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Music in Sikhism, Sikh Music

Music in Sikhism

Devotional music has tremendous power over the heart and mind of men. It frees them a state of sorrow and depression and shakes off anxiety and lends enormous peace of mind. The listener is trasported to a new world.

Guru Nanak has described music as a means of attaining spirtual joy and transcendental bliss. He adopted music as a means for moulding the spirtual, mystical and temporal life of the devotees.

Our system of music is based on rage and tala. According to Sikh courier, "the raga divides the octave in hundreds of different ways, each suited to the expression of particular mood, whereas the tala reconciles the varying pulses of a thousand different lines through a complx structure of rhythm."

Before the birth of Guru Nanak, other saints of the Bhakti movement had also composed songs in various ragas and rhythems, which were sung to the accompaniment of musical instruments in the form of a kirtan. But Guru Nanak used several kinds of verses, different types of poetry, and a number of ragas, raginis and gharas and originated many more metres. He rendered for the first time mystic poetry in the style of classical music and choase such ragas as would give tranquillity to the mind and sublimate the unusual nature of man through greater rythem.

In his compositions, Guru Nanak used 19 ragas out of which ten are morning ragas, four mid-day ragas and three evening ragas. The other two ragas are seasonal. The successors of Guru Nanak used traditional ragas. However, they introduced some changes to provde different melodies and to reflact intensity of divine aspiration. In the ragmala are mentioned 6 major ragas and 30 raginis (wives) and 48 sons, making a total of 84. In the Adi Granth, 31 ragas are used.

The singing of the hymns of the Gurus is called Shabad Kirtan, which literally means singing the prases of God; therefore kirtan is divine music. Kirtan music is like a precious diamond; it is full of bliss and has many qualities. A person taking part in the kirtan is saved of all troubles and all his problems are solved. Music is of great value as it not only refines the feelings of the person taking part in the kirtan but also moulds his character. It has also the effect of preserving and restoring health and purifies the soul. It is a significant mode of devotion and brings comfort and bliss to the devotee.

Guru Nanak attached great importance to the singing of divine music. Kirtan is not mere mechanical singing of hymns; its meaning and true significance must be understood. The devotee must enter into the spirit of the music and sing kirtan in a technically correct manner. Its language, grammer, poetry and art should be perfect in all respects. The kirtan should bring out clearly the purpose, scope and phlosophical content of the hymns set to instrumental music. Guru Nanak has attached great importance to this aspect of the kirtan. He said:

"It is not the raga nad
If the thought of one God is not in one's mind,
with mind attuned, dance, keeping the
steps in tune with the Infinite
with the fear of the Lord in mind, is the
real tuing of the dance;
And such a fear should always be in one's mind
everyday sitting and rising."

                                - Rag Asa

Thus a devotee who listens to the kirtan with a pure heart and mind casts off jealousy, ill-will and enmity. The kirtan removes all the dirt and filth in one's thinking and shakes off the ego. Sri Guru Arjan Dev Ji said :

"O brother, if you want permanent bliss,
You should remain in the company of the
saints as ordained by the Guru.
Where you remember only the Name of the God.
In their company you cross the ocean of life,
knowledge is of great significance of all the elements.
Of meditation; the most important is His meditation.
Of all sounds, the most important is the kirtan.
When a devotee meets the Guru, he sings the
praises of the Lord, sayeth Nanak."

                                - Basant

Kirtan should be sung day and night. Only the time spent in kirtan is fruitful. A discipline should pray to God for strength and courage and sing Hs praises.

Kirtan implies "words, shabad set to music and rhythm, utilising the experience communicating quality of singing, objectified emotional character of raga, the multiple concept of tal and the purposeful, meaningful and inspirational character of bani." Kirtan is the invaluable jewel, which is full of bliss and manyfold virtues.

Music is, therefore, regarded as the easiest way to achieve the true objective of human life. Sri Guru Arjan Dev Ji said:

"Whosoever listens kirtan of Hari;
Whosoever sings kirtan of Hari
Misery cannot overtake that person."

                                - Rag Gauri

The Guru had become the minstrel of the Lord to sing His praises and carry His message to the mankind to cure humanity of all its ills, the only way to spread His Name. Sri Guru Nanak Dev Ji siad:

"I do not know what to sing
I sing what he commandeth me."

The Kirtan, the conflunce of inner experience, emotion, rythem and music, is a spontaneous outburst of sublimity and spiritual inspiration.

In the words of K. R. Srinivasa Iyengar, "If life is transcended in poetry; if poetry is transcended in bani (with its mystical and incantatory overtones); then bani itself - in its turn - is transcended by the unstruck melody or wordless music of anahata nada. It is a return to the home of the womb of all 'Omkar' who, through the word, enfranchises all- the meaning of whose wordless music is the essence of the three worlds."

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