(Note for non-Panjabi readers: Meanings of Panjabi words are given below the article *)
It was on 8 August that Dr Manbir Singh of Gurmat Gian Group copied me in on his e-mail to a number of Sikhs in the diaspora with two introductory lines, “Welcome to Kirtan by Young Sikh Women Musicians of Gurmat Gian Group. Enjoy this Shabad Video.”
I heard the theme Shabad, “Oha Prem Piri” and was left speechless ! Became deeply interested in this remarkable initiative at Ludhiana, in central Panjab, my home city. Gurbani Kirtan “rassias” (spiritual listeners) seem to run out of superlatives when expressing their appreciation of Kirtan by the Bibian of the Gurmat Gian Group.
Wrote Gyani Jarnail Singh of Malaysia, “This is exactly the way Ilahi (divine) Gurbani should be sung, in perfect taal, sur …....I congratulate these soul-brides of our Beloved Guru.....” Gyani Ji’s Gurbani expression “soul-brides” captures the ethos of the divine Kirtan by the Bibian of the Gurmat Gian Group, Keerat Kaur, Japjit Kaur and joining them in some Shabads, Jasleen Kaur, all led by Bibi Gurpreet Kaur ji.
Indeed, in their deeply meditative Kirtan they represent the universal human soul, longing for union with the Beloved Lord, the Creator Being. The title of the Gurmat Gian Group’s “blog” on the internet of “Oha Prem Piri” describes the bir-ha (longing) deep down in every human heart. If the delivery of this Shabad in perfect sur-taal touches the human atma (soul), then surely the message must reach the Param-Atma, Akal Purakh, the Timeless Lord of the human soul-bride also.
The spirituality and depth of Ardaas is felt in Shabads like “Hey Sansaar Taap Harnay”. Sung probably in Raag Malhar (I am not an expert), this Shabad, like so many others by the Group, brings out the musical miracle of four angelic voices in perfect harmony, individual renditions and changes in taal (beat) between jhap (10 beats), teentaal (16 beats) and ektaal (yakka of 12 beats) – all rendered effortlessly. In Shabad “Gur Parbrahm Parmeshar Aap”, individual rendition of Pankti, “Jaag re mann jagan haaray” are pleas to the “mann”, the inner self to awaken to the Presence of the Guru, the Ultimate Reality. “Hamaray Eh Kirpa kijjay” in raag Kalyan to the beat of jhaptaal (10 beats) and teentaal (16 beats) is again sung in deep Ardaas mode.
And so on, each and every Shabad is the Guru’s Message delivered directly to the Kirtan rassia’s inner being. Renowned Gurbani sangeetkar, Dya Singh of Australia, commented, “The renditions of these lovely ladies paint an inner beauty and piety which sadly seems to be missing in our current crop of (male) ragis. Why ‘lady jathas’ of this calibre are not allowed to do Kirtan at Darbar Sahib, even today, is a mystery to me!”
Perhaps this is not the place to comment on ladies singing at Darbar Sahib. However, Dya Singh would agree whole- heartedly with Bibi Gurpreet kaur ji’s response to some of my questions, “We at Gurmat Gian Group are trying in our humble way to sing Guru's Bani and enjoy it to the maximum. In this process we are trying to distribute Guru's Shabads to as many as possible.
We keep Ragas as the base of all our singing and use it as a vehicle to sing Guru's Bani. We try our best to keep Gurbani as main presentation. While doing Kirtan it is Guru's Bani that is important and not the Ragas. Ragas are just the base for the language of Music. Kirtan is presentation of Gurbani, it’s not rendering Ragas. While doing Kirtan we are not there to present our skills in Raga singing. If one wishes to sing Ragas there is different platform for that. The Ultimate state of a musician is when he/she is liberated from the bonds of Ragas and is in tune with the Naad of the Universe.”
As is the experience of Dya Singh, the maverick presenter of Gurbani “world music” style, some puritans may not entirely agree with Bibi ji,. Yet, many famous classical musicians have turned to world or fusion music, successfully. Similarly, Dya Singh’s success in taking the Divine Message of Gurbani to worldwide audiences, has prompted many raagi’s to copy his simple and clear style which so attracts children, and to use taanti saaj (string instruments).
However, while music is a vehicle for delivering the message, its relevance to the message cannot be underrated. And, I hasten to add that one reason for the success Gurmat Gian Group is precisely the desire to retain that relevance, therefore, as Gurpreet Kaur ji say, the Kirtan by Gurmat Gian Group is to traditional raag bases. One could go further and say that they have retained the raag baseline more than most raagi jathas today. Some years ago, an article lamented that even many well known raagi jathas cannot perform to more than about 4 raags.
Bibi Gurpreet Kaur ji continues, “To make the world our Sangat and to distribute the Bliss of Guru's Bani we are active on net through our blogs. Its our strong desire to keep singing Guru's Bani till the end and keep adding more and more Shabads to our collection. We pray to Waheguru to grant us this wish.
Our aims and aspiration is to keep composing and recording Gurbani Shabads and distribute it to all over the world. We would like our young blood to understand that we have a great gift of music from our Gurus. We foolishly get enchanted by bollywood music when we can present our Guru’s bani so beautifully. Bollywood music has no comparision with Gurbani music because they have no base on which to form musical compositions whereas we have a wealth of Guru’s bani to sing and enjoy .
We should for ever be thankful to our Guru Sahibans for this. We are at great advantage because of Great Gurbani Lyrics which can be sung wonderfully and they have soothing effect on human soul. Gurbani Shabads can be composed and sung in beautiful ways to get the spiritual Bliss and connect to God.”
What more can one add to such beautiful aspirations and Gurmat based thoughts.
Introductions to the Shabads by Giani Sarabjit Singh Gobindpuri and Rana Inderjit Singh (Chairman of Gurmat Gian Missionary College Ludhiana) are in clear and concise Panjabi. Introductions in English (pioneered by Dya Singh in albums like Gurbani Yatra) may be the next step for the benefit of young Sikhs in the diaspora.
Some information (in Bibi Gurpreet kaur ji’s words), about the musicians and others involved in this most welcome initiative is as follows:-
“The Tabla players who have played for our recordings are Charanjit Singh, Gurpreet Singh , Jaganpreet Singh and Paramjot Singh (of the Guinness Book of World Records of marathon tabla playing. [see The Sikh Times report at https://emgonline.co.uk/news.php?news=4996 ] ).
The Dilruba has been played in all recordings by Sandeep Singh. Music compositions of Shabads are done mainly by Gurpreet Kaur. There are few Shabads composed by Keerat Kaur. Instrumental music is mainly managed by Mr. Sonu Khanna. Commentary is by Giani Sarabjit Singh Gobindpuri and Rana Inderjit Singh (Chairman of Gurmat Gian Missionary College Ludhiana. )
How our group was formed and how we started doing the recordings can be known from an interview given by Keerat Kaur to thelangarhall.com ,
Gurmat Gian Group has produced 5 CDs as follows:-
1. Saajanara Mera Saajanara ( Sarabrb Sanjhi Guani )
2. Mera Baid Guru Govinda ( Sarabrb Sanjhi Guani )
3. Tere Kavan Kavan Gun Keh Keh Gava ( T Series )
4. Mo Kao Taar Le Raama Taar Le ( Sarab Sanjhi Guani )
5. Mohan Ghar Aavoh Karo Jodariya ( Sarabrb Sanjhi Guani )
The group has also sung shabads for the animation movie “Sundri”.
Bibi Gurpreet Kaur ji takes regular classes at the Gurmat Gian Missionary College where many girls and boys of different age groups are learning Kirtan.
The Group website tells us that Dr. Manbir Singh is a doctor by profession besides being web administrator and moderator of the various blogs and other services at youtube: http://www.youtube.com/user/manbironline/ . My impression is that in this case, contrary to the popular saying, behind this great ladies group is this great man! He has done a wonderful job in the lovely web design and videos which complement the Kirtan spirituality.
Despite the gloom and doom surrounding our politicised central institutions, such positive and uplifting initiatives give us hope for the future of the global Sikh community.
May Waheguru ji bless the Gurmat Gian Group.
• Panjabi word concepts used in this article:
Gurbani = Guru’s Word in Guru Granth Sahib, the Sikh Holy scripture
Kirtan = Religious singing
Shabad = Hymn from Guru Granth Sahib
Bibi (plural Bibian) = Term of respect for ladies
Sur & taal = in tune i.e. melodious singing (sur) to musical beat (taal)
Ardaas = Sikh supplication