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Music & "Kirtan"


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Music is the organized movement of sounds and who has skill and knowledge of composing, conducting or performing music, is a musician. Composer is songwriter. Instrumentalist is the person who plays on any musical-instrument. Singer sings. So, composers, instrumentalists and singers, all are musicians.

If music is the organized movement of sounds, then "keertan" is worship of god with music. Music is a major component in Sikh-religious services and rituals. The Sikh-religious musician is called 'keertaniyaa'. It does not make any difference whether a 'keertaniyaa' is just playing on 'Tabla' or singing the gurbani.

It depends on a singer what he chooses to sing. He might choose a sad song or song about peace. He is free to sing a song of his own choice, or he would sing what the audience likes. He is not bound to sing songs of some particular songwriters or a specific book. But, a 'keertaniyaa' can sing only the gurbani, poetry of Bhai Gurdaas ji and Bhai Nand Laal ji. An ordinary singer just sings, but a 'keertaniyaa' worships and meditates. That is why a 'keertaniyaa' is always respectable in the Sikh society.

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Music can also be the disorganised spontaneous movement of sound as well, but I won't bore you with metaphysics of music a la john Cage.

I'm not sure it's quite that simple. Other music is worship as well. Furthermore, among certain Sikh groups pure Raag (non-kirtan) is seen as very religious on a par with kirtan (e.g Namdharis).

Kirtan seems to vary so much from filmi-tune style AKJ kirtan, to Qawwali (some portions of AKJ kirtan during naam simran bits - also Bhai Dilbagh Gulbagh Singh jatha are very qawwali-esque), to pure raag kirtan, to modern hindu bhajan style with the chinsy keyboards and chime sounds.

Equally again I'd argue that there are very spiritual singers out there who are also meditating on God but not singing Gurbani. Should I list them all? Some of my strongest spiritual experiences have come from listening to Bade Ghulam Ali Khan, Dagar Brothers, Aziz Mian, etc.

Plus you have instrumentalists who have deeply religious experiences with no words whatsoever (john coltrane, pharoah sanders, john cage, terry riley, sufi rhythmic music, morrocan sufi music). There are also those who just sing, sing their own compositions but are mystics, e.g bauls of bengal (wandering mystics who improvise), balouchistani sufi trance music singing improvised worship of Jule Laal Qalandhar for example, so much stuff.

The article is a bit oversimplified.

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aurengzeb banned the singing of raag kirtan because he knew that sikhs only used to sing in raag. So for this reason he tried to ban this. (imagine if he knew that in the future we would be copying film tunes and not singing raags. Next thing we probably get Dehshiva sang to Yankee Doodle) But Guru Gobind Singh Ji being the nice rebelious and caring for all type of person held a raag darbar (or something like that) where all the singhs sang raag Just to show that we aint afraid and that we will sing raags becasue that is how the guru granth sahib is structured.

Kirtan = Raag, true. Raag is like something that you cant live without but only once you have understood it slightly.

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