I had the great fortune of learning kirtan with Prof. Ravail Singh and Bhai Balbir Singh Ji, I am still learning now, as its a deep art that can take a lifetime.
I performed kirtan alone for many years.
From 2010 to 2018 we played as the Blue Lions group, with Harminder Singh, Virpal Singh and Simran Singh on tabla.
We completed a project for the HLF preserving ancient dhrupad kirtan as sung in the UK during the 60s and 70s.
THE BLUE LIONS
The Blue Lions are a band of Sikh warriors belonging to the ancient lineage of the Warrior Akali Nihang Singhs.
They perform Spiritual Indian Classical music called Kirtan.
Reciting mantras in specific ragas that have a profound effect on the mind and body to further become One with the Soul.
The Akali Nihang Singhs live a life of service, a duty that is maintained within each moment for everything in existence. This unconditional service is a core principle in the Sikh faith and is referred to as Seva.
The Blue Lions have traveled around the world performing music in settings ranging from headlining the O2 London with Basement Jaxx, performing with Bob Dylan and Anna Phoebe, to small intimate ceremonies at private residences. They sold-out two concerts at the Royal Albert Hall, as well as performing at the Opéra de Monte-Carlo in Monaco.
The Blue Lions also teach music, yoga, meditation, and perform Ayurvedic shamanic medicine ceremonies from the Akali Nihang Warrior tradition. They were blessed when they sang Kirtan at Takhat Hazur Sahib and also appeared on BBC Radio and the Akaal TV Channel.
The ‘Ragas‘ they play from Indian Classical Music have a profound effect on our energy field. Ragas are charged with prana/chi and help regenerate and restore our energy and balance. This music therapy emits a deep vibration which nourishes the listener, which brings harmony between the mind, body and soul.
Chanting is a deep practice that opens the heart to devotion or Bhakti. It calms the mind and helps us to release blockages, so the body can heal and our spirit can feel it's natural freedom.
There is a deep wisdom contained within the vibration of these Sikh Mantras and each individual has their own unique experience. Chanting replenishes the soul and unites us with one another and is the perfect way to experience the joy of singing in a group. There will also be explanations of the different Mantras and Bhajans, and what effect they will have on the chakras and our psyche.
Touched by the magic of the verses, many could not find words to express their appreciation of the divine experience.
DIVINE MUSIC: THE HISTORY OF KIRTAN
Kirtan is the science of Sikh Devotional Singing, having its roots in Punjab, Northern India. It is based upon ancient Indian music, more commonly referred to as Hindustani Classical Music.
The foundations of both the instrumental and vocal music lie in structured melodies or ‘scales’ called ‘Raags’. Although they are formed from the same 7 notes (Do, Ray, Me, etc) as Western music, there are many more semi-notes and also strict rules which govern the scale of each Raag. Each Raag belongs to a group or ‘family’ and they are related by their notes. Each family of Raags conveys a particular mood; be it happiness, love, separation, longing, sadness, etc. Raags can also express the season like the coming of Spring or the Rainy Season, and can be either sung or played with string instruments. The other essential accompaniment of Raags is ‘Taal’ or rhythm. Indian Classical music has a rich treasure of different cyclic rhythms or beats and tempos, for example, 12 beats Iktaal and 5 beats Surfakta.
In order to sing Kirtan, the 3rd and most important component is required – this is known as the ‘Shabad’( literally the Divine Word). The Shabad is essentially taken from the Sikh Religious Canon, ‘Sri Guru Granth Sahib’ . Sikhism is a modern monotheistic religion having its origins in the 15th Century in Punjab, Northern India. It was founded by Guru Nanak Dev who used ‘Kirtan’ to convey is message of Divine Love and the Oneness of God and Humanity. He travelled to many countries including the Middle East, Sri Lanka, Russia and all over ancient India singing his message of love. He utilised the services of a Rebeck player who played Raags, whilst the Guru sang the Shabad. Together, they started the Sikh tradition of Kirtan which continued until the 5th Successor of the Guru, Arjan Dev who compiled the Shabads of the previous 4 Gurus and other saints into the Sri Guru Granth Sahib, whose 31 chapters are all categorised into Raags. The type of music perfomed for Kirtan during this period was known as ‘Drupad’ which traces its origins back to the Vedas (the Hindu’s holiest and oldest scripture). It has a very strict tempo utilising the pakhavaj or mridang (Classical Indian Drums) Indian, having a profound effect on the listener.
This type of traditional singing evolved until the Tenth Guru, Gobind Singh who patronised kirtan and encouraged its practice as the primal form of worship. He also authored two further Granths which also utilised Raag and Taal, as well as his Divine Shabads. During this period of Sikh history, the Khyal style of singing became popular in Northern India, as it placed less constraints on the melodies, as well as utilising the Tabla more as a rhythmic accompaniment. With the arrival of the British into India, the Harmonium became more prominent in Sikh Shrines eventually almost replacing the stringed instruments like the Taos, Dilruba and Saranda. Yet, the music retained its original compositions and rhythms. However, as the popularity of Bollywood Music grew towards the latter half of the 20th Centuary, Kirtan developed into a modern mix of old and new, thereby bringing this great musical and spiritual heritage under threat.
INTRODUCING RAGA KIRTAN TO THE WEST
ARTICLE BY DR. KAMALROOP SINGH
Since the 1960s there has been an increasing interest in the West for spiritual traditions of India, where westerners have embraced sacred mantras from Hinduism, Buddhism and Sikhism. The vast majority have been chanted and sung to western tunes and instruments, thereby making the benefits of eastern spirituality and yoga easily accessible to millions of people. This is a massive market which has created a new genre of spiritual music and already produced hugely successful artists such as Deva Premal, Mirabai Ceiba, Snatam Kaur and Jai Gobind. There is a gap however, in this emerging market, of Spiritual Music based upon Indian Ragas or Classical Melodies. This has been the bases of Indian devotional music for millennia.
Music is a universal language which has the power to bring people together. This concept was utilised by Guru Nanak, the first Sikh Guru who was a Master of Indian Classical Music. Together with his Sufi Rabab player, Bhai Mardana, he travelled the known world spreading his teaching of oneness over 500 hundred years ago. He was a pioneer in Interfaith and utilised popular Raga music of the day such as Dhrupad and Folk music called Vars upon which to sing poetry known as Gurbani, which later formed the chapters of the Sikh Scripture, Guru Granth Sahib. All world music is based upon 7 basic notes known in India as ‘Sa Re Ga Ma Pa Dha Ni’ and as ‘Do Re Mi Fa So La Ti’ in the West. Other similarities between Eastern and Western music includes Raga Durga which equates to the Pentatonic Scale in western music. This is a universal Raga and can be found in Celtic, Native American, Blues, African and Chinese music by changing the base note of ‘Do’ or ‘Sa’.
The Blue Lions Band from the UK have been one of the latest emerging bands bridging the gap between East and West, and singing new innovative compositions encompassing Raga and Mantras and delving into fusion music. They travel around the world performing music in settings ranging from headlining the O2 Arena London with Basement Jaxx, performing with Bob Dylan, Terry Oldfield and Anna Phoebe, to teaching Raga Kirtan to street orphans in Uganda. Earlier this year they performed two sold out concerts at the Royal Albert Hall where they show-cased Indian Classical Music to audiences, the majority of whom, had never heard Indian Classical Music. The lead vocalists are Dr Kamalroop Singh and Ragi Harminder Singh, and their tabla players are Simran Singh and Virpal Singh Ghalley, who are advanced students of the legendary tabla player Ustad Tari Khan, the doyen of Panjab Gharana. Gabriel Icka M, is the latest member to join the band and is descended from the ancient people of Easter Island (Rapanui).
Gurmat Sangeet is a unique musical tradition which is five centuries old.
It is part and parcel of the Sikh religion. Nanak, born a Hindu, the founder of the Sikh religion, and its first Guru began the tradition as he and his childhood Muslim friend Bhai Mardana traveled around Asia and the Middle East spreading Nanak's divine message of one loving God.
The tradition was continued and refined by every Sikh Guru through to Gobind Singh ji. It continues to this day. With Gurmat Sangeet, the divine message is communicated through Shabad (hymn/s, religious messages or poems) Kirtan (Sikh devotional music). Shabad Kirtan has become an inseparable part of the Sikh way of life.
The Kirtan Chauki tradition has been in vogue in the gurdwaras for centuries and the Kirtan tradition as practised on special occasions is an extended form of this tradition. This practical Kirtan tradition is in accordance with the Shabad Guru of the Sri Guru Granth Sahib.
The Bani of the Granth Sahib, written and indexed according to the prescribed Raagas, singing forms, music signs/ headings and the other guidelines issued in the Bani, creates an original and specific musicology. A scientific approach to music can help in recognising more explicitly the musical tradition according to the Guru Granth Sahib.
Such a system of music, enshrined in the Holy Guru Granth Sahib is exactly in accordance with the musical tenets established by the Gurus. What came to be known as "Gur Shabad Kirtan" is a unique confluence of Shabad and Kirtan propounded by Guru Nanak with the aid of the divine music from Bhai Mardana's Rabab. There music and songs to God emerged as a unique system in Indian music which has spread into the musical traditions of the world.
In Bani Gur-Shabad Kirtan has been assigned a very prominent status as stated in the following couplet:
The Guru Granth Sahib contains Bani of the Gurus in addition to the Bani of contemporary and earlier Saints and Bhagats. The classification of Bani according to Raags makes it clear that the Bani is written in accordance with a particular system as conceived by Guru Arjun Dev the fifth Guru while compiling and editing the Guru Granth Sahib. Beside the Raagas, different classical and folk singing styles, Rahaao and other music signs are those elements of the Gurmat music system which always remain active due to their original musical characteristics and for the presentation of Shabad Kirtan. The Bani under Shabad Kirtan is to be sung according to the prescribed raags, raaga forms, singing styles, music sings, Rahaao, Ank (digit) and so on. Different music elements which discipline Shabad Kirtan, can be known by an independent systematic discussion about them and its functional aspect may become more clear by systematic thought.
The entire Bani of the holy Sri Guru Granth Sahib has been classified under 31 Raagas and 31 different Raaga forms (Parkaars) thus making a total of 62.
Raaga references on the Gurbani as headings are a clear indication for singing any piece of Gurbani according to the prescribed Raaga and that has been ordained in Sikh tradition and fundamentals.
Under the Gurmat Sangeet tradition, Raagas are in propagation with their original melodic forms. Sikh musicians, uninfluenced by the changes in Shudh Thaat notes as Bilawal scales from Kafi scale, kept the traditional purity of Gurmat Sangeet in practical form. As a sequel, a tradition which is more than 500 years old, remains very much in existence as the Sikh musical tradition. These original Raaga forms of Gurmat Sangeet are a unique contribution to Indian music's Raaga tradition.
These Raagas (31 Main and 31 Raaga forms) are Shudh (Siree, Maajh, Gaorhee, Aasaa, Dhanaasree, Soohee, Maaroo, Tookharee, Parbhaatee etc.), Chhayalag (nine Raaga forms of Gaorhee and Asa Kaafe, Tilang Kafee, Soohee Lalit, Bilawat Mangal, Parbhatee Bibhaas etc.), admixture of two Raagas or including the melodic reflection of any other Raaga, and Sankeeran (Gaorhee, Poorbee, Deepkee), combination of more than two Raagas. Originality of seasonal (Malhaar, Basant etc.) and regional (Maajh Aasaa, Tookharee etc) Raagas under Raag forms is another important feature of the Gurmat Sangeet System. With a view to disseminate the divine message to the people, Guru Nanak Sahib toured different places.
These travels of Guru Nanak are popularly known as Udasis.
During these long travels (udasis) Guru Nanak Sahib used Raagas belonging to local tradition to aid in propagating his message, of which the Deccani Raaga (Gaorhee Dakhnee, Wadhans Dakhnee, Bilwal Dakhnee, Raawklee Dakhnee, Maaroo Dakhnee, Parbhatee Dakhnee) tradition deserves special mention. Dakhani in word in the Sri Guru Granth indicates the southern music system. In Gurbani, the Raaga Dhyana (Sri Guru Granth Sahib, Page 83, 585, 791, 849, 950, 1027, 1285, 1419, 1425 etc.) of some Raagas have been given with a view to express the nature of different Raagas in their spiritual context according to the Gurmat.