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Sikh Musicology

Sikh Musicology- Kirtan Chaukies

Sikh Musicology- Kirtan Chaukies

Kirtan Chaukies: Original kirtan chauki tradition of Gurmat Sangeet was started from the period of Guru Nanak Sahib, developed and propagated by all the Sikh Gurus. Sri Darbar Sahib Harimandir Sahib (The Golden Temple) has a unique Kirtan tradition in the form of different keertan chaukees, such as:

  • Tinpahee dee keertan chaukee
  •  Aasaa dee var di chaukee
  •  Bilawal dee chaukee
  • Anand dee chaukee
  • Charn Kamal dee chaukee
  • Sodar dee chauki
  • Aartee or Kaliaan
  • Kalyan’s chaukee
  • Kaanrhaa or Keertan sohile dee chaukee.

Besides these chaukies, determined according to Raaga and time, there is a particular Kirtan tradition for different occasions, festivals and ceremonies of sikhs. Singing of Raagas according to different weathers and seasons create particular Kirtan Chaukies. Apart from these Sabad Kirtan Chaukis, Kirtan in folk style, Vaarian da Kirtan and Chauki Sahib’s Kirtan also deserve special mention. Vaar Kirtan performed at Shri Darbar Sahib since the times of the 6th Guru and the singing of Vaars (Ballads) by the Dhadis, also forms a characteristic part of the Sikh Music.

Kirtan Instruments: The Gurus while creating the above Kirtan tradition not only started different Kirtan Chaukees in functional form but also chose special musical instruments. Playing on Rabab by Bhai Mardana during Guru Nanak’s time, Siranda during the times of Guru Amar Dass and Guru Ram Dass, Siranda and Israj during the period of Guru Arjan Dev, Taus and Dhad-Sarangi for Vaar singing during the period of 6th Guru, Mirdang during ninth Guru’s time, Tanpura during Guru Gobind Singh’s time, are peculiar which explicitly proves the use of special musical instruments. The use of special musical instruments in vogue is also done in an original way. The use of these ‘Tanti (stringed) instruments are especially useful for purity of notes, of the Raaga and traditional excellence of Gur Shabad Kirtan.

Kirtan Centres: For the development of the great original tradition the Gurus starting with Guru Nanak Sahib along with Sangat (congregation) set up some Kirtan centres where musicians (Perormers of Kirtan) practically and functionally developed this tradition. Sikn history bears testimony to the fact that when after second Udasi. Guru Nanak Sahib set up Sikh Dharamsal (Gurudwara) as an institution where the tradition of Kirtan started by the Guru was specially reiterated. Historical references make it clear that Gurbani was sung twice a day in the morning and in the evening at Kartarpur.

At this place, by making Bhai Mardana stay put, Guru Nanak proceeded on his third udasi. Bhai Mardana continued to perform Guru Nanak Bani’s Kirtan. After Bhai Mardana’s passing away, his son Bhai Sajada (Sehjad) used to sing in Guru’s abode. Hence Kartarpur emerged as the first centre of Gurmat Sangeet. In addition to Kartarpur, Guru Angad Dev founded Khadoor Sahib and continued with Kartarpuri standard tradition. Besides Bhai Sehjad, Bhai Saddu Baddu were the famous Rababis of Guru’s abode. Guru Amardas founded Goindwal as a special centre for the propagation of Sikhism. 22 Manjies (Seats) were founded whereas Sikh traditions and Sikh ways of life were propagated in different areas by these 22 Manjies. Gurmat Sangeet also got popularised among the Sikh congregations. Bhai Deepa, Bhai Pandha, Bhai Bhula were the famous Kirtanias of Guru’s period. After Guru Amardas, Guru Ramdas laid the foundation of Chak Ram Das Pura, which later became famous as Amritsar. Satta and Balwand were the famous Kirtanias of Guru Ram Das’s time. Here singing of Asa Di Vaar in the morning, Sodar in the evening and Arti at night, remained in practice. By the time of Guru Ram Das, Shabad Kirtan Tradition of Gurmat Sangeet was fully developed and established under which a unique singing style like Partal came to be practised, which is not found in any other Musical tradition.

Fifth Guru Arjan Dev Sahib owned the onerous responsibility of developing Gurmat Sangeet tradition on firm footing. By this time Harimandir was founded at Amritsar for the entire mankind where continuous singing of Shabad Kirtan Dhuni was being performed by different Chaukies. At this Centre of Guru Arjan Dev, where Rababi Kirtan Tradition emerged in a distinctive form, common Sikhs were also encouraged to perform Kirtan which is proved by Satta Balwand story of getting annoyed with the Guru. At this time besides professional Rababis, amateur Shabad Kirtan by sikh sangat tradition also came into vogue. After Guru Arjan Dev, Guru Hargobind started with vaar music by Dhadies along with Kirtan. Guru Har Rai and Guru Har Krishan Sahib further propagated Gurmat Sangeet tradition. Anandpur Sahib was founded by Guru Tegh Bahadur Sahib and made the traditional Kirtan an inseparable part of practical tradition. Bhai Saddu and Maddu were the famous Kirtan performers of this great sikh centre

Right from the Guru period, same technique of training and propagation of Gurmat Sangeet continued . According to one tradition, Rababi Kirtan performers continued to impart training on individual basis and with professional efficiency. As a result, different Rabab players and their progeny continued to perform Gurmat Sangeet, using the art of Music. This tradition was in no way inferior to the contemporary tradition of the Mughal Court. In the world of Music, these Rabab performers of the House of the Guru were recognised as Babe Ke. On the other hand, court musicians were known as Babur Ke. Babe Ke held a respectable place among the contemporary musicians because of their association with spiritual music tradition. This tradition of Rababi kirtankars continue till date. Their particular style of singing and their perfection of Gurbani recitation successfully helps in differentiating their style. Many Kirtan performers became famous as a result of amateur Kirtan tradition started since Guru Arjan’s time. These Rabab performers who were recongised in comparison to the professionals, used to practise daily getting training from the best persons imparting their training to these musicians who were conforming to Guru’s tradition and were practically associated with the principles and practices of Gurmat Sangeet. Out of these famous Kirtan performers of the Guru Period were Bhai Deepa, Bhulla, Narain Das, Pandha, Ugrsain, Nagori Mai, Bhai Ramu, Jhaju, Mukand are better known. Under the Gurmat Sangeet training tradition, where Rababis have family tradition, the amateur Kirtan performers have institutional tradition. Though historical sources of the contemporary taksals (institutions) are not available, but their functioning at different places bears testimony to the fact that the seeds of this tradition were there even in Guru Period. In the contemporary Gurmat Sangeet tradition some taksals and institutions are as follows:

  • 1. Damdama Sahib, Taksal,
  • 2. Budha Jor Taksal,
  • 3. Mastuana Taksal,
  • 4. Taran Taran Taksai,
  • 5. Damdami Taksal,
  • 6. Daudher Taksal,
  • 7. Singhwala Taksal,
  • 8. Hargana Taksal,
  • 9. Sewa Panthi Taksal,
  • 10. Dumali Taksal,
  • 11. Sikh Missionary College, Amritsar (S.G.P.C.),
  • 12. Sikh Missionary College, Damdama Sahib (S.G.P.C.),
  • 13. Kleran Wala Taksal,
  • 14. Gurmat Vidyalya Rakabganj Taksal, 
  • 15. Yateem Khana Amritsar,
  • 16. Soorma Ashram, Amritsar,
  • 17. Jawadhi Kalan Taksal Ludhiana,
  • 18. Gurmat Sangeet Academy Anandpur Sahib,
  • 19. Gurmat Sangeet Study Circle Punjab,
  • 20. Gurmat Sangeet Academy Punjab,
  • 21. Gurmat Sangeet Society Patiala,
  • 22. Amrit Kirtan Trust, Chandigarh,
  • 23. Gurmat Sangeet Society, Chandigarh,
  • 24. Gurmat College Delhi Gurdwara Management Board,
  • 25. Punjabi University Patiala,
  • 26. Gurmat College, Patiala etc.


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