember the history of their faith. Sikhi then, and the Guru Granth Sahib, is one continuous melody.

Singing the Kirtan of His Praises, my mind has become peaceful;
The sins of countless incarnations have been washed away.
I have seen all the treasures within my own mind;
Why should I now go out searching for them?

Guru Granth Sahib

Today kirtan is performed in homes and gurdwaras all over the world and have become a beautiful art form.

I had the opportunity to watch and listen to kirtan last Sunday at my Mentor’s gurdwara in Charlotte, North Carolina, U.S.A., and the experience was wonderful. For the first hour, children of the sangat (community/ congregation) sang shabads (hymns) from the Guru Granth Sahib, using an assortment of classical instruments, including a Harmonium and a pair of Tablas, a small set of drums usually played using the palm and/or finger tips. I want a set, dear wife, in case you're reading ...

These instruments are sometimes accompanied by other instruments - Punjabi, western or from other parts of the world. The shabads are arranged in chapter form called raags (musical themes). Each raag (31 in all) is associated with an emotion or disposition such as “balance,” “motivation,” or “sadness.” From the raags are 17 taals (musical beats) which create the atmosphere for each raag.

In this way, the shabads (and therefore, the Guru Granth Sahib) touch the individual in a very personal way because it confirms one’s feelings and uplifts/ challenges them - helping them grow and connect - toward higher meditation on and connection with the Name (Waheguru, the awesome light that dispels all darkness).

Children often perform kirtan as a way to better learn the language of Guru Granth Sahib and, because the shabads of kirtan speak about the principles of the faith, it serves as a great way to learn about their religion. After the children finish, the adults take their turn and show them how it’s done. I sat among the sangat and listened with my eyes closed.

It was like my heart and mind were being wooed. It was that glorious listening to kirtan. 



I hope you’ll take a few minutes and listen to kirtan. Youtube is full of examples.

If you are a Sikh and listen to kirtan (or even sing!), how does it affect your spiritual life?

And what about those of other faiths (or perhaps no faith), how important is music for your personal meditations/ thoughts during the day?

Please share your thoughts and comments by posting them below.


[Courtesy: BeliefNet. Edited for]

September 14, 2011

Conversation about this article

1: Baldev Singh (Bradford, United Kingdom), September 14, 2011, 6:25 PM.

The features on are like winning the lottery, in a spiritual context ...

2: Balkar Singh (Birmingham, United Kingdom), September 14, 2011, 6:39 PM.

Indeed, kirtan is the heart and soul of a Sikh's spiritual life. And what a gift from our Gurus! In a dish of poetry and music, we have been given the elixir of life. This, more than anything else, sets us apart as a people ... free of all rituals.

3: Harihar Kaur  (Wisconsin, U.S.A.), September 14, 2011, 6:45 PM.

An insightful and lovingly written piece. Thank you, Andrew, for this most thoughtful description of the very blood that flows through our veins.

4: Sangat Singh (Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia ), September 15, 2011, 12:03 AM.

Kirtan wipes off dust from the soul. "Gun-gaavat tayree utras mail" [GGS:289.2]

5: Bicky Singh (Ontario, Canada), September 15, 2011, 12:54 PM.

Speaking from personal experience, I can say that kirtan sung in its true form has a very profound and enlightening effect. I have found that listening to kirtan done in the proper raag has a penetrating effect on the soul. We should try to educate our up and coming raagis to try and sing kirtan in the way it was meant to be, rather than trying to accommodate preferences in singing in `pop` tunes. Once I hear kirtan sung in that tune, my mind actually tries to remember the movie from which it came from - detracting from the original purpose. On the other hand, for example, listening to kirtan in Basant raag has the effect of rejuvenating me and can seriously feel as though there are flowers blossoming all around. Right now, the majority of the raagis are in their profession for the quick buck rather than helping others enjoy the essence.

6: Ajit Singh Batra (Pennsville, New Jersey, U.S.A..), September 15, 2011, 2:07 PM.

Kirtan invokes spirituality in Sikhs. It is the kirtan that takes us to gurdwaras. That is why the gurdwara service begins with, and revolves around kirtan.

7: Prakash Singh Bagga (India), September 18, 2011, 12:50 PM.

Kirtan is the essence of the Sikh way of life. Kirtan means words of praise for the Creator, or more correctly, it relates to Har(i) Jas(u). Kirtan is either listened to or sung. Kirtan singing is a precious gift from the Guru. Intent listening to kirtan anywhere and anytime has a positive impact on our thought processes, and aligns us with our Guru's words. We should all inculcate the habit of intent listening of kirtan.

8: Aman Kaur (London, United Kingdom), September 22, 2011, 8:34 AM.

I have been attending the GT 1588 symposiums at the School of Oriental and African Studies in London. Each has been an incredible experience, presented by learned people from around the world. But by far the most moving event of the series took place this weekend, when a Muslim Rababi of Bhai Mardana's tradition, Bhai Gulam Mohammed Chand, from Lahore, sang gurbani kirtan from memory, in raags such as Asa, Kaliyan and Bihagra. With some compositions over 250 years old, he moved the audience to tears when he explained the meaning of 'bilovanaa' as churning milk to make butter, in the same way that we recite naam to feel his love in our hearts. His lifetime of service to kirtan was heard, and felt by the full house present. The love for kirtan was clear in his booming voice, even in his 80s! A huge service and years of commitment go into feeling that bliss, and spending a couple of hours with one of Guru Nanak's rababis, it is evident what kirtan is meant to be.

9: Rajinder Singh (Lincoln, United Kingdom), September 26, 2011, 6:42 AM.

Yesterday, on 25 September, I heard kirtan performed by Bhai Gulam Mohammed Chand in London. I was so moved because I have been troubled by certain aspects in my meditation, but yesterday those issues got resolved. Bhai Sahib has been cut off from Sikhi mainstream, even though he has maintained Guru Nanak's message as it should be. It is a shame he is banned from doing kirtan in gurdwaras by the Akal Takht. Please, please go and see this guy and you will feel the power of the SatGuru. My sincere thanks to all the organisers who have brought Bhai Sahib to the U.K.

10: Sonia Benning (London, United Kingdom), September 26, 2011, 12:41 PM.

I was at GT1588 when I heard kirtan by Gulam Mohammed Chand yesterday. I am so sorry that petty small minded Sikhs will not let him do kirtan in gurdwaras. I just want to say in the end SatGuru will prevail. Ik Oankar is not just for Sikhs, but for all.

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The Song of The Sikhs"

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