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Sikh Musicology

Sikh Musicology-Singing Styles

Sikh Musicology-Singing Styles


Singing Styles: Bani has different headings on it alongwith Raagas such as Ashtpadian, Chaupade, Ghorian, Alahunian, Vaar etc. in Sri Guru Granth Sahib. Under the Bani arrangement these forms not only assume poetical forms but specific singing styles and music forms also which have a particular technique. The Gurus have not only used different classical and folk music forms in Bani but these have also been used in conformity with Gurmat musical System which is based on elements of music like Raaga, Rahaao, Ank and other musical signes. Under this system, classical musical forms have been liberated from the rigorous discipline of the art of music and given it a equipoise (Sehaj) by conforming it to the spirit of Sikh musical system. Similarly spontaneous freedom of folk musical forms has been given the specific discipline of Gurmat Sangeet.

Sri Guru Granth Sahib contains Ashtpadi and Partal of classical music and Vaar, Chhand, Ghorian and Aiahunian of folk music. Vaar (ballad) singing style has a special place in the folk music. In Sri Guru Granth Sahib different vaars under different Raagas have been given a heading of traditional folk musical tunes.

Ank (Digit): In Sri Guru Granth Sahib, the digits have been marked at different places viz. 1.3,3,* etc. as Ank. In addition to the signs like Rahaao, Bani has been divided through different digits. The line ending with digits (Ank) in a Shabad, provide serial to a Shabad Unit. While being helpful in its systematic presentation it also helps in understanding its meanings. In the presentation of Shabad Kirtan, Rahaao which contains the central idea of the shabad is to be sung as Sthaaee in the beginning and after every Antra to make the spirit of the Shabad more explicit. The lines containing different similies, illustrations and reasoning etc. are also directed through different digits (Ank). These have to be sung in the form of Antras.

Rahaao: Under the Gur Shabad Kirtan tradition, Rahaao has a central and important place. In Rahaao the shabad has its central idea which is to get activated as a centripetal force in the presentation of the Shabad. Literally, Rahaao indicates pause, rest or be stable.’ In the medieval period system! Prabandha and Dhrupad singing style has one element, that Dhruv which is known as Achai .Other name of Dhruv is Rahaao which has been used for singing of Bani. Medieval saints and bhagats poets have also used Dhruv or ‘tek’ for Rahaao’ in their literary creations. In their works the first couplet is of Tek or Rahaao, which in Gurbani, Rahaao while follows the first line or couplet of the Shabad with the mark Rahaao. The particular digits are also found to indicate the number of Rahaao. In certain Shabads, 1 Rahaao (Ik Rahaao), 2 Rahaao (Do Rahaao) 1 , 3 Rahaao (Tin Rahaao) 2 , 4 Rahaao(Chaar Rahaao)  are also seen.

Under the Gurmat Sangeet Shabad Keertan, Rahaao is taken as Sthaaee and the tradition is to sing it repeatedly after every Antra because the Rahaao line has the central idea of the shabad and Antra line resolves the problem by giving arguments and evidence. When the problem is resolved and there is a change in thought the Rahaao line also undergoes a change. If a shabad has more than one Rahaao the second Rahaao line gets activated after the change in thought of the Shabad.

According to the prescribed recitation system, Rahaao in a Shabad through the repeated singing of its line is helpful in bringing forth the central idea and it confirms the idea and increases its intensity. Rahaao is the central force in a shabad which remains active in the inner texture of the Shabad.

Ghar: Under the Gurmat Sangeet system in addition to the above function of Rahaao it has other musical signs. In the Sri Guru Granth Sahib for the recitation of Gurmat Sangeet, the next musical sign is that of Ghar. It is written as Ghar ek, Ghar do, Ghar Tin. Total number of Ghars in Sri Guru Granth Sahib is seventeen.

Scholars have different views about the concept of Ghar. According to Bhai Kahan Singh Nabha. 1 Ghar has two meanings : a Tala, a Tala or a kind of Tal, swar and kinds of murchanna

According to Bahi Vir Singh, “There are three grams in musical instruments. Gram is constituted of Ghar. So Ghars are based on notes of these three Grams. Ghar indicates the prominent note of the Raaga being sung.Majority of the music scholars take Ghar as Tala. This tradition of scholars seems to be influenced by Persian Tala system. In Persian Tala system, different Tala forms are addressed as Ek Gah, Do Gah t Sih Gah, and Chahar Gah. Therefore, it is possible that the Gurus also used Ghar to indicate Tala. It is accepted under the Persian music tradition that Amir Khusro invented 17 taalas. These Talas are almost identical to Hindustani Talas and came to be used in India alongwith Persian names. Majority of the scholars accept Ghar as Tala though Ghar is not more in vogue due to fixed scale and time difference. Even then under the Gurbani Musical system, Ghar is clearly indicated as a musical sign.

Jati: One heading Jati under Raaga Bilawal is indicated as Bilawal Mahala1 Thiti Ghar 10, Jati. Under Indian musical system it is used as Jati. It means stages of rest in continuous tempo. In this regard Bhai Kahan Singh Nabha writes, “Concept of Music is Jati. Dr. Charan Singh wrote in Sri Guru Granth Bani Beura “Jat, Gat, Sath”. All the three are combined functions (Kartab) of Jorhi (Tabla), while the right hand acts as Gat. When both hands are free and voice also comes out freely, it is called Karkal means sath. Similarly, Jati is related to playing Gat on Jorhi (Tabla).

Above views make it clear that in medieval times, the Band Bol of Tabla were in vogue. Bhai Kahan Singh Nabha’s view in this regard seems appropriate. Contemporary musicians define Jati as “when the right hand plays Khulla Bol on Jorhi and left hand plays on Band Bol, such a rhythmic process is called Jati. It is clear from the heading as mentioned in Sri Guru Granth Sahib that this hymn in Raaga Bilawal is to be sung in the modulation of Ghar 10, with the specific pauses in Jati style and the poetic form/singing style is Thiti.

Dhunee/Dhuni: Out of 22 Vaaras included in the Sri Guru Granth Sahib, 9 have different Dhuni headings. These Dhuni signs indicate the special basis for singing tunes. The headings of Dhunies are as follows:

  • 1. Vaar maajh kee tathaa salok mahalaa 1 malik mureed tathaa chandarharhaa sohee-e kee dhunee gaavnhee.
  • 2. Gaouri kee vaar mahalaa % raa-e kamaaldee mojdee kee vaar dhun upar gavnhee.
  • 3. Aasaa mahalaa 1 vaar salokaa naal salok bhee mahale pahile ke likhe tunde us raajai kee dhunee.
  • 4. Goojree kee vaar mahalaa 3 Sikandar biraahim kee vaar kee dhunee gaavanhi.
  • 5. Wadhans kee vaar mahalaa X Lalla behleemaa kee dhunee gaavnhee
  • 6. Raamkalee kee vaar mahalaa 3 Jodhe weerei poorbaanee kee dhunee.
  • 7. Saarang kee vaar mahalaa X Raae mahime hasne kee dhunee.
  • 8. Vaar malhaar kee mahalaa 9 Raanhe kailaas tathaa maalde kee dhuee.
  • 9. Kaanrhe kee vaar mahalaa X Moose kee vaar kee dhunee.

Above Dhuni headings are the special features of ballad singing style sung for the heroic deeds of the warriors of Northern India. In addition to their importance for Gurbani, it has great significance for the Hindustani Music. These headings also provide a new formulation for the division of Indian Music into Hindustani and Karnatic systems. In the landscape of Northern Indian Music tradition, Punjab tradition emerges as a central source. The above mentioned musical signs, in combination with Raagas and music forms, create a special tradition for Shabad Kirtan tradition which is clearly based on the prescribed system of Bani in Sri Guru Granth Sahib.

Process of Shabad Kirtan: The process of shabad kirtan’s singing/ presentation, in the light of the above musical elements and music tradition as enshrined in Sri Guru Granth Sahib, is as follows. Shabad has the basic importance in this Kirtan tradition. The basic purpose of Shabad Kirtan is to imbibe the light of the Shabad into the human mind. Under Gurbani, truth is expressed as the central point. Rahaao lines are to be sung first as they form the central spiritual point of the Shabad. Under their specified musical forms of classical and folk traditions, Rahaao lines are to be sung as Sthaaee & other lines are to be sung as Antras after dividing them in the light of the given signs.

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