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A One of its Kind “Kirtan Darbar�


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By S.Harjap Singh


Late Giani Gurdip Singh ji, former head priest of Gurdwara Richmond Hill, New York was a very knowledgeable connoisseur of “Gurbani Kirtanâ€. He liked Bibi Amarjit Kaur’s style of rendition of “Gurmat Kirtanâ€. Bibi Amarjit Kaur honed her skills in “Gurmat Sangeet†under the guidance of Late Bhai Santa Singh ji. Giani Gurdip Singh told me, “Whenever you invite Bibi Amarjit Kaur for “Shabad Kirtan†at Gurdwara Bridgewater, please invite me too. So one day Bibi Amarjit Kaur performed the Kirtan and Giani Gurdip Singh was a listener. We had “Langar†together. Giani Gurdip Singh was so knowledgeable about the “Gurmat Sangeet†that it was a treat to listen to his wise words that he used for the good “Kirtaniasâ€.

He told me the story of a unique “Kirtan Darbar†held during early nineteen fifties in Gurdwara Sis Ganj Sahib in Chandni Chowk Old Delhi. A great exponent and connoisseur of “Dhrupad and Khayal Style†of Hindustani Classical Music, Shri Daleep Chander Vedi was in Delhi during those days. It was his brainchild to have a special “Kirtan Darbar†in Delhi in which only four top exponents of Sikh Religious Classical Music would be invited. Two of them Bhai Santa Singh and Sant Sujan Singh were permanently based in Delhi, the other two Bhai Samund Singh and Bhai Gurcharan Singh Avtar Singh came from Ludhiana and Sultanpur Lodhi respectively. The “Kirtan Darbar†was to start at 4:00am and last up to 9:00am. The “Kirtan of Asa Di Vaar†was split into two parts. Bhai Santa Singh started first and did half of the “Asa Di Vaarâ€, the remaining half was performed by Bhai Gurcharan Singh Avtar Singh and party. Bhai Santa Singh did some special selections from Guru Gobind Singh Ji’s Bani in his high pitched emotional rendition. Bhai Gurcharan Singh Avtar Singh rendered some “Dhrupad Shelly†and some “Partals†in morning Ragas. The styles of basic “Asa Di Vaar†were quite similar, but the “Shabad Tunes†were totally different in form and rendition.

Sant Sujan Singh did the one hour slot of “Shabad Kirtan†between 6:00am and 7:00am. Bhai Samund Singh followed him between 7:00am and 8:00am. After that Bhai Gurcharan Singh Avtar Singh did another half an hour long slot of “Kirtan†and the last slot was rendered by Bhai Santa Singh, who finished the special Diwan with “Kirtan†of “Sri Anand Sahibâ€.

Those were the days when some of the most knowledgeable listeners of “Gurbani Sangeet†from the birth place of Guru Nanak Sahib (Sri Nankana Sahib) and from other far flung places like Lyallpur, Montgomery, Rawalpindi and Peshawar were still alive. They all enjoyed the “Kirtan Darbarâ€. Daleep Chander Vedi was thrilled to hear them all. At the end of the session, the finest exponents of Sikh Religious Music exchanged their notes. Bhai Samund Singh made some very significant remarks. He told Sant Sujan Singh “What a fantastic musician you are and your style of Kirtan is very different from every one else before you. You have adopted the “Thumri†and “Qawwali†style of Patiala Gharana of classical musicâ€. Bhai Samund Singh expressed the fear that after the death of Sant Sujan Singh, his style may also wither away. His observations have proved right. Bhai Samund Singh was all praise for Bhai Gurcharan Singh Avtar Singh and wished he had grooming in centuries old “Dhrupad Styleâ€. Bhai Santa Singh was all praise for the culturing of Bhai Samund Singh’s voice. Everybody agreed with Bhai Santa Singh. Bhai Avtar Singh remarked “Who can match the pitch of Bhai Santa Singh’s voiceâ€. About Bhai Santa Singh, Bhai Samund Singh said â€You have the unique ability to hide your classical credentials, to a lay man you are performing “Shabad Kirtan†in light “Reetsâ€. With this every body agreed.

I am recording this story because these are small incidents that do deserve a mention when all the aspects of history of the Sikh community are documented.



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