Kids Corner


Beyond The Letter Of The 'Law'





In my formative years in the old Malaya (now Malaysia, since 1947), a great deal of my inspiration and information about Sikhi came from kavishars (poet-singers, a capella), dhaadis (bards) and kirtan-parcharaks (minstrel-preachers) of old.

In fact I remember eagerly waiting for, and then attending sessions by luminaries like dhaadi Sohan Singh Seetal, the Sant Rain, as well as a number of our own home-grown kavishars who used to recite ballads and epics.

In fact our beloved Sant Baba Sohan Singh was a great kavishar/poet and used to recite stirring ballads based on Sikh history. My own Bapu ji was sometimes urged to 'take the stage' with accompaniment on the dholki to sing Sikh ballads.

I remember one very stirring ballad sung by my father: Opposing Moghul commander and also childhood friend, Painday Khan challenges Guru Hargobind Sahib to a one-to-one battle to decide the outcome of a battle! Such stirring stories, and also the basis of furthering Punjabi to our younger generations - all from the stage in the presence of Guru Granth Sahib.

Raagis like Bhai Gopal Singh used to sing lovely dharmic kavitas (religious poetry). One that springs to mind is 'simran kar lai man mere / paap qatangay sabh tere', often requested by the sangat! Simple Punjabi and simple advice to get closer to the Guru.

As time has gone by, we have become more rigid. Under the guise of 'kacchi bani' (apocrypha, non-scripture) anything except recitation of gurbani is now increasingly forbidden, except, to my knowledge some country gurdwaras in Malaysia.

In a kirtan 'hajri' (performance, literally ‘attendance in His Court’) for example, in Delhi recently, I was rudely interrupted by some young upstarts to stop singing 'kacchi bani'. Our group was reciting 'Waheguru Simran' which starts with a line - 'Waheguru bol pyarea ...'! I was dumbfounded. Then when I tried to explain what 'kacchi bani' really was, I was shouted down!

(Kacchi bani was the bani which was being spouted by relatives and Guru 'wannabes' who tried to pass off their verses as 'dhur ki bani' which led to the compilation of the Adi Granth by Guru Arjan. Kacchi bani is pointedly condemned, for example, by Guru Amar Das in Anand Sahib.)

No doubt, it is specified in our Rehat Maryada that from a gurdwara stage only bani from Guru Sahib, references from Bhai Gurdas and Dasam Granth  are allowed. Our balladeers and dharmic kavita renderers of old used to skirt rigid interpretations of what can be said or sung from a Guru-darbar stage - and thank the Guru, they did. They provided my generation in Malaysia some memorable and inspired learning!

I stress that in the old Malaya, kavitas and ballads which threw light on some aspect of Gur-itihas (the lives of the Gurus) or urged one to get closer to the Guru, were all allowed - and for the better. It allowed further creativity and it was a great educational tool in Sikhi. I remember with nostalgia the singing of 'dharmic' poems rendered by others who wished me to put them to music.

In the times of Guru Gobind Singh Ji, we know for a fact that kavi-darbars used to take place and Guru Sahib was the patron of some great poets. There is mention of 52 poets in His darbar.

Sikhi artistic creativity is now being suppressed. Youth are not given much incentive to produce their own kavitas based on Sikhi and Sikh history and there are no readily available venues to educate Sikh youth in basic Punjabi through this art form globally.

Some will say that such activities must be held in some other venue, such as the Langar Hall. I remember, about a decade ago, I requested management of the Vermont Gurdwara in Los Angeles to sing a dharmic kavita on Vaisakhi. A beautiful ballad - 'daam to na dey sakoon / bheta manjoor karo / suno, Daya Singh, jo jo bhet main charrha-oonga.' I was not allowed to. Management suggested that I sing it in the Langar Hall, but nothing happened because the Langar Hall (then) was not technically equipped for such activities.

I suggested the same to management at the Cochin Gurdwara Sahib this year but was quite firmly told that only gurbani was allowed. That was the 'law'!

I know of fellow kirtaniyas who sing stirring one-liners or couplets which can bring a sangat in line with 'naam' but they do not, generally, because of these unnecessary restrictions, except in certain gurdwaras in Malaysia where they are still allowed to do so.

Mercifully, there are friends who allow me to sing such kavitas in their private programs in their homes.

Thus, these days it is quite frustrating, even the mere mentioning of such issues,  because one is not able to put forth such views to responsible bodies, like the Akal Takht, who are themselves turning impotent due to the hirelings who now run such august institutions.

June 10, 2016

Conversation about this article

1: Ajit Singh Batra (Pennsville, New Jersey, USA), June 10, 2016, 10:35 AM.

Sikhism does not believe that Creation itself is an illusion. "Aad sach, jugad sach, ..." The human body is a temple and the mind is the priest. Humans should not suppress any spiritual activity so long it serves Waheguru.

2: Sangat Singh (Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia), June 10, 2016, 8:13 PM.

Dya ji, these tykes want to appear holier-than-thou. If they attended Manjeet Singh ji's satsang class, they would be all right. Looking forward to your 'darshan' soon.

3: Harpreet Singh  (Delhi, India ), June 25, 2016, 2:15 PM.

I really agree with Dya singh ji. I also so much miss godly love=filled Sikh poems or songs like 'prem vaali gulli viccho(n) koyi koyi lungda'. By singing or listening this song, for example, we remember so many great Sikh martyrs like Baba Deep Singh, Bhai Mati Das, Bhai Dyala, etc. Sardarni Taranjit Kaur sings poems written by Bhai Vir Singh so lovingly in Bhai Vir Singh Sadan, New Delhi. We Sikhs have also almost stopped singing ghazals of Bhai Nand Lal as they are in Persian and we Sikhs and our Gurdwara managements have no time or inclination to learn or make arrangements to teach these. We must remember how much Kalgidhar Sahib used to love Bhai Nand Lal and his compositions.

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