Kids Corner


Dr. Gurnam Singh: Dean of Gurmat Sangeet




On May 6, 2006, the Darbar Sahib reverberated with the sounds of stringed instruments for the first time in living memory.

Dr. Gurnam Singh and a jatha of his students brought back the traditional Gurbani sounds. Five years down the line, Gurmat Sangeet strains now run across the state (and outside it). Students are eager to train in the Gurmat Sangeet discipline.

The Department of Gurmat Sangeet, Punjabi University, Patiala, recently made its (1,800 hours) music archives available online. Presently Dean, Faculty of Art and Culture as well as the founder professor and head of the department, Dr. Gurnam Singh, is one of the catalysts in the promotion of Gurbani music.

Here are some exxcerpts from an interview:

Q. Musicologists usually differ on the history and origin of Gurmat Sangeet. What do you say?

A. Gurmat Sangeet is an independent music tradition. It began with Guru Nanak. He propagated a spiritual message to people and began binding it in raags. The raags used were both the ones which were inspired by folk traditions and the ones that the Gurus created. Prominently, two traditions dominated. The Desi (folk) traditions (like Raag Majh and Asa) and Sanatani traditions (like Seri and Gauri).

Q. Some say Gurmat Sangeet existed before court music and some say it came after it.

A. It existed along with courts. Guru Nanak and Babar were contemporaries. The court musicians were called Babar Ke and Gurmat musicians were referred to as Guru Ke. While the former sang for the king, the latter sang for God. Folk traditions enriched classical patronage in darbars while the masses basked in the glory of Gurmat Sangeet.

Q. How did your own journey in Gurmat Sangeet start?

I was tutored by Prof. Tara Singh and by my father, Shiromani Raagi Bhai Uttam Singh. When I was a student, no one knew about Gurmat Sangeet. It was sad. Starting on the academic front, I knew Gurmat Sangeet had to be taken to the masses because people had forgotten the importance of the music from the Gurus. In 1993 Gurmat Sangeet was included in the music syllabi of colleges. In 1997 it was included in the syllabi of Punjabi University. The Gurmat Sangeet Chair was set up in 2003 and in 2005 the Department of Gurmat Sangeet was established at the University. The Gurmat Sangeet archives and library followed soon after. Things are just getting better with each day.

Q. Tell us about the role of stringed instruments in Gurmat Sangeet.

A. Gurmat Sangeet was always supposed to be accompanied by stringed instruments. Every Guru practised music with a stringed instrument. Guru Nanak gave us the Rabab, Guru Arjan developed the Sarandha, Guru Hargobind the Taus and Guru Gobind Singh the Dilruba and the Tambura. Stringed instruments complimented raag variations. The instruments originated through folk traditions and the Gurus developed them.

Q. What role do you think Gurmat Sangeet plays in youth today?

A. I have seen Gurmat Sangeet turn people's lives around. I also have students who came from poor backgrounds and small homes. They started learning Gurmat Sangeet and this has earned them respect and employment. Gurmat Sangeet is a strong tool in the propagation of Sikhism itself. Those who practise it get closer to God.

Q.There is a feeling that everyone is after it these days. Do you see any wrong trends emerging?

A. Yes. Gurmat Sangeet has become fashionable. Everyone practises it but very few understand it. When misinformed people dole out lessons in Gurmat Sangeet, sometimes blunders happen and people get the wrong message. Misinformed teachers abound. Also, many in the diaspora are duped in the name of Gurmat Sangeet. They are sold instruments at exorbitant prices. Since it's a fad now, they fall for it. It's a widespread evil and people are being cheated in the name of music.

Q. What are your department's future plans?

A. We are conducting research on stringed instruments. Particularly the Rabab. The Firandia rabab that was handed down to Bhai Mardana at Firanda is the original one. People often confuse it for the Kabuli, Afghani or the Kashmiri Rabab. We plan to bring out a dictionary of terminologies on Gurmat Sangeet and plan to launch online courses for students.


[Courtesy: Tribune]

April 26, 2011

Conversation about this article

1: I.J. Singh (New York, U.S.A.), April 26, 2011, 1:09 PM.

Readers should know that Dr. Hakam Singh from California has just recently endowed a Chair in Gurmat Sangeet at Hofstra university in New York. A candidate has been selected and is to start functioning this coming academic year in September 2011. Dr. Gurnam Singh's contribution is unmatched in gurmat sangeet as also in the new Hofsra initiative. Hofstra already has a Chair in Sikh studies established by the Bindra Foundation. Wonderful to see our community moving forward in creative ways to find its footing beyond the walls of the gurdwara and into the larger community. And, of course, Dr. Gurnam Singh's knowledge, depth and skill in Gurbani sangeet remain unmatched.

2: Harinder (Uttar Pardesh, India), April 26, 2011, 2:10 PM.

How about using guitars in shabad kirtan. Why do we have to cling to instruments of the past? Any reasons?

3: Gurinder Singh (San Diego, California, U.S.A.), April 26, 2011, 2:57 PM.

Harinder Singh ji: Our Gurus invented and used these instruments to play music, so they are worth clinging on to and propagating. The saranda was specifically designed by Guru Arjan. The Dilruba and the Taus were designed by Guru Gobind Singh. The Rabab was used by Bhai Mardana. You just have to hear the music a finely tuned classical instrument makes to judge for yourself. I have nothing against the guitar though, or any western instruments. Knowledge of any stringed instrument can help us reconnect with our musical heritage.

4: Tarminder Singh (Warwickshire, United Kingdom), April 28, 2011, 5:27 PM.

Harinder ji - the purpose is to hear gurbani kirtan in its most authentic form - the way it would have sounded in the time of our Gurus and therefore the way it was intended to sound. Think puraatan. The harmonium is a relatively modern European invention (French, I believe)!

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