Ragas in Sri Guru Granth Sahib
Singing the praise of Ragas, Krishna said to Narada –
“Nham vasami baikunthai, agina hridai na cha.
Madyantg yatra gayanti, tapa nishthai,Narada.”
‘O Narada I do not abide in Baikunth, nor in the hearts of the yogis. I abide where my devotees remember me by singing in devotion.’
Music is the tune or collection of ‘swars’ which contains ‘Naad’, (the mysterious sound of Brahm heard by the sages in meditation). Being all pervading, Naad has been called’Nad-Brahm’ by the sages. The first sound was that of ‘OM’ which has been called ‘Naad Brahm’ . Dhwani is a universal language. In Dhwani, Naad Na+d, na=nakar pran vachak (air) and ‘dakar’ which means fire, that is, the Naad is produced by the use of air and fire.
Naad (sound) is of two types – anahat (unstrung) and ahat (strung).
The sound which is heard by knowledge, produced without any touch or struggle. The sages in the ancient timers meditated on this Naad.
The sound produced by striking or touching, which may be heard, is called Ahat Naad. This Ahat-Nad assumes importance in music. Gurbani, being written in ragas, is journey from ahat to anahat, or attaining anahat through ahat.The music breathes through ‘Naad and Laya’
(Sound and tune). The Vedic rishis sang it as Hari Kirtan or Prabhu Stuti (Devotional singing in His Praise). Heads of different faiths of India made use of music for expression of devotional love).
In the medieval times, Guru Nanak, for ‘devotional love’ and ‘Naam simran’ (dwelling on His Name), spread the gospel of ‘Dhur ki Bani’ (revealed word) in the musical form. The Gurus composed Bani in ragas. With the choice of poetry and music, a link was established between the two. This choice became the basis of the link between poetry and music. The Gurus, keeping in view the needs of the Gurmat poetics, as also the musical system in vogue in northern India, appended a catalogue of ragas at the end of Sri Guru Granth Sahib. At that time the ‘Thaat Pranali’ had not come into being. When Gurbani was compiled in the form of Sri Guru Granth Sahib, the form and content of ragas used therein differed from what it is today. Music in those days was taught orally. The writing of notation was not in vogue those days. The singers-musicians passed on their musical heritage in the Guru-Shishya (Teacher-taught) tradition. Though Guru Granth Sahib gives no information about the ragas from musicological point of view, nor does it point to the tunes and rules thereof, only name of the raga is inscribed above the Gurbani hymns. Perhaps this fine art was at the peak at that time and a mere indication was considered enough.
First of all, the Golden Age of Hindu period of history is considered the age of development of music. Secondly, the second Golden Age was during the time of Guru Nanak and Akbar. Human emotions are brought to the fore by the ragas in a realistic manner. That is why the hymns in praise of God Almighty have been composed and sung in ragas. History bears witness to the fact that the worst types of thieves and bad characters, robbers, demons and tyrant rulers were moved on hearing ‘kirtan’ from Satgur’s (True Guide) tongue and gave up their evil and took to benevolence. In a spirit of beneficence to raise the people to spiritual level, besides other means, Guru Nanak, for the purpose of meditation and dwelling on His Name, introduced the devotional singing in classical music. The classical music was ‘Swar Pradhan’ (Tune oriented) but the Gurus laid more emphais on the Word. Raag in music, and Gurbani in raag, is an art which soothes the spirit. That is why Gurbani says-
“Dhan su raag surangrai, alapat sabh tikh jaiye” (SGGS, p.958)
(Blessed are the beautiful ragas in their varied form, the singing of which quenches all the thirst.)
Raga is the foundsation of the Indian music. It is a definite ‘Swar-samooh’ (Assemblage of tunes), passing through seven tones, entertaining, and creating full expression of emotions. The true attachment to it touches the heart and raises one to the state of heavenly Bliss. It is such a rasa (taste) which can be experienced but not expressed. The notes are of three types:
The komal notes are soothing and create the taste of devotional love, which helps the singer and listener to become fully attentive. When the Swar reaches its real point, it is able to create the wonderful feeling of ecstacy as the raga is the symbol of emotions. In fact, raag is the name of love. The aim of Gurbani is to reach the Naam Ras through different rasas. The tunes of raga were present in the universe from the very beginning and not any one’s creation. The seven ‘suras’ have been combined to produce different rasas (tastes). Raag in itself is a completre rasa which arises out of human heart and emotion is the raag, the love, as it entertains and in turn creates emotion. The tone-based presentation of raga proves to be more effective. Beat means laya or la+ya or lakar+yakar, meaning thereby the gravitational movement between the earth and the sky.
Mental tension reduces with the musical notes played to the tune and beat. The scientists are engaged in conducting research on the effect of music, not only on human beings, but also on vegetation and creatures to control disease, which is proving meaningful. This research work is being done in the twenty-first century but Guru Nank, in the fifteenth century, had realized the magical effect of music because of which he ordained the hymns to be sung to the tune of ragas. Today the devotional singers do perform the kirtan in ragas but not generally in the indicated ones. But some lovers of Gurmat Kirtan, right from Guru Gobind Singh’s time, who were endowed with this blessing, prepared the notations of these notes, like Bhai Gurcharan Singh, Avtar Singh, etc. These are the old notes of the ragas of Sri Guru Granth Sahib, from which the music experts can determine their notation.
To create the magic effect on the human mind, the Gurus, for the human welfare, sang to the tune of ragas because it is their concept of unison between Bani and Music to create self-consciousness in the human mind. There are 31 main ragas in Sri Guru Granth Sahib and 29 kinds thereof. Although there are countless kinds of ragas; their number is in hundreds in North Indian (Hindusstani Sangeet Shastra) Musical System. Some ragas are no longer in use as before. Some new ragas have been evolved from time to time. But in Sri Guru Granth Sahib there is a special selection of ragas and their order which demands a deep research as to why out of hundreds of ragas only 31 special ragas were chosen by the Gurus. However, this a matter which needs long and detailed discussion.
As a matter of fact, classification of ragas and the detailed explanation of notes is, like algebra or geometry, a very intricate and detailed grammar which can be understood after having a thorough knowledge of the theory of music. Narad has divided the ragas, in his treatise, in accordance with gender. Pandit Sarangdev in ‘Sangeet Ratnakar’ has divided ragas into two ‘Rag Gram’ and ‘Desi Rag’, according to which Gram is male and Desi is female. In Guru Nanak’s time, from fifteenth to seventeenth century Shmbhukar’s ‘Sangeet Damodar’, Pundrik Bitthal’s ‘Ragmala’, Damodar Pandit’s ‘Sangeet Darpan’ there is mention of Raag and Ragini padhiti (system). During this period, under the Raag-Ragini classification, the ragas were divided on the basis of natural phenomenon -season, time, occasion, and diseases. In all the Raga classification mentions mother, taste, gender, caste connection and institution which were further divided and sub-divided.
From the point of view of music and the Raag, there are 31 ragas in Sri Guru Granth Sahib, besides use of mishrat (mixed) ragas, which adds up to 52. Now the question arises here that the Gurus made use of mixed ragas and Rag Majh is purely Gurus’ invention. The Gurus entered the hymns under those Ragas which were considered by them most suitable considering the spirit of the hymn. The ragas are of four kinds – Shudha, Chhayalag, Mishrat and Sankiran.
Shudha ragas are those which are so pure that no tinge of any other raga is seen therein, like Rag Bhairo. Its Roh-avroh (Ascent-Descent), Pooravang-uttarang (First part-second part) are in accordance with the inner sentiment.
The second kind is that of Chhyalag. As in Bhairo raga by adding the chhaya (shade) of Poorvi raga, ‘dh pa, ma ga, ray ga ray sa ni’, the Gauri Raga was created. In Chhyalag ragas, the chhaya of another main raga is visible, though the raga is sung in its original form, sometimes the glimpse of another raga is seen, just as we have seen in ‘Raga Gauri’ and shade of Poorvi Raga.
The third kind is ‘Mishrat raga’, wherein two ragas are mixed up in the same strain i.e. two ragas are seen, as Raga Assa Kafi, Tilang-kafi, Wadhans Dakhni, Suhi Kafi, Suhi Lalit, Bilawal-Ganund, Bilawal-Dakhini, etc. in Sri Guru Granth Sahib. In the Mishrat Raga there is ascent of one raga and descent of the second, or one raga’s ‘poorvaang’ and the second ragas ‘uttarang’, etc. are seen.
The fourth kind is Sankiran raga wherein there is chhaya of more than one ragas as in Shat and Khat raga. In Sugam Sangeet (light music) such ragas are more in use, just as Bhairavi, Piloo, Pahari, Khamaj, etc. In folk tunes, or the light classical, such ragas have been used. Today, ragis (devotional singers) generally sing these ragas by preparing the tune of a hymn to sing Gurbani.
Like poetry, every raga has its on characteristics. Music has a very quick effect on human mind. The Gurus felt the pulse of human beings, devised the most effective and easy way, full of devotional love, to attain God through singing hymns to the tune of music. They selected those ragas, the tunes of which had the rasas (tastes) of Shingar (erotica), Shanti (peace), Vairag (renunciation), Karuna (compassion) Vir (gallantry) and Bhagti (devotion) mostly. By singing the praise of God in these ragas, the human mind experiences peace, compassion, reununciation- Raga Bilawal, Kalyan, Sri Rag, Prabhati, etc. From the point of view of rasa, Shant, Karuna, Bhagti and Vatsalya (parental love) are sung in low key to express these feelings while the Shingar rasa, the low key and in Vir and Rudra rasas in high pitch, like the Chandi-di-var (of Sri Guru Gobind Singh), which when it is sung, it assumes the rapid speed and excitement to raise the voice. When different feelings are put to different musical beats, the devotional singing comes closer to heart.
Kirtan is Shabad-oriented singing, in which tunes have been taken from the classical notes, but intead of intricate preludes, simple forms of tunes have been adopted. Rather than showing the skill of music, it is the Word (hymn) which is more important in Kirtan. In Guru Granth Sahib, viewing the effect of a particular raga, the Gurus give some exhortation in that raga, as
Sorath sada sohavani je sacha man hoye. (Salok M.1, SGGS, p.642)
(Sorathi ragini would ever look attractive,
if truth abides in her mind)
Hari Uttam Hari Prabhu ravya,
Kar naad Bilawal Rag. (Salok M.4,p.849
(Lord’s praises have been sung in the musical tunes of Bilawal (raga).
The entire Bani of Sri Guru Granth Sahib is divided into three parts.
The first is the Bani of daily recital, like Japu, So dar, Sohila, etc.
The second is the Bani set to the tunes of Ragas, the discussion about which is the topic in hand.
The third is without raga. There are no signs of ragas above these banis, which include Salokas, Sehaskriti, Gatha, Phunhai, Chaubolai, Swaiyas, Mundavani and Ragmala.
In Guru-kav (Gurus’ poetry) the raga and the inner thought are intimately connected. Particular feelings have been expressed through particular ragas.Greater emphasis has been laid on poetics than on other fine arts. The entire Saint or Bhagat Bani has also been presented in beautiful poetry conveying the desired message and feelings. All the scriptures have been written through the medium of poetry. Thus poetry bears unbreakable relationship with music. Gurmat poetry too has been presented in the musical notes, so much so that even that Bani which is without a raga, has the same tone and tenor, high and low pitch, etc. The ascent and descent too is music. If the tune is taken out of the note, it loses its limb (turns ironic). Therefore to have the direct magical effect of feelings, music has proved to be of great help.
Music is based on Song because feelings are latent in song. To present such feelings through music in different tunes, is called raga and it is called Gurbani Sangeet or Kirtan in Gurmat terminology. To express these feelings, recourse has been taken to different ragas. Just as in poetry, rasa (taste) can be expressed through words, in the same way, in music raga represents the rasa. In this manner, the raga-rasa, swar and shabad emerge from Sangeet, and then feeling-tune and from meditation, self-realisation takes birth, like
Dhuni mahi dhyan, dhyan mahi janya, Gurmukh akath kahani. (SGGS, p. 879)
(The meditation is in sound and sound is in meditation. One can know this through Guru’s Grace. But this ‘knowing’ is beyond description.)
The ragas have been selected by the Gurus in accordance with their nature and characteristics to conform to the spirit of the Bani so that the fullest effect thereof is created in the human mind and this can be possible only when the hymn to be sung is to the tune of the conforming musical note, for which there is an indication in the beginning of every hymn otherwise it is not that the Shabad would not give the same anand (ecstasy). It would certainly give but what is sought to be created in our mind through singing or to enlighten our mind with the Divine Light, may not happen and we may remain deprived of that ‘Bliss.’
It is not so easy to have the taste just in a day. It is a literary truth. A musician should know about the ‘swara’ and a writer or the devotional singer should essentially have the knowledge of Gurbani and Classical Music. If a word is not correctly pronounced, its meaning gets distorted and in the absence of the correct swar in Raga, the entire form of raga loses its taste. The correct pronunciation of every word of Gurbani is given keeping in view its import and meaning in consonance with the raga. Having regard to the true spirit of a hymn, a raga has been chosen, a tune has been decided upon and then the hymn is sung.
The scholars of old days accepted nine rasas and now, adding Bhagti and Vatsalya, the number has gone up to eleven, like, Shant, Shingar, karun, vir, hasya, adbhut, rudra, vibhtas, bhyanak and vatsalya.
Though the topic of raga and rasa is quite wide, we would discuss here, with some examples, the use of ragas by the Gurus with a view to infuse in them the real spirit of the hymn.
To preach the gospel of peace, Guruji chose such ragas best suited to highlight the spirit of Vairag and Shanti. Such combination of swaras as create the feeling of Vairag and from Vairag to Shanti and humility were taken up in ragas like Kalyan raga, Raga Kedara, etc.
Ham mailai tum oojal kartai ham nirgun too data.(SGGS, p.613) (We are dirty (sinful) and You wash our sins. We lack virtue, still You go on giving us.)
In raga Kedara:
Sarni aiyo Nath Nidhan (SGGS, P.1119)
(I have come to seek shelter, O Master, The treasure of (all virtues of all kinds)
Raga Kedara is an easy and simple raga and it is one of the ancient ragas of the Indian Sangeet. Similar is the case with raga Kalyan, which creates joy and spiritual ecstasy.
The Gurus selected some such ragas also as find no mention in our ancient books, like ragas Tilang and Tukhari. In the ‘Gurmat Sangeet Pranali (system)’, such ragas, as have not been made use of, are related to the highest pitch, like ragas Deepak and Megha. They have been used mixed with other ragas, and not in the Shudha (pure) form but combined with others, like Hindol has been used with Basant in the mixed form.
According to the Hindustani Sangeet Prampara (tradition), the time of singing of raga, season, environment, nature, etc. are pre-determined and while composing in a raga, the writer has to keep in view all the aspects like Chhand-rasa-prakriti-mausam, alankar, shabdavli, etc.(Poetics-taste-nature-season, rhetorics, vocabulary, etc.) otherwise such a singing would have not have the desired effect. The poets of Sri Guru Granth Sahib could attain excellence in this regard, and many such examples are found, like in Raga Basant when Guru Nank says –
‘Maha maha mumarkhi chadhya sada basant’ (SGGS, p.1168)
‘Most welcome is the month of Basant of all the months.’
Guru Amar Das says:
‘Maha ruti mahi sud Basaant
Jit harya sabh jiya jantu. (SGGS, p.1172)
‘In all the months and seasons ever
You pervade you self as Basant’
Viewed carefully we find that in order to create the determined form of raga,words, and symbols in these hymns have assumed a special and the desired form. It is said that by singing the Vasant-ki-var, one is always in high spirits. Basant is called ‘Ritu-raja’ (the king of seasons). That is why Saint Kabir says-
‘Mauli dharti maulya akas.
Ghat ghat maulya atam pragas.’ (SGGS, p. 1193)
(The earth and sky are blossoming and Every heart is blossomed with His presence. )
Having been deeply connected with nature, the human mind has been greatly influenced by scenic beauty, the dates, the days, the months and the seasons which have a special place in its development.
Similarly for the songs of joy, the Malhar raga is used. When the tune combines with the word, the seasonal tone and its taste creates a magic effect as in the case of raga Malhar:
‘Sawan saras mana
Ghan varsai ruti aiyee. (SGGS, p. 1108)
(In the rainy month of Sawan The clouds send showers (of His Blessing) It’s the season of joy.)
Malhar is the raga of rainy season. It is raga of coolness and rich in ‘Shingar rasa’. Many of the hymns have been composed in this raga by our Gurus keeping rain and babiha (rain-bird) in mind. Though Sri Guru Granth Sahib does not give much information about pure musical aspects, the effect of its ragas in unison with its (hymns’) is clearly visible. The real import thereof is worthy of mention, like raga Majh. Raga Majh is believed to have developed out of the folk-tune of Majha (middle) region of the Punjab. Baramaha of Sri Guru Arjan Devji in this raga is very well known, in which the seasons of the Punjab and mental state of Jiva-istri (the female of the human specis) have been described:
‘Vaisakh dhiran kiyon wadhia jinna prem vichho’ (SGGS, p.133)
‘How can a woman suffering the pangs of separation (from her dear spouse) have peace?’ In the month of Jeth (mid-May to mid-June) ‘Hari Jeth juranda loriai, jis agge sabh niwann.’ (SGGS, p. 134
In the month of Jeth, let’s imbibe the love
Of the lord before whom, everyone bows.
In the same manner,
‘Asad tapanda tis lagai, Hari nahu ni jinna paas….
Asad suhanda tisu lagai jis mani Hari charan niwas. (SGGS, p.134)
‘Only those feel the enervating heat of Asad Who don’t have their Hari (spouse) with them… Asad is plasant for those in whose mind Abide the (lotus) feet of Hari.
About the month of Sawan –
‘Sawan sarsi kamini, charan kamal sio pyar.’ (SGGS, p. 134) In the month of Sawan the bride (devotee) is full of Love for her spouse(God), adoring His Lotus feet. Guru Nanak’s ‘Var Majh ki’ is so very expressive in this regard.
‘Ragan mahi Sri Rag paras bakhan’
(In the ragas, Sri Raga is said to be Like the philospher’s stone.) Keeping in view the suffering of the people generally under the tyrannical Mughal rule, Guru Nank recited the hymns in which Karuna (compassion) and Shingar (erotica) symbolizing the union and separation were described and such ragas were selected as could express those sentiments in full measure, as in Raga Assa:
‘Khurasan Khasmana kiya Hindustan daraya’ (SGGS p.360)
(Khurasan was captured first and Then Hindustan was terrified) In the same way in the Bilawal raga, the devotional love and mental ecstasy are described –
‘Mundh navailariya goel aiyee Ram.’ (SGGS, p.843)
(The youthful dame(devotee) has come to the world Like a cow
herdess, for a very short time indeed. )
Similarly is the case with raga Jaijawanti, which has been been used by Sri Guru Tegh Bahadur. It has been placed at the end of the Sangeet system of Sri Guru Granth Sahib. Sri Rag is placed first of all and Jaijawanti is the last, in which Guru Tegh Bahadur has recited four hymns. The nature of this raga is that of separation and erotica and the Guru, keeping it at the end, recited the hymns which speak of freedom from physical love and union of soul with the Super Soul, in a lucid manner:
Beet jai hai beet jai hai janam akaaj rai.
Nis din suni kai Purann, samjhat na rai ajaan.
Kaal tau pahuchiyo aan, kaha jai hai bhaaj rai.1.rahau.
Asthir jo manyo deh, so tau tairau hoye hai kheh.
Kiyo na Hari ka Naam lehu, moorakh nilaj rai.1.
Ram Bhagti hiyai aan, chhad de tai man kau maan.
Nanak jan eh bakhan, jag mai biraj rai. (SGGS p.1352)
(The human life is going waste, remember.
You do not understand the Puranic discouses
Which you listen day and night, ye ignorant one.
The time to die has come, how can you escape ? Pause.
You think the body shall remain for ever
It would be turned into ashes, mind you.
Why don’t you recite Hari’s Name, ye shameless fool?
Bear the love of Ram in your mind, give up your ego,
Sayeth Nanak verily, so long as you live in the world
In the other three hymns also Guruji gives exhortation cautioning us about the mortality of the world.
‘Ram bhaj Ram bhaj jana sirat hai.’ (SGGS, p. 1352
‘Recite Rama’s Name, as the life is being spent.’
‘Rai man, kaun gati hoye hai tairi?’ (SGGS, p. 1352)
(What shall be thy fate, O my mind?)
‘Ram simar Ram simar, ehai tairo kaaj hai.
Maya kau sang tyag, Prabhu ji ki sarni lag.
Jagt sukh maan mithya, jhoothai sabh saaj hai.'(SGGS, p. 1352)
(Dwell on Rama’s Name, which is thy real job. Give up the worldly pleasures, seek His shelter. Regard the comforts of life as untrue. All this is falsehood and not lasting. )
The Gurus were fully conscious of the human Nature and the feelings arising therefrom in the context of the nature of a raga, the time of its singing, the season and its effect. That is why any hymn sung in a particular raga has the same effect as that of raga on the mind to re-double its bliss. Among the rasas, Shant, Karun, Shingar, Vir and Bhagi ras, enjoy the predominant place.
The present Gurmat Kirtan Pranali (system) in which some of our Ragis (devotional singers) perform the Kirtan does have aesthetics but that celestial magnetic pull is not felt as was the case with the devotional singers in the past who were endowed with Gurus Grace and the congregations’ happiness. A line of Gurbani sung in the prescribed raga has a greater effect. The singers of the olden times understood the niceties of various nuances of a raga and sang Gurbani with the correct pronunciation, which also was the way of the Ten Gurus.
In the present day Kirtan, folk song, tappe (one line verses), film tunes, etc. have the effect of vitiating mind and which needs less practice and is so easy. Because of the economic difficulties of the present times, the style and form of Kirtan has undergone a change. When we listen to the singing of hymns to the film tunes, the mind, instead of getting fixed at Lord’s feet, begins to wander. Kirtan is the Gurbani text, but the ears are trying to find out the source of the tune in some film. In this way except for the noise of music or singing, nothing is gained. Thus that ecstatic state is not reached, about which the Gurus have pointed in the beginning to sing it in a particular raga.
Today the singing of Bani is in an easy way (sugam sangeet). Certainly the singing of hymns in the prescribed ragas can help us get in tune with the soul. The Gurmat Sangeet, which had the patronage and approval of our Gurus, is losing its moorings.
The Gurus had made use of the ragas in a very far sighted manner whereby the hymn-singing can bloom following the tradition of the raga because every raga has its own time of the day, its form and content, and nature in the classical mode. We can get in tune with the divine word and experience its heights only when we sing the hymns in accordance with the manner indicated by the Gurus. Then only can we fathom the mystery of the ‘Revealed Word’ and enjoy the spiritual bliss enshrined therein. ‘Raag Naad sabh sach hai, qeemat kahi na jaye. Ragai nadai bahura, ini hukam na bujhya jaye. (SGGS, p.1423)
(Raga and Nada are all true, the value of which cannot be assessed. Outside the purview of the raga-nada, Lord’s Will cannot be followed).