Verses in the Guru Granth Sahib are based on rare raags and taals


Bhai Baljit Singh’s concert highlighted Guru Granth Sahib’s strong link with classical music

Bhai Baljit Singh’s concert highlighted Guru Granth Sahib’s strong link with classical music

Gaiety Theatre in Shimla was the venue for an unusual memorial concert recently. Established in 1887, it is the oldest extant venue for theatre in India. But this time it played host to a concert of ‘gurbani’ by Bhai Baljit Singh. Though he is based in Delhi, he originally belongs to the Namdhari tradition of Bhaini Sahib in Ludhiana.

The 10 Sikh Gurus had a strong link with classical music — each of the nearly 6,000 verses in the Guru Granth Sahib are based on a raag. May be they felt the verses then would have a deeper impact on the mind and soul.

Today, the Guru Granth Sahib serves as an invaluable source of some rare and popular Hindustani raags from the 15th to 17th century. It also contains a Raagmala that lists these raags and the link among them. The opening line affirms that Bhairav was the first raag created; each of the six primary raags were linked with other raags similar in construction or, more importantly, similar in the mood that they evoked. Sadly, this theory was denigrated with time, and it was erroneously assumed, in this writer’s view, that a newer form of classification was required, resulting in the currently used ‘thaat’ system.

Raags listed in the Raagmala like Bangali, Gandhari, Devgandhari, Shyama, Jaldhara are almost extinct now; or used only in conjunction with other raags such as Jaldhara Kedara, Shyam Kalyan, and Bangali Bhairav. The structure of even popular extant raags differs in the Sikh tradition; the Dhanasri referred in the Guru Granth does not really match the two types of Dhanasri that are performed today. Other raags such as Asa, Sindhura and Sorath, specific to Punjab and mentioned frequently in the holy book are known, but rare today. Infact raag Sorath, which is very similar to Des, but for a characteristic phrase not used in Des, has in living memory been sung only by Ustad Bade Ghulam Ali Khan and his disciples. Incidentally, Pt. Pratyush Bannerji of the Senia Shahjahanpur tradition is conversant with two or three ancient instrumental compositions in Sorath. One wonders about the link between his gharana and Punjab.

Fateh Singh on the tabla.
| Photo Credit: Shailaja Khanna

Connect with the guru

Bhai Baljit Singh started his concert with a composition by Sufi Baba Farid (after whom the erstwhile princely state of Faridkot is said to be named). He had composed the verse, which talks about the connect with the Guru, in Kedara. His second piece, the hymn ‘Jo har ka pyaara, so sab na ka pyaara’ (he who is beloved of Hari, is loved by everyone) was in raag Bihagada, as prescribed in the holy book. Expanding each piece with loving care; Bhai Baljit concluded his recital with Guru Govind Singh’s ‘Jai jai jai jagkaran, shristi ubhaaran’, used to be sung during aarti in gurudwara Patna Sahib. Sadly this tradition is now defunct. Again displaying his creativity, He had tuned this in Sorath, in Ek taal, singing with a passion and vigour that had the small audience in awe.

“When we perform for the Lord; singing only the ‘sthayi antara’ won’t do justice, we prefer to slowly explore the verse musically and soulfully,” he explained.

Bhai Baljit Singh was accompanied by his daughter Laxmi on the vocals, on the tabla by his son Fateh Singh, who is currently being trained by Pt. Yogesh Samsi of the Punjab gharana, and by a disciple from the U.K. on the taarshehnai, an instrument peculiar to the Sikh tradition, which looks like a fretted shehnai with a trumpet.

The Delhi-based reviewer specialises in classical music.

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