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The Contribution of Sikh Gurus To Indian Musicology
- Prof. Sher Singh 'Sher'

Singing, laughing and weeping are the basic truths of humanity which is scientifically called Homo sapiens, meaning "Man the wise". Music is one of the finest products of cultured societies. Not only did the Sikh Gurus love music, but they were also great experts, exponents and patrons of this art, which has magical powers of charm even the wild animals and venomous snakes. The Sikh Gurus devotedly, meticulously and zealously cultivated and continued the ancient system of Indian musicology. All cultural products rooted in the misty and mysterious past have mythical but interesting husks around them. So, I feel it necessary to say something briefly about the mythical and historical root-theories of the origin of Indian music before I come to the contribution of the Sikh Gurus to it.

The technical word for music is "Sangeet" which originally included dancing, drama and vocal and instrumental music. The ancient Hindu Shastras say that Bharata rishi taught this art of Apsaras or the heavenly bodies who danced before Shiv. The rishi Narda taught music to men who sang and played on musical instruments. Thus the Gandharva Veda classified the musicians into three categories; the gandharva, the singers, the apsaras, the dancers; and the kinners, the instrumentalists. The perfect of Shudh singing of the ragas is considered so sacred that in a legend in the Abhuta Ramayana it is related that when rishi Narda became proud of his proficiency in all the arts of the world, Vishnu took him to a place where some beings were groaning in pain. On enquiry, they told him that originally they had been ragas and raganis but the rishi Narda sang them so ignorantly that the limbs of their bodies became separated and without the perfect singing of the ragas by Madhya, the originator of music, they could not be restored to their original forms. According to Indian musicology, there are six basic ragas and they have their numerous wives and children called raginis and sub-ragas. Siri Raga originated from the mouth of Shiva, Basant from Bamdev's Bhairav from Aghore's, Pancham from Tattpurkha's, Megh from Isan's and Nat Narayan from that of Parbati. This classification is based on the Shiva School of Thought with which the Bharata School also agrees. The Hunmant School of Thought claims Bhairav as the Supreme Raga instead of Siri. According to the Sidhsarsut School, Basant is the seventh Raga and they claim the origins of the basic Ragas to be from the oceans of salty and sweet waters, milk, butter, honey and wine. Indian musicologists have three basic divisions of notes : sampuran, of seven notes; in all called Sa, Rey, Ga, Ma, Pa, Da, Ni. Their technical names are Sharj, Rikhab, Gandhar, Madham, Puncham, Dhaivat and Nikhad and they are further divided into Vadi, Samvadi and Anuvadi which have three phases, Greh in the beginning of the song, Nyas in the end and Ansh repeatedly occurring and dominating the song. The mythology of Indian music ascribes the origin of seven notes to the tones of animals; Sa from the peacock, Re from the cow calling her calf, Ga from the bleat of the goat, Ma from the cry of the heron, Pa from the cry of the cuckoo, Da from the neigh of the horse and Ni from the trumpeting of the elephant. Historically speaking the most ancient words set to music are those of the Rigveda and the Samveda, besides the hymns of the Zendavesta, which are also chanted. The Samagha Temples still preserve the tradition of the music of Samveda. Music is mentioned in 600 B.C. in Chhandog Upnishad, panini, the immortal grammarian, ascribes the roots of the two sets of the sutras of Nrit to two persons, Silalin and Krishashivin. The earliest musical theory on a sound footing is found in the Rikspratishka which registers the three voices and seven scales of the Gamut and it was the time just preceded by Pythagoras who was working on the musical system of the Greeks. Ravana was also a great musician and according to the Ramayana, Laxman heard music from the palace of Sugriva. According to Tirmualaiya Naidu's Music in Ancient India, the Jatis of ragas have been described in the Ramayana, along with many musical instruments including the Vina, played with a plectrum or mizarb.

The Mahabharata mentions the Sewars and the Gandhara Grama. The Mahajanka Jatikas of Budhism also mention musical instruments and Brahemdatta's interest in music. The ancient Tamil Books, Putanantu, and Puttupaitu, treat of music and the paripaddal tells about the seven 'Palai' or seven modes of ancient Dravidian music. Silappadi Gaaram mentions "yal" "vina" and flute along with some ancient Tamil songs. A Jain Lexicon of 300 AD gives some very interesting information of southern music of two kinds, complete of hepatonic and incomplete transilient or hexatonic and pentatonic and twenty-two "srutis" called matras. The dramas of Kalidas developed Indian music and Malvikagnimitra is especially interesting. It was the time when Pople Sylvester and St. Ambrose were elaborating the theories of Western music in Europe. Chapter 25 of the Natyas Shastra of Bharata describes swars, sruties, grams, and murchhanas and jatis and a part of this chapter is translated into English by Clement in his introduction to Indian Music and into French by Jean Grosset. An ancient inscription in Kudumiyamalae in Tamil Nadu describes jatis, scruties, antras, and kali to describe the sharpness of Ga and Ni, the peculiarities of Southern music. The theistic and popular sects of Vishnu and Shiva in the sixth and seventh centuries gave a special impetus to music in South India. It was the time when Gregory the Great was developing religious music in Europe.

After saying only this much about the mythical and ancient period of Indian music, I skip over about a thousand years of its evolution and come to a period of the Muslim rule in India during which many musicians developed this art, from Allauddin Khilji to Mohammad Shah, the last Moghul King of India. The Muslim rulers were great patrons of "Rag rang" excepting Aurangzeb, who was the sworn enemy of music. To bring the history of music of modern times, the names of the greatest of the musicians can be quoted as Amir Khusro, Gopal Naik, Lochankavi, Haridas Swami, along with his disciple, the doyen of Indian music, Mian Tan Sen and his Pir, Baiju Bawra, Pundrika, Vithal, Amatya, Somnath, Venkatmkhi, Demodar, Ahobala Pandit, Bhavbhuta and his father, Janardhanbhata, Purandra Vithal Adaranga and Sadaranga, two brothers of the time of Mohammed Shah along with Shori, the perfecter of the Tappa style of Hindustani music. In the British period the art of music was confined to the courts of the Indian princes, but still it goes to the credit of the knowledge seeking prospensity and capacity of the Western people that William Jones, Sir W. Ousely, Captain Day and Captain Willard, made a commendable study of Indian musicology. Nagmate Asafa, written by Mohammad Raza of Patna, came as a great scholarly work, Maharaja Partap Singh of Jaipur convened a conference of all the northern Musicians and the result was the publication of the famous work, Sangeet Sar, or the "Epitome of Music". Raja S.M. Tagore, Dr. Rabindranath Tagore, and V. N. Bhatkhande did scholarly researches on Indian music which won high applause. The Punjab was the first centre to teach music academically as Vishnu Digambar Paluskar opened a "Gandharv Mahavidyala" at Lahore in 1901 which was moved to Bombay in 1908. In short, this is the soil for the birth and growth of Indian musicology which was inherited, cultivated, patronized and preserved by the Sikh Gurus.

As an historical concidence, the Guru period of the Sikhs exactly synchronized with the Moghul period of Muslim rule in India. It is an interesting paradox in Indian history that the Indian renaissance called the Bhakti movement emerged parallel with the Moghul tyranny, fanaticism, ferocity and furore against Hinduism and all other patriotic and national forces and institutions. The Bhakti movement did a special service to music and some contemporary musicians saints could be especially named here, Chaitanya in Bengal, Mira Bai at Udaipur in Rajputana, Surdass in Uttar Pardesh and Guru Nanak, the founder of the Sikh religion in the Punajb. The individualistic devotional singing of Mira Bai and Surdass rose to the classical music. The congregational singing of always remained wrapped in the folk tunes of the devotees amidst the boisterous booming of drums and cymbals. The Sikh Gurus lowered above all these saints in maintaining the momentous magnitude of their mirthful and mystic mettle, myrtled in devotional music from the one aposgtle to the other and out of the ten Gurus seven composed hymns setting them to different ragas. Three Sikh Gurus, Guru Hargobind, Guru Har Rai and Guru Har Krishan, did not compose any poetical and musical works. All though all the string, wind and percussion musical instruments are welcome in the Sikh Kirtan, yet Sikh music began with the "Rabab". As history reveals the Rabab was improvised by Mian Tan Sen and his disciples had been divided into two groups Rababyars and Binkars. The first played on the Rabab and the second group played on the Veena mostly called Been in Northern India.

Guru Nanak's closest friend in childhood, Bhai Mardana, was a Muslim ministrel of the Mirasi caste. When Guru Nanak married, he presented him with a Rabab which he always carried alongwith him and Guru Nanak sang his own hymns to the accompaniment of the Rabab played by Bhai Mardana. This musical instrument became so closely associated with Bhai Mardana that his descendants are called Rababis to this day. The Guru Granth Sahib is the largest hymnological book of Indian music. Besides the Sikh Gurus, fifteen Bhagats have also set their hymns to different ragas included in the Guru Granth Sahib, and in the order of their compilation by Guru Arjan Dev, they are; Siri Rag, Majh, Gauri, Asa, Gujari, Dev Gandhari, Bihagara, Vadhans, Sorath, Dhanasri, Jaitsari, Todi, Bairari, Tilang, Soohi, Bilawal, Gaund, Ramkali, Nat Narayan, Mali Gaura, Maru, Tukhari, Kedara, Prabhati and Jaijawanti. There thirty one ragas represent all the important times and moods in which the Indian ragas are sung. Guru Nanak composed hymns in nineteen ragas Guru Angad in nine, Guru Amar Dass in eighteen, Guru Ram Das in thirty, Guru Arjan Dev in thirty, Guru Tegh Bahadur in fifteen and Guru Gobind Singh in six ragas. Here it should be mentioned that the classical music of Northern Indian is mostly sung in the songs composed in Brij Bhasha language, relating to the love exploits of Radha and Krishna, and the text of Bandish of a Bhajan mostly consists of two or three lines. The results are that in spite of the best efforts of the musicians to pass time and to adorn his art with Alaapa, the over-repeated recitation of the text and the theme becomes monotonous and boring, whereas the hymns of the sikh Gurus, on average, contain six to eight lines and their wording and themes are full of variety, inspite of their kernel of devotion to God. The Sikh Gurus especially loved the string instruments. The rabab is associated with Guru Nanak, the saranda with Guru Angad and Guru Arjan Dev, and the dil-ruba with Guru Gobind Singh. Guru Har Gobind and Guru Gobind Singh also patronized the bards called Dhadies to inspire the audience by the recitation of the epics of the heroes. Guru Nanak used his melodious voice to sing his own hymns in praise of God, and in doing so, he reformed the worst of thieves, thugs, cannibals and religious fanatics, perverts and die-hards during his long journeys within India and abroad. He established regular sittings or Chowkies or Hari Kirtan at Kartarpur Sahib and afterwards the Harimandir Sahib at Amritsar and later Anandpur Sahib, became the source centers of Sikh 'Gurus' patronized, encouraged, inspired and highly rewarded musicians, whoever came to them. From Guru Nanak to Guru Gobind Singh the singing of Gurbani or the hymns of the Sikh Gurus and those of the other saints included in the Sikh scriptures, became essential for all the assemblies of the Sikh religion and for all the social or religious ceremonies from birth to death. Many foreigners were very interested when I told them, on my visits to their countries, that the Sikhs, famous in the world as the sword bearers of India, and known as the bravest soldiers, are also great lovers of the classical music in which almost the whole of their Bible in set.

The Gurbani Kirtan of the Sikhs is such a panacea for them that even when facing the most terrible and intolerable tragedies death and all other calamities, they seek comfort and joy in the thanks giving and doxological hymns of the Anand Sahib in Rag Ramkali with the words :

"Dookh Rog santap utrey suni sachi bani"
(Grief, sickness and torments are all banished through listening to the true word)

Some ancient scholars of Indian music say that singing and listening of music cures certain diseases. For instance, dangerous fevers are cured by Bhairavi, anaemic diseases by Basant, worrying disease by Bilawal, asthma by Deepak, tuberculosis by Ramkali and despondency by Kalyan. Gurbani emphasises this efficacy of devotional music numerous times and it lays stress on the greatness necessity and importance of devotion music but there to quote decisively only one line of Guru Arjan Dev will suffice :

"kalijug mehn Kirtan pardhana,
Gurmukh japya lai dhyiana."
(Music in praise of God is a supreme panacea in this black age of sin and the true spiritual concentrates on it).

Although there are basic differences between Indian and Western music, yet some Westerners have studied Indian musicology in a very scholarly way. Macauliffe has given the notation of all the thirty one ragas of the Guru Granth Sahib in the end of his fifth volume of the Sikh Religion, on the accepted lines of Western music, so that Westerners may understand and appreciate Gurbani Kirtan sung in its original ragas. He did it using the normal western scales, substituting, where necessary, extra flats or sharps. Siri Rag is accepted as the supreme raga in the Guru Granth Sahib and in order of compilation, it is the first, and a line of a hymn of Guru Amar Das is often quoted about it: "Ragan which Siri Rag hai je sach dhare piar" (Of all Rags, Siri Rag is the foremost, if one loves truth)

It is strange that there is the Rag Mala in the end of the Guru Granth Sahib, which grades Bhairavi as the Supreme raga and begins with the words : "Prtham Rag Bhairavi karhi" (The Supreme Rag is Rag Bhairavi)

It is an apocryphal composition and counts six basic Sampuran ragas, their thirty wives and forty eight sons in all, counting eighty-four ragas, whereas there are only thiry-one rags in Guru Granth Sahib. It ends saying.

"Khasat rag un gayey sung ragni tees, Sabhi putar ragan ke atharah, das beese".

(Six basic and thirty secondary Rags combine to produce forty eight minor Rags) To-day, the main devotional feature of every Gurdwara or Sikh Temple, is Kirtan. All India Radio and Television are doing a laudable service in preserving the voice of skilful musicians in the original ragas as given in the Guru Granth Sahib, but it is a saddening fact that not only the general lovers of music of Northern India, but also the surprising majority of the Indian musicians themselves, do not know what an important and unparalleled wealth of classical hymnology is enshrined in the Guru Granth Sahib. Alas : even Sadder is the fact of the lacuna ignored by sikh musicologists. They have not done any countable research on Sikh music or Gurbani Sangeet to popularize it among the non-Sikh musicologists. Unlike the other classical music, in which many ostentatious performers begin with a sudden trill to decorate their art, then try to build up on the gaudy niceties of music with every word, Sikh devotional music begins with sanctity, is sustained sweetly, and ends in embrosial intoxication instilling rejuvenating elixirs into millions of despondent souls.

Helpful Readings
Guru Granth Sahib
Gurmat Sangeet, Chief Khalsa Dewan, Amritsar
Tara Singh; Guru Amar Dass Raag Ratnavali
Gian Singh; Gurbani Sangeet
Paramjot Singh; Kirtan, Nirmolak Hira
Raghu Nath Talegavkar; Sulabh Sangeet, Preveen
Om Parkash; Abhinav Sangeet Ratan
Ram Ashrey Jha, Abhinv Geetanjli
Jagdish Narain Pathak; Sangeet Shaster Meemansa
Panna Lal Madan; Sangeet Kala Ke Itihas
Damodar Pandit; Sangeet Darpan
Dhanwant Singh Seetal; Gurbani Sangeet
Goswami, O : The Story of Indian Music, Its Growth and Synthesis
Suba Rao; Studies in Indian Music
Babu Rao Joshi; Understanding Indian Music.
Clement E. Introduction of Indian Music.
Alain Danielou : A catalogue of Recorded Classical and Traditional Indian Music. Northern Indian Music. Introduction to the Study of Musical Scales, The Ragas of North Indian Music.
Chaitanya Deva; An Introduction to Indian Music.
Pranjanada Swami; History of Indian Music.
Ramanujachari; Spiritual Heritage of Tyagi Raja
Krishna Swami : Tyagi Raja
Krishna Swami : Music Instruments of India
Deva, B.C.; Psychoacoustic of Music and Speech
For Strongways; The Music of Hindustan
Gangoli, O.C. Ragas and Ragnis
Bhatacharya, S.; Ethnomusicology and India
Popley H.A.; Indian Music
Bhatkhanda, H.A. ; A Short History of Music of Upper India
Bosanquet, R.N. : On the Hindu Division of the Octaves (Journal of Royal Society, March to Dec. 1877.
Buck Percy, C: History of Music.
Capt Day. C.R. : The Music of the Musical Instruments of South Indian and Deccan.
Farmer, H.G.; History of Arabian Music.
French, P.T.; Catalogue of Indian Musical Instruments
(Proceedings of Royal Irish Academy, Vol. IX Pt.I)
Garderner, P.; Greek influence on the Religious Art of North India.
Hubbert Parry, D.C.; The Evolution of the Art of Music.
Mann, Mrs. Maud, Some Indian Conceptions of Music.
Meerwarth, Dr. A.M.M.; Guide to the Musical Instruments of Indian Music.
Narsimhachary, V.V.; The Early Writers of Music, Journal of Music Academy, Madras
Nathan, J.; Music of Hindus
Raghavan, Dr. N.; Some Names in Early Sangeet Literature.
(Journal of Music Academy, Madras)
Rice Issac; Hindu Theory of Music.
Shastri Krishi Mohan Sen; Music in Vedic Age.
Sriniwasin, R.; Indian Music of South
Wood Alexander; The Physics of Music
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