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06-17-2010, 07:12 PM
Post: #1


By Dr. Gurnam Singh, (former Chairman, Department of Gurmat Sangeet, Punjab University, Patiala)

The object of Gurbani is the attainment of spiritual knowledge of experience which liberates man through 'Sabda'. It takes man to a state of equipoise where no temptations of the temporal have any bearing on him. In this process, the wordly-mind gets transformed into an enlightened mind and thus becomes liberated. The musical system of Gurbani sharpens and clarifies the process of spiritual knowledge and experience with the help of different musical organs. Sri Guru Nanak Dev Ji provided new meanings to the instruments of Indian Music for the purpose of realizing the distinct ideology of Bani. For the attainment of this ideal, his approach is absolutely new, with a scientific basis. In this process, Raga, Taal Singing Style, Musical signs and the entire presentation of the 'Sabda' are like the beads strung in one rosary of the Gurmat ideology which has given entirely a new connotation to each one of them. Of all these musical means, none is independently active. These means present the Bhakti musical tradition in their distinct, separate system. The different peculiarities of this musical system, a different approach and its scientific basis, transceds the music of Gurbani from an ordinary one and change it into a distinct musical system. The new context of these musical means, distinct aim and the new approach of 'Gurumat' towards music will be discussed later on in the context of the organizational form of this musical system.

SINGING / RECITATION: In the musical system of Gurbani the recitational aspect is very important. If recitation is the chief means of the creative process of Gurbani, it is also the major means of its presentation. It is clear from the use and aim of music in Gurbani that our of the three branches (singing, instrumental playing and dancing), singing has been accepted as the prime communication while instrumental playing has the role of supporting it. Dancing is not approved as an expression of Bani. In Gurbani instrument playing is the chief assistant in the overall presentation of the 'Sabda'. It helps in arousing the 'Truth' within man by bringing soul in unison with the 'Supreme Soul' with the help of the sound of the 'Sabda'. In this Bani, instrument playing has been used in the context of Anhat Naad. In fact, this singing, the Ahat form of playing is the medium of that Anhat position in which 'Sabda' comes out as a uniting link. If we consider it at the practical level, recitation enjoys prominence in 'Guru-Bani' and playing is just an accompaniment. The third unit of music, i.e. dance, which has remained in use in the different Bhakti traditions of medieval music, was not approved by Sri Guru Nanak Dev Ji, rather it has been denounced by him at numerous places in his Bani.(1) One of his hymns says :
"Ik nach (i) nach (i) purah (i) tal
bhagat (i) na kijae

(1) Guru Nanak, Guru Granth Sahib, Page 465

While providing spiritual meaning to dance, Sri Guru Nanak Dev Ji says :
"Vaja mat (i) pakhavaj (u) bhao
Haai anand Sda man chao,
Eha bhagat (i) Eha tap tao,
It (u) rang (i) nachah (u) rakh (i) rakh (i) pao.1
Pure Tal Janai Salah
Hor Nachane Khusia Mun Mah. 1 Rahaao."

So, in Gurbani, of all the parts of music, only recitation/singing is supreme. Singing of Bani is the chief means of realizing its aim.

For the singing of his Bani, Sri Guru Nanak Dev Ji used a new and specific system which is inherent therein in the form of different signs which we shall now discuss.

In the musical system of Gurbani, its poetic forms and styles of singing have their own pecularity. Forms of both the classical and folk poetry have been used. It is a special feature of the singing styles of Indians, that they have developed originally from Indian literature and the folk traditions of drama. That is why they are intimately and inviolably related to each other. The tradition is to present these forms of classical poetry in Indian and Devotional music with a distinct, specified style of singing. In Gurbani also the classical styles of singing such as Prabandh and Dhrupad have been used from musical approach that is new and scientific. Its classical element does not acquire prominence or other attraction in its spiritual presentation, but helps in the realization of its object. The poetic forms like padas and astpadis are sung from the perspective of classical style of singing.

The forms of folk poetry which have been especially used in the Bani are related to the different aspects of our life. They have been presented as a spiritual alternative to the folk music. The folk forms used in the Bani follow their special tunes, popular among the masses. This poetry and tune cannot be separated. Their original style has been accepted in the Bani. It is worth pointing out here that this tradition of singing has been kept under the special discipline of the musical system of 'GuruBani'. This check on the musical system provides specific discipline to the style of folk singing with the help of musical signs such as Raga, Rahaao, Ank (numerals) etc. In this system, the musical power within them remains active and the object of Bani is fulfilled. The prescription of Ragas over and above these styles of folk singing is not meaningless or an unconscious activity, rather the forms of these styles are identical with those of the Ragas which also happen to b native in origin. We have already discussed their mutual relationship in the context of Sri Guru Nanak's Asa di Vaar' and 'Tunde Asraje di Vaar'. On the basis of it, we can say that the mention of Raga as title above the style is indicative of its direct relationship with the musical form of the prescribed singing style. The authenticity of their interrelationships is not traceable because these are no longer in practice. About the methodical use of the styles of folk-singing, it is worth considering that in the traditions of Devotional music in medieval India, such a scientific approach to music was not available. The original and distinct use of this new system of Sri Guru Nanak Dev Ji can be ascribed only to himself.

In the context of the use of folk and classical styles in the musical system of Gurbani we can say that in this musical system, the use of both the styles of classical and folk singing is balanced and scientific in approach. The classical styles and folk styles have been used for spiritual knowledge and experience, in this special discipline of musical system. In this system, both the classical and folk styles of singing have not only been accepted in their popular musical style, but they have been provided a new context through the scientific approach of the music of Gurbani. And herein lies the originality and distinctiveness of the musical system of Gurbani.


Raga is an important unit in the musical system of 'Bani'. In this Bani the power of 'Raga-Rasa' has been used for the presentation of the 'Sabda' which is the distinct scientific approach. In this musical system the medieval Raga-Ragini classification has been rejected and all Ragas have been named a "Rag(u)". It will pertinent to point out here that the above tradition initiated by Sri Guru Nanak Dev Ji dawned on the Indian musicologists in the 19th century. No doubt, neither the followers of Sri Guru Nanak Dev Ji nor the musicologists have ever talked about this practical attitude of Sri Guru Nanak, but nevertheless his scientific approach is invaluable, it is really difficult for a common man to fathom the great deeds done by great personalities. The musical system of Guru-Bani is provided distinctiveness and originality from classical perspective through an appreciation of feeling and sentiment, its ability to bring in unison, not only the compatibility of Raga-Rasa, bhav-Sabda, but also kept the accepted properties of the Raga, such as 'Raga Dhyaan'. This brought out the new possibilities within them through this scientific approach adopted. In this musical system of adhering to the compatibility of the different principles and the Ragas were used in their original forms and also as and when kinds/species of ragas under the main ragas is necessary, the shades of other ragas were intermingled. For instance, Raga Gauri, could be sung in its pure form or Sabda with the other 'airs' such as Gauri-purabi, Gauri-deepki, Gauri-purabi-deepki. This is almost parallel to the Sudha, Chhayalag and Sankiran classification of Indian Ragas. Some new ragas are also used in the Bani. There are mostly Desi Ragas developed from the folk music. Of them, Majh, Asa, Asa Kafi, Bihagra, Tilang, Soohi, Soohi Kafi, Maru, Tukhari, etc. are not available in the comtemporary music. Such use of Ragas at the conscious level and the tradition of the use of the southern varieities of Ragas like Gauri, Vadhans, Bilawal, Ramkali, Maru and Prabhati are also the original and distinct features of the musical system of Gurbani.

In the musical system of Gurbani the above approach to Ragas is distinct and scientific. It is a new and rare example in all the religious scriptures, religious and music books. It distinguishes the musical system in Gurbani from the contemporary traditions of devotional music, and marks it as a unique musical tradition not only in India but throughout the world. It is not a claim born of faith or devotion, but of a scientific analysis of the raga organization of 'Gurbani'. And, this realization comes easily after the study of the 'Raga Prabandh' of Gurbani.

'SABDA', SIGN AND MUSIC : 'Sabda' is a primary and central unit of Gurbani. The entire process of the presentation of 'Sabda' in Gurbani will help in understanding the musical system of this Bani. It comes out from the poetic/singing style of Bani. The tonal form of Raga is the means of presenting the feeling and sentiment of the 'Sabda'; this form of Raga is prescribed on the basis of its poetry/singing. In the entire construction of the hymn, 'Rahaoo' and 'Ank' are two new light to mind. It becomes obvious in the context of the above hymn that Raga, poetic form, singing style are cojointly active in the presentation of the hymn in the musical system of Gurbani. There is visible in them in the unity of feeling and sentiment. Musical signs show the way to realize their aim, and all poetic and musical means unitedly act for making us realize the knowledge and experience of the Supreme Truth contained in that hymn. Each and every organ of the musical system of Gurbani helps in the sharpening and intensification of the feeling of the hymn. Thus, the entire process does not remain, an ordinary one, but comes out as a distinct system. Any violation of this musical system can hinder the comprehension of the meaning of the hymn, and even give a distorted version of it. It was with this end in view that Sri Guru Nanak Dev Ji established a specific musical system for his Bani, which is absent in the contemporary tradition of devotional music.


In Gurbani presentation means recitation/singing of Bani according to its musical system. It is according to the above-mentioned musical system which aims at making us know and experience the Supreme truth. The presentation of Bani is not like that of an ordinary music which produce a stage of bliss while producing the emotional unity of man, rather of bliss born of the knowledge and experience of the Truth. The ordinary presentation of music produces pleasure through aesthetic satisfaction and freedom of heart. On the other hand, the presentation of hymn in the musical system of Gurbani is based on the equipoise born of the knowledge and experience of the Truth. That is why this presentation is free from I-am-ness or ego. It requires complete submission. The presentation of hymn in Gurbani is word-oriented whereas an ordinary presentation is music-oriented. An ordinary artist externalizes the art inherent in and earned by him whereas the presentation of the hymn is introspective in the presentation of the hymn in Gurbani, the singer is attracted towards arousing the new consciousness in his inner self while knowing and experiencing the truth. Thus, the process of this presentation is two-fold. In it, the singer through this system of Bani presentation, bring about audience/Sangat participation who thereby attain equipoise a stage where the 'Singer' is played without any conscious activity the 'Vaja' is played, sans hands and the rhythm is maintained without physical movement, because of the two-way process of hymn-presentation which produces a stage of bliss and equipoise through Truth.

It is obvious from the above discussion that under the distinct musical system of Gurbani, presentation of hymn does not provide only the ordinary musical pleasure, but it is a two-fold process of making us experience and know the Truth as inherent in our inner being.

THE PRESENTER : In Gurbani the singer is a significant link between the musical system of Gurbani and its presentation. Sri Guru Nanak Dev Ji was the first presenter of this Bani. He calls himself a Dhadi. A dhadi cannot make any changes in the prescribed text. The experience and knowledge of his presentation is more important than his art-because he is presenting an extant story. Sri Guru Nanak Dev Ji says that Dhadi sings only His Will, and the platform where it is sung is Hind Divine Court. In this way, the singer of Bani presents before the people the Hukm of God. Nowhere in this presentation is found the personality of the singer. It is obvious that the singer has not only to observe the musical system of bani, but also a follow the discipline of the presentation.

From the above discussion we learn of the aim and ideal of the hymn-presentation by the singer. The musical system of Gurbani is the medium of presenting, experiencing and knowing the inherent Truth. To bring out the influence of Bani containing Supreme Truth, it is presented in a distinct musical system. It intensifies and sharpens the effect of Bani, and also enables us to experience and know the Truth leading to the attainment of equipoise and bliss. It is also called the way to liberation. For the establishment of this musical system, Sri Guru Nanak Dev Ji not only analysed and studied the earlier and contemporary traditions of Indian music but of Indian spiritual/religious music also. Thus he provided them new meanings through a scientific approach which served as the guiding star for the forthcoming musical traditions and musicology. In this musical system of Bani, a scientific use of the popular and not so common means and organs of both the Hindustani and Karnataki Indian music was. In Gurbani the different organs of the different musical traditions are not independent but equally and cojointly active under the musical system produced by the ideal of Bani. On the whole, the musical use in Gurbani is independent, distinct and original in Indian culture because of its scientific approach. And, to understand it, the complete knowledge of the 'Music-ideal' prescribed by Bani is of utmost importance.

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