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Why do we still use the Harmonium?

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Once I saw a stupid Anti-Namdhari Propaganda video, saying that the Kirtan they are doing is "Pakhand" and all their kirtan is in Raag. Man people are ignorant.

I myself am not Namdhari but I respect them.

By the way nice video. The day we have Raag Kirtan in gurdwaray everywhere would be a good day.

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We should stop always associating Gurmat Kirtan with Namdhari only.

Although Baba Partaap Singh Ji did a great service, today, very large majority of Namdhari jathaas do kirtan in Indian Classical style rather than Gurmat kirtan, and hardly ever stick to hukmi raag, rather they use other raags, many non-gurbani, which they have been taught in the gharana they have learnt from.

Even during Baba Partaap Singh Ji's times, things weren't rosy, despite their efforts, some of their amongst prominent darbaari Raagis were very "mainstream" using vaajai and modern kirtan styles, one of the most famous was Darshan Singh Ji (Sant).

Ironically his son Harbans Singh Kola (current darbari raagi) reverted back to Gurmat kirtan and swapped the vaaja for the Dilruba and started doing hukmi raag, although in recent years he has also gone down the route of non-gurmat raag, but he still sticks to the devotional and puratan Dhrupad style.

Namdhari can be given complete credit for the preservation of 3 main things:

1 - Preserving the Dilruba (created by during or after Guru Gobind Singh Ji's time, as it is directly descended from the Taus, which was invented by Guru Ji;

2- Preserving the Jori (pre-runner to the tabla - tabla being a new invention, made for the onset of microphones, recording, radio etc.. a tighter controlled sound) the Jori was invented by Guru Arjun Dev Ji (splitting the Punjabi Pakavaj in 2), and was created to accompany the beautiful, sophisticated and intricate kirtan our Guru's gave to us.

The main difference between Jori and tabla is it's method of being played (more rustic, natural, accompanying rather than leading, as in many jathaas today), the bass drum was straight, producing a deep, resounding echo that would carry to the thousands of sangat, there being no amplifiers in those days!

3 - Doing kirtan in large numbers, Namdhari still practice this original way of doing kirtan to some extent. This gives more versitility, voices, instruments, atmosphere, sangatee kirtan environment... as well as less use for electonic help (speakers etc) a natural un-amplified kirtan darbaar produces the absolutely perfectbalance of sound between the singer the Jori and the saaj, it is impossible to replicate this through amplification.

A puratan non-Namdhari raagi jathaa before SGPC days (where they were replaced by 2-3 cheaply employed amatuers with the great British gift which was gladly accepted by the SGPC - the Vaja).


The Sarangi was first introduced back to the Namdhari Darbaar via Surjit Singh Ji Namdhari, who with Baba Jagjit Singh Ji's blessings learnt it from the legendery Pandit Ram Narayan.

The Taus was re-introduced mainly by Ranbhir Singh Ji Namdhari, who was given one by Raj Academy (as Bhai Avtar Singh Ji was). Bhai Sahib is now fast becoming famous for his huge skill at such a young age )late twenties).

The Tar-Shenai (Esraj with a horn) is a Namdhari invention, and is used by many Namdhari's, but most famously by Bhai Baljeet Singh Ji. The need for this arose when a louder saaj was needed for the now fast increasing Indian Classical style of kirtan becoming popular, which is less restricted (disciplined) than the devotinal Dhrupad stlye, and more entertainment based (sangat based, rather than Guru based).

Lesser contribution was raag vidya (which is useless if title raag is not used). But many other non-Namdhari raagis have also preserved this i.e. The late Bhai Avtaar Singh, Dharam singh Zakhmi and Bhai Balbir Singh Ji, Dr Gurnaam Singh to name a few.

Just a few points to balance the facts out, it is wrong to always give complete credit to Namdhari Raagis for preserving all aspects of kirtan, non-Namdhari's have done just as much.

Today we have 2 main Sikhs in the UK (and world) doing a huge amount of research and giving complete dedication to the preservation of Gurmat Sangeet:

Professor Surinder Singh Ji http://www.rajacademy.com


Harjinder Singh Ji Lallie http://www.gurmatsangeet.org/

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word.. i don't know y these kids r so afraid of Namdharis.. ppl rn't afraid of those who curse and scream, knock off others' turbans and pull on Kes of beards of Amritdhari Singhs (Maha Beadbi Alert (MBA) anyone?) but r scared of those who sing praises of God and Jap Naam :LOL:

weird world we live in.. :)

I am not so anti-harmonium myself.. it is great for people learning Raag and is very easy to maintain.. Harmonium is just an instrument, a vessel if you will, it has no anti-sikh propaganda behind it.. be nice to the harmonium! :)

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If you are in Wolverhampton Chatanga Ji, you can learn from Harjinder Singh Ji (Gurmat Sangeet academy) on Friday evenings at Nanaksar Taath (off Penn Road). Highly recommended.

Veer Fateh Singh Ji, no problems with the Vaja, you are right, it is just a saaj. But for raag, it's actually rubbish.

Many reasons why - main reason being : You cannot do a meend on a Vaaja, meend is an intricate part of raag kirtan and Mukh Angs in many raag, which are the main rules which need to be followed.

Other than that, it does not sound nice, I ask anyone to produce a video of a Vaja that sounds even 10% as beatiful as the video posted above.

Our Guru's were artists, masters, they gave to us the best of everything:


Yudh Gyaan

Sangeet Gyaan

Naam Gyaan







You get the message.

Today we go for second best. I am Surprised to here you saying this, as Baba Partaap Singh was not a fan, and banned Vaja from their famous Kirtan Smagams..

The Vaja is not evil in itself, it's what it represents, the politics behind it's introduction, by the British and acceptance by Tat Khalsa, the rush of amatuers and decline of professionals... same as the decline in Yugh Ved and emergence of Gatka...

Haven't you ever wondered where all the puratan saaj serving 20 million (?) Sikh population only 100 years have gone? You can count good examples of originals today on a 2 hands.

This is an unresearched area, but is slowly being looked at and more and more found.

A gift from the British to Singh Sabha/SGPC upon them receiving the Gurdwarai back, a Golden Vaja..

Within a few years, raagi jathaas and tanti saaj.. gone.

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Typical response really.. sadly found everywhere in all communities.. once u gain a bit of knowledge or love for one thing.. let's start calling other things rubbish... when british came.. punjabi ways were rubbish... when things weren't rosy with the british.. british is rubbish :LOL: ..

shaheediyanji every saaj has its uniqueness.. if nothing else the Harmonium has served in my and ur Guru's Darbars... how dare u call an instrument used to sing God's Shabad rubbish? is it the saaj's fault it cannot produce the sound u like or is it ur ear's fault that u cannot appreciate its sound?

Heritage is one thing.. but like Dynamic once pointed out.. if ppl r so fanatic that they want to rewind the clock and don't use the new technologies then do what Dynamic said and stop using electricity too and ride a horse to work :LOL:

Soch samaj kay galla karya kariye.

Please don't try to use my history against me.. it sounds like teaching a crocodile to swim :LOL: .. ask the Sharomani Ragi Bhai Sahib Baljeet Singhji Sant Khalsa Delhi Wale what was (and still is) the first saaj that was used to train him by the Nishkam Sewak Bibi Narinder Kaurji at Sri Bhaini Sahib?

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Apologies veer ji, "rubbish" was an excessive and rude word to use, thank you for pointing this out.

Re your point about new technology, the Vaja is a step back, not a step forward, it does not provide the basic support for the renditionof raag I have mentioned above, whoever being trained by whoever else bares no relation to this fact. It has no advancement of taanti saaj. And apart from the fact it can be learnt to play in a week, does not compare in any other way.

I do not hate the vaja or users of the vaja, the most important thing is adherance to nirdareth raag and rahao.

I am simply trying to promote our Guru's inventions and gifts, which no technology can replace or improve on. To this day, the tanti saaj used by our Guru's are famous for being the instruments that most closely resemble the human voice, there is a reason for this.

The vaja does not resemble the human voice.

The vaja at the time it was introduced to Punjab was being used by vagabonds across the streets of Europe (still is on a smaller scale). It never took off in Europe for a reason, why the violin flourished.

Don't get so hung up on the Vajas feelings. You are right it has been used in our Guru's darbaars, but the ease of learning it also brought the down fall of the true raagis, as the amatuer and non-adherent kirtani flourished and were availble 10 a penny, reducing the influence and life time commitment needed from the real raagis.

The same way that you are getting upset at the critism of the Vaja, something which has formed part of your upbringing and kirtan experience etc... Am I not entitled to share my thoughts and feelings with the way that our Guru gifts were chucked away in an instance, for an inferior instrument?

I am not using your history against you, I was simply trying to point out that the Namdhari Guru Baba Partaap Singh Ji recognised the decline of and danger to Guru Ji's kirtan, with the intro of the vaja, and took steps to preserve our Guru's beauty, as people are doing today.

I apologise if my post comes across as fanatical, it is not supposed to be, but I am in love with my Guru's gifts, and admitidly biased, but am happy to discuss and compare saaj in a scientific fashion also.

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I fail to see what the problem with the Harmonium is - sure it is not as suited for the voice as a stringed instrument, however it can be (one only has to listen to Kishori Amonkar or a musician of her level) and see how the harmonium can be used effectively.

The truth is Ragis don't know all that much about music and use the harmonium in a very child like manner.

This talk of Gurmat Sangeet is flawed in any event, since the style that most 'Gurmat Sangeet' enthusiasts like to use is basic Khyal Singing which is in itself not something that the Gurus invented!

Even Dhrupad is not something that the Gurus invented. The only thing that differentiated between classical and gurmat sangeet in essense is (a) the use of Shabd and (B) a clear focus on spiritual matters, although this is on the whole present in classical circles too.

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Dear Niranjana Veer Ji,

Kishori Amonkar and other artists who use, have used the vaja, have not used it to bring any beauty to the rendition, but simply used as a replacement for a tanpura, to provide a meter for their sur.

The reason you refer to the vaja being used in a child like manner, is because next to Guru Ji's saaj, it is child like, in it's ability, versatility and expression.

It would help the responses on this post if a Vaja musical piece could be posted to compare against the basic musical Sarangi piece I have posted a video on. I couldn't find one worth comparing.

Discussion on Gurmat Sangeet may be flawed on "some" points, but it is slightly irresponsible to so hugely generalise a whole musical system, especially one that so many people are trying to bring back to it's original state.

Khayal, was in fact invented by Sri Guru Gobind Singh Ji as far as I have found.

You can find the first historcal evidence based mention to Khayal in Sri Dasam Granth Sahib Ji. If anyone disagrees, then please provide hard evidence, not historical theories from 20th century research by biased Indian Classical historians, who have not given our Guru's any credit for any of their huge contribution to Bharat sangeet.

Khayal perfectly favours the rendition of the poetry and content of Dasam bani, as well as that of some of Sri Guru Granth Sahib Ji,but not the large part. On the same point, Dhrupad is not suitable for all of Gurbani i.e. for the 22 Vaars, for kirtan of "folk" titled shabd or for "Dakni" (south Indian) instructed shabd.

Dhrupad was around a small while before Guru Nanak Dev Ji, and was made famous by Swami Haridas and Mian Tansen (his famous student).

The difference in these 2 geniuses perfectly describes the difference between Gurmat and Classical Sangeet.

Dhrupad is actually still used by Raagis today, although not by the large majority as you have correctly pointed out.

Bhai Avtar Singh Ji, Bahi Baldeep Singh Ji, Professor Surinder Singh Ji, Bhai Balbir Singh Ji and Harjinder Singh Lallie use Dhrupad.

Here is an example:


Choose the 1st shabd "too samrath vadaa".

Differences between Classical and Gurmat, you have pointed out quite well, in addition a few more things:

Gurmat Sangeet:

- Use of Rahao as astai (Chorus)

- Non singing of sur

- Adhering to title raag

- Use alaaps in limit i.e. to introduce the title, sing manglacharn, or disciplined bol alaaps on points of the shabd the singer wants to emphasis further, not long alaaps classical raagis like Bhai Amarjeet Singh (Nanaksar taath - Wolverhampton) use, which take over the whole shabd.

Classical based shabds do not adhere to all of the above.

I will try and upload a video which perfectly show you the difference.

We also need to be careful to distinguish between classical and Hindu Kirtan. Kirtan existed for hundreds of years before Sikhi appeared, but in tehstyle of the classical you see today, it was competely devotional, heavily Dhrupad based.

The classical we see today has descended from the Mughal and likewise influenced Bharat Rajais darbaars, where sangeet had chaned from devotional to entertainment based. Pre-sikh Kirtan in it's true form still survives in South Indian temples today...

For a most beautiful example of a Gurmat Shabd drowned in pure devotion please listen to this:


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Independent review from Sikhi Wiki.


Pakrashi's Professional HarmoniumThe Harmonium is a small, manually-pumped musical instrument using fixed reeds to create the basic sounds. There are two main types of harmonium: a foot-pumped version that resembles a small organ, and a hand-pumped portable version that can fold up for easy transport. The hand-pumped portable version is very popular with Kirtan Jathas along with the Tabla and these form the main type of instruments used by Ragis during the performance of Kirtan.

The Harmonium was invented in Europe in Paris in 1842 by Alexandre Debain, though there was concurrent development of similar instruments elsewhere. During the mid-19th century missionaries brought hand-pumped harmonium to India, where it quickly became popular due to its portability and its low price. Its popularity has stayed intact to the present day, and the harmonium remains an important musical instrument in many types of Indian music, as well as being commonly found in Indian homes.

In Indian music, the Harmonium is considered to be one of the most versatile instruments. The harmonium is used in classical, semi-classical, and devotional music. It is usually used as an accompanying instrument for vocalists in classical music. However, some musicians have begun playing the harmonium as a solo instrument. One of the largest pioneers of this style is Pandit Tulsidas Borkar of Mumbai. More and more music students are learning in this fashion.

Harmoniums consist of banks of reeds (metal bands which vibrate when air flows over them), a pumping apparatus, stops for drones, and the keyboard. The harmonium functions mostly like an accordion. In order to play the instrument, one must pump air into the instrument and press the desired keys. The sound of the harmonium is unique, and improves over time as the instrument ages.

The number of reed banks is up to the particular person. Some harmoniums use 1 reed, 2 reeds, and 3 reeds. This refers to the number of reed sets there are in the instrument. Classical instrumentalists usually use 1-reed harmonium, while a musician who plays for a qawaali (Islamic devotional singing) usually uses a 3-reed harmonium.

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The harmonium is popular kind of sushir vad. The word harmonium is derived from the Greek word "harmony" which is the basis of western music and implies simultaneous sounding of several notes or the accompaniment of a melody by chords.

The harmonium has the appearance of a box out of which music can be produced. It is a reed-blown instrument like a large harmonica with mechanical bellows and keyboard. It is said that the harmonium was first produced in Paris in 1840 by Alexandre Debain. He devised a bellows worked by the player's feet to force air into a wind-chest and then through channels opened or closed by means of a keyboard. The notes are produced by reeds made of steel. The bellows is either worked by feet or hand. When the keys are touched and bellows is inflated, the air passes through the inner reeds and produces twelve notes (seven shudh, four komal and one teevar).

The harmonium has either single reed or double reeds. In case of double reeds, two notes of the same type, in two saptaks are produced simultaneously. Generally, a harmonium has three or three and a half saptaks. This instrument is very easy to handle and is very popular in North India. The beginner can easily play it and learn both vocal and instrumental music. The instrument has fixed notes and its tones cannot be changed. The harmonium can be used also an accompaniment of a vocalist. Any svara (note) can take the place of S and the raga played accordingly.

The twelve notes of the harmonium are not natural notes but are a tempered scale. In the saptak, the difference between S and R and again between R and G and so on has been(figures) to consistent and equal degree. The main defect of this instrument is that it has twelve artificial notes though they correspond to the twelve natural notes (as for instance on a sitar). With the accompaniment of harmonium-notes, the svaras of vocal music also tend to be artificial.

By playing the harmonium, the human voice becomes artificial, because according to the tradition of Indian classical music, the real notes of 22 shruties should be produced. There are certain notes in classical music which cannot be reproduced by the harmonium, for example _G_ in raga tod, M in raga Lalit, etc. Therefore, practice of svaras on the harmonium tends to make the svaras unnatural or unreal. Many classical singers frown at the use of harmonium.

For Strange ways condemns the use of the harmonium and regards it as a serious means of Indian music. He remarks "Besides its deadening effect on a living art., it falsifies it by being out of tune with its itself." [2]

It is not good to practise svara-sadhana (note modulation) on the harmonium. It is better to practise the svaras on the tamboora. When the strings are touched, they vibrate and the note continues to sound for a while, but in the case of the harmonium, the tone starts for a while, but in the case of the harmonium, the tone starts with inflation of the bellows and when the bellows stop, the note comes to an end.

Meend (glide from one note to another) and gamak (delicately mixing svaras in a raga) are not possible on a harmonium and as such, richness and excellence of melody is unavailable. This instrument is not good for accompaniment of vocal music, because it cannot reproduce the various delicate shades of vocal music. It is better to use a sarangi or bela (a kind of violin) for the accompaniment of vocal music.

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A few points to note:

In Gurbani, Guru Ji makes regular reference to "ghar" in the title of certain shabds.

Those that have looked a little at the evolution of music, now that from Bharats classical texts, the word "greh" is used to desribe certain important microtones in a scale. The word greh translates to "house", and signifies the home note.

In Gurbani, Guru Ji refers to ghar 2, ghar 17 etc. This is an indication the Guru ji is asking for the Vadi (King note) to be over-riden by the "ghar" - house or better understood as "guest" note.

"Traditionally", a father (man of the house) comes home from work, and is served his meal, the family will wait for the father to arrive and then eat with him. This is the norm except when a guest visits. It is then normal for the father to take 2nd place and guest to take the place of pominance for the duration of his/her visit.

This is exactly how the Vadi is temporarily replaced by the ghar in these shabds, Guru Ji are using their divine knowledge to make a minor adjustment to the raag (rather than invent a new one), to slightly alter the mood according to the expression of the shabd.

Many people claim ghar refers to the taal, but this arguement is flawed, as Guru Ramdas Ji who invented mulitple rythms, has indicated "par-taal" and ghar in the same shabd, which would then be a contradiction, as how can you have an order for a specific taal, as well as order for multiple taal at the same time?

The point of this being "Shruti". Indian scales have 22 microtones (notes), where as western chromatic scales have only 12 (inc soft/sharp notes).

The Vaja clearly lacks the technology necessary to adhere to the Guru's "ghar" instructions in bani.

In addition, as clearly mentioned in the article above and touched on in an earlier post, the vaja doesn't have the capacity to perform meends and gamaks, which form an intricate part of raag kirtan. Gamaks are necessary for shabds where Guru Ji has given a folk or "Dhakani" instruction i.e. South Indian, and meend is a necessary ornamentation needed to establish emotion, and help differentiate between raags in terms of mukh angs (unique set characters in a raag).

South Indian classical (very puratan in terms of music from Vedic times and it's original use), chose to adopt the violin rather than the vaja, very good move.

The violin is similar to taanti saaj, and the South Indians adopted it, changed it and now produce an Indian version, set to Indian scales, it is traditionally played in the same pose as a Saranda/Sarangi i.e. sitting on the floor, not held across the neck. he violin, although still producing a clearly western and unauthentic sound, is at least able to satisfy the technical demands of Indian and Gurmat Sangeet....

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A shabad by the legendery Bhai Samund Singh ji.

Bhai Sahib was a credit to raag kirtan and it's propogation, but unfortunalty, due to the pressures and requests from the mainly non-sikh populace arising from performing on All India Radio gor 36 years, Bhai Sahib didi not adhere to title raag many a time, as lovers of Indian classical obviously wanted to hear Bhai Sahib execute the other large array of bharat raags.

Anyhow, the point of posting the shabd is to provide an example of a kirtani who was a master of vajaa, and to show how the vajaa cannot keep up with their melodious voice, and even overpower and spoil the beauty of the shabd.

This is no reflection on the Bhai Sahib, his shabd, his spirituality or the bliss gained by the listeners, this is simply being discussed in relation to this topic.

In comparison I would like to also present Bhai Baljeet Singh Ji Namdhari, who is a master of the tar-shanai, and can easily show how the saaj can keep up with their sometimes beyond belief vocals...


Here is a small rendition of raag Asavari by a novice, in my opinion one could reach this level in 6-12 months time depending on their riaz (daily practice). This is just to show what is possible should people want to take up Guru Ji's saaj and play beautiful music in a short time.

That learning, tuning and playing tanti saaj and learning raag takes 20 years is a myth propogated by raagis for many years so that they could keep their niche and keep business coming in.

This is all changing today, many publications will soon be released "telling" the long kept secrets of raag and learning methods.

Gurmat kirtan was created and given by Maharaj for all of us to enjoy and appreciate, we should all make a little effort to preserve Guru Ji's most beautful gifts and put them in demand (buy nirdaareth raag kirtan/tanti saaj kirtan), so that more devoted practitioners of this God given art can flourish and spread Guru Ji's divine words in the most beautful was imaginable.

And to finish, here is what is possible if we choose to use Guru Hargobind Sahibs sarangi and Guru Tegh Bahadur Jis gifted raag - Jaitsri...


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In addition, as clearly mentioned in the article above and touched on in an earlier post, the vaja does have the capacity to perform meends and gamaks, which form an intricate part of raag kirtan.


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I don't see anything wrong with expressing an opinion, and I quite concur that harmoniums are pretty dull instruments. Certainly nowhere near the sophistication of a stringed instrument such that at a recent dhrupad recital I went to, the Ustad of the dagar gharana demonstrated the 8 divisions of one harmonuim's semitone used on the rudra veena. Can you imagine! And how his father spent a lifetime trying to get to grips with that in just raag yaman alone. Now I love dumb music, I even make the stuff, but if you are to go down the road of a 'classical form' (in the sense that its quality lies in its sophistication and refinement) into meend and gamak then the vaja is quite idiotic in comparison...such that (I think) in Deodhar's book on Raag, that one elderly critic commented that the worth of a raag recital was in the artist's use of meend and gamak alone. When I first heard this years ago I thought it was total anal pomposity, but the more you listen, the more you hear it. Of course all of this is my humblest of opinions.

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Shaheediyan Veer Jee,

Thanks for your response. Whilst I believe we are singing from the same hymn sheet so to speak, my comments are motivated by the increasing tendency amongst Sikhs today to totally relegate a rendition on the basis of it using a harmonium and in some cases even the tabla (as if the Jori is somehow superior!)

Your comments concerning the likes of Kishori Amonkar and other artists using vaja to solely replace the tanpura and provide a meter for their sur is inaccurate, whilst this is one purpose of using the harmonium, you will note it doesn’t actually ‘replace’ the tanpura, which continues to be used alongside the harmonium in most recordings and performances and nor is the harmonium used solely for provide a meter for their sur, as the harmonium player does intersperse the rendition with small improvisations and frills, much like a supporting stringed instrument would, as I mentioned, Ragis tend to use it entirely in a childish manner, this can be easily ascertained by listening to the supporting harmonium on recordings of say Kishori Amonkar, Rashid Khan and others and then having a listen to Bhai Harjinder Singh Sri Nagar Wale, Balwinder Singh Rangila, Sant Anoop Singh and just about all the “Ragis†on the Gurmat Sangeet Project website (with the exception of a handful, i.e. the late and eminent Bhai Avtar Singh Ragi and his family members and Bhai Gurmeet Singh Shaant etc).

I concede, as any musician would, that the vaja is no where near as sophisticated as stringed instruments, and no one worth their salt ever has tried to claim this, however that doesn’t render it useless or entirely inappropriate, particularly given that true musicians can and do make frequent use of it, whereas Ragis and Sikhs today complain about it rather like a bad workman does about his tools. The fact is most “Ragis†(save the exceptions and their peers mentioned above) actually end up ‘besura’ without their vajas!

Your suggestion that we should compare a “Vaja musical piece†with one performed by a “Sarangi†is invalid as we are not comparing like with like, as above, I am not contesting the greater sophistication of the latter. The harmonium was never intended to be a solo instrument – again, let’s understand what the purpose of this instrument was and not simply relegate it because most of our Ragis are unable to make better use of it!

Veer Jee, I cannot see where I am generalising a “whole musical system†– Gurmat Sangeet is simply Bharati Sangeet (i.e. Dhrupad and today predominantly Khyal styles) using Gurbani as the choice of words.

As per “Khayal being invented by Sri Guru Gobind Singh Jiâ€, I feel is wider discussion for another time, however I will point out that ‘Sikh’ scholars themselves are uncertain as whether the reference to Khyal in the Dasam Granth is referring to this particular style of music. As I said, this is another discussion, however let’s say it is true, it’s great to see that Sikhs can hold onto so-called maryadas like ‘sarabloh’ bibek and ‘colour of clothing’ and ‘style of turban’ but those that are perhaps of more significance have long been forgotten, the main exponents of Khyal today are non-Sikhs!

Your comments on folk vars is noted and again go to show that Gurmat Sangeet really involves the use of music to support the recitation of the Shabd and is in itself not a distinctive “style".

Moving onto the ‘ragis’ who live up to that title such as the late and venerable Bhai Sahib Avtar Singh Ji, you will note that his kirtan is not entirely dhrupad but also uses simple khyal styles. Moreover, it is interesting to note that traditionally Dhrupad didn’t involve the use of instruments like the Sarangi or the Esraj, but focused more on the veena and pakhawaj.

The points you mentioned as ‘additional difference’s between Classical and Gurmat are again akin to a misnomer, I am saying that there is no difference other than the use of the Shabd. The items you mention to be honest do not indicate any differences (The Rahao line is a common theme in poetic measures), the non-signing of sargams is not a defining attribute of “Gurmat Sangeetâ€, one can easily sing a bandish in Khyal without these, adhering to the title raag, again is not a distinguishing item, as there are Khyal compositions in more secular or non-Sikh forms which are raag specific and like the use of sargams, the use of alaaps is reflective of the singer and audience, not a defining attribute of “Gurmat Sangeetâ€, as one can easily sing a simple Khyal rendering without extensive use of either.

You introduce a term “Classical based shabdsâ€, however we have established that all Gurbani is rooted in classical music, be it rendered a Khyal (simple or full – i.e with Bhrra Khyal and Cchota Khyal), Dhrupad, folk, bhajan etc – I think what you are saying is more akin to a criticism that I would agree with, when singing Gurbani, we should adhere to the compositional style of the shabd (i.e. simple things like the title raag etc), singing something to a film or bhangra tune or a classical bandish is not what matters, but if that bandish/tune is consistent with the compositional requirements, then we are performing Kirtan as per the Gurus composition.

Hindu Kirtan and Sikh Kirtan are simply differentiated by the choice of words (i.e. Shabd), again I think we are making more of this than there is and in our efforts to revive Kirtan in the Gurus Darbar, actually ‘creating’ traditions that never existed in the first place…well that wouldn’t be the first time that Sikhs have done that!

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Dear Niranjana veer ji,

Thanks for your comments. Good to see someone is taking a healthy interest in the topic.

I think there are a few misunderstandings, so I will try and fairly answer your points:

I personally do not relegate any vaja rendition, on the contrary, you will see some of the raagis I have just posted on use vaja (unfortunately), but that dos not lesson their vocal skill (in some cases). Bibi Jaswant Kaur is extraordinary, but listening the shabds it is clear the vaja is not bringing any beauty to the shabd. This can and is overlooked in Bibi Ji's case and many other great raagis case such as Bhai Avtaar Singh solely based on their vocal talent and devotion.

Bhai Avtaar Singh Ji is the perfect example, compare their recordings for most of their life on the vaja to the last few years on the Taus and see the difference in presentation, admittidly the devotion has always been there in any case.

I am not judging the raagi or the kirtan, but simply stating my opinion that the vaja spoils the presentation and cannot ever justify being an accompanying tool for raag (for many reasons stated in posts).

If someone is using vaja and adhering to Guru Ji's kirtan maryada, I am always happy to sit, listen, learn and enjoy - it's simply a matter of my opinion and thought, being "wouldn't that be so much more beautiful if it was with Guru Ji's saaj"...

Hope that clarifies my angle.

Jori - again same thing, you cannot do what you do on the Jori, on the tabla. The tabla is a recent invention, a tighter, shallower, quieter sound - made for the recording era. The playing styles are different, it cannot produce big deep notes, which vibrate through you at key points in the shabd, it employs different methods of execution etc.. there is much info available on this. When one hears an experienced Jori player live such as Bhai Harjinder singh Lallies brother, Bhai Narinder (?) Singh Ji, one understands what the fuss is all about. Anyhow that deserves a thread of it's own.

You mention that many raagis end up besura without their vaja, that was the point I was making re the Vaja replacing the Tanpura.

I have heard shabd kirtan in raag with just tanpura, it sounds absolutely beautiful, it would do so much more justice to kirtani's who haven't got the time to learn taanti saaj... but thats just my meager opinion.

You say vaja was never intended to be a solo saaj, but it is in most cases. Tanti saaj were in fact never meant to be solo saaj, this is evidenced by all puratan jathaas i.e. Baba Harnaam Singh, having so many people with so many saaj. This tradition of 10-15 people jathaas was ended by SGPC, who used the vaja as a solo or dual saaj, replacing the large musically diverse jathaas with 2-3 people amatuer jathaas, who could apparently do the same job thanks to the easier instrument to tune and learn and inception of the amplifier and loud speaker.

Veer Ji, Gurmat sangeet is not simply bharati sangeet. Classical has no rules, Gurmat does (many of which have been mentioned here and in other recent threads). Also, Gurmat sangeet constitutes specific raag, style (folk, druphad and khayal), whilst bharati includes many, many other elements (which have leaked into kirtan), i.e. valambad, tumri, ghazal, qwaal etc..

My arguement for khayal in Dasam bani is it is placed in the title, where raag usually appears (in fact the next shabd has a raag title). In addition it fits with the cstyle of the omposition. Lastly as I said, no other historical reference has been found before, so by default... also, you will see Khayal taking off and references being made after this point...

Veer ji, many "trained" raagis actually use khayal, khayal is simply a means of being more elaborate in expression (more outwardly), where as dhrupad is more inwardly (spiritual), both used for different purposes.

Vlambad is the extreme, slow kirtan, slower than Dhrupad, Vlambad is ofter confused for dhrupad, Bhai Avtaar Singh Ji used a lot of Vlambad, which came into being in the mid 1800's.

Good point made on the use of saaj with Dhrupad veer ji, and I am glad you did.

Dhrupad as you say was historically sung using veena and pakavaj (as in Swami Haridas Ji's time).

Guru Nanak Dev Ji however changed this by creating/desiging the Sikh Rabab, or Nanaki Rabab as it is also known. This was the original deep sounding and haunting sound that was used for Shabd kirtan Dhrupad.

Later, Guru Arjun Dev Ji introduced the Saranda, similar in shape to the Sikh Rabab, but played with a bow instead, the same strings were still used however, thick gut strings, to produce a deep sound, needed for dhupad. The change was made to cater for the more complex style of shabds that the Guru Sahiban were singing and the additional styles (i.e. folk) they were introducing.

In addition you mentioned the pakavaj, this was not upto the job, so Guru Ji cut in two, redesigned it and invented the Jori. This gave a higher degree of technical playability and much louder sound for reaching the ever increasing sangat (no amplifiers in the open air diwaans in those days, although they had domes for amplification in the Gur-ghars). So use of the Saranda and Jori is very puratan in terms of Dhrupad. Other saaj are very versatile and are up to the job, albeit not having the same affect as sarand and rabab, still have more of an affect the the vaja non the less.

You have made some very good points, thank you, and in particular I take note of your comment "creating traditions that never existed in the first place" (please elaborate here if possible veer ji. This is certainly not my objective (directly or indirectly), and I am happy to be proven wrong on any points/opinions I have made, as long as the goal is identify puratan kirtan tradition.

I do agree many famous people do seem to be introducing/creating traditions, which logically do not fit gurmat kirtan i.e. timing of raagas, various new styles i.e. tumri, ghazal etc, non-adhrenace to title raag, long alaaps, singing sur, playing long and elaborate musical pieces etc ( I will post some excellent and shocking examples of these soon)...

But we should not ignore or downplay evidence based research and revival of traditional kirtan and saaj, even if some of the promoters can be overly passionate to the extent of being egotistical or rude (like me).


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Gur Fateh Veer Shaheediyan,

Glad to have this discussion with you. I agree there are a few misunderstandings, however as I stated earlier, I believe we are in essence singing from the same hymn sheet.

We both agree that the Harmonium is not as sophisticated as the Sarangi, however whether or not this ‘spoils’ presentation is arguable. Have a listen to Rashid Khan’s “Sangeet Sartaj†album wherein are included recordings of Raag Hamsadhvani, Dhanasri, Yaman (as a Tarana) and Ahir Bharav amongst others, all are using harmonium as the accompanying instrument alongside a Tanpura and Tabla, the presentation is perfectly fine – again I reiterate, most Ragis (although now being famous for using the harmonium are relatively unskilled even at this supposedly ‘simple’ and ‘easy to master’ instrument).

Like you, I will agree I prefer hearing stringed instruments, however have found many renditions on the Harmonium which are equally as enjoyable. So, agreed we are clear here.

On the Jori – I must disagree wholeheartedly. The truth is that what one can do on the Tabla one can never do on the Jori!!! Contrary to all that you have stated, the Tabla is perfectly capable of producing “big deep notes, which vibrate through you at key points in the shabd, it employs different methods of execution etc†and is hardly an instrument solely created for “the recording eraâ€!!!

I would suggest that one listens to the album “Dreams on Tabla†by Pundit Anindo Chatterjee, track two is in Chaartaal (a favourite of “Gurmat Sangeet†revivalists) which is produced entirely from two Tablas (one tuned high and the other low, as per Farukhabad tradition ala Pundit Sankha Gosh)…perhaps after listening to this, have a listen to Baldeep Singh’s famous Jori album and compare!!!

The funny thing I always find, is most young Sikh enthusiasts of the so-called Jori and ‘Khulla Hath†baaz can’t even play a clear ‘Cchaant†which is crucial to this style of playing and yet harp on about this so-called style of playing…again a point for another time and discussion.

The truth is the tabla is far far more versatile than the Jori…on another note, the argument that the Jori is a “Sikh†instrument can be highly disputed…however we’ll save that for another thread.

Veer Jee you go on to indicate that “ragis end up besura without their vaja because they replacing the Tanpura with the harmonium†– be that as it is, this doesn’t relegate the Harmonium, my point is that most musicians of a decent calibre make use of the harmonium and still use the tanpura, it is only ragis who have done away of the Tanpura and hence have this awful trait of being besura without using a harmonium.

I agree with your comments that vocals with just tanpura sound beautiful.

My points concerning the harmonium not being a solo refer to its use by musicians steeped in classical (or semi-classical) learning, sadly Ragis today don’t qualify in this category. What the SGPC and Sikh Ragis do with the Harmonium is their doing, I feel that this is the issue and misunderstanding – I am making my points from the perspective of a musician, whilst you continually make yours using Ragi Jatha and Gurdwara Kirtan as a barometer.

Bharati Sangeet may well have various styles (as you mention, tumri, ghazal, qwaal etc), however these have evolved overtime, in the same way that Guru Jee used Rababis at the outset, Dhrupad style singing, Vars and others and this gradually changed over time with various Gurus into items such as Khyal and others – to suggest that “Kirtan†is a style along the lines of tumri or ghazal is absurd, just as it is to suggest Bharati sangeet has no rules!!!

Gurmat Sangeet is as Fateh Singh indicated that which follows the mat of the Guru and hence is pleasing to the Guru. The fact that certain shabds are composed in vars or in certain raags etc is akin to any classical composition which chooses to fix itself as such and does not imply a ‘style’.

The khyal subject is best left for another thread – I have made my opinions (or lack of) clear in the preceding post.

You have made many examples of how the use of music by the Gurus in Kirtan evolved – this is exactly the issue I am raising, why are the “Gurmat Sangeet†enthusiasts today trying to stop this and recreate what they thought would have been the case in the 18th century?

Presumably we should also be riding horse back today and not using cars, because that was the “puratan†way for the Khalsa and it is documented time and again in various literature (Khalsa so jo chare turang – he is a Khalsa who rides the horse)!!!

Research is great, however I think taking a step back and looking at the wider picture (as I have indicated on many other threads) will provide an interesting insight into what direction some of these conclusions are heading.

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I am pretty sure khayal was invented by one muslim 'Amir Khusro' of Delhi's. There was another Hindu Ragi who played along with him, something 'Nayek' was his name. Google it!

Niranjana has pretty much summed up my take on Harmonium and other instruments. It is great there r those who are trying to please the 10 (6 more accurately as in the Granth Sahib) Gurus by doing research. But how accurate will this research be? Whether or not this is leading to unnecesary new traditions? Whether the Gurus would be pleased or not is again an 'argument' for another thread.. :)

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Thanks veer ji, we will have to agree to disagree on some points.

As I have already stated, the "revert to riding horses" example is invalid, as on the large part, kirtan has devolved i.e. use of vaja by 99%, rather than evolved i.e. invention of tar-shanai by Namdhari, which I have no problem with.

However, there is something magical about horse riding (please try it if you haven't done so already). You never know what the future holds... Jaan Bhai may be set for a big return!

Not adhering to raag and using new and inappropriate styles i.e. tumri, which was born in the 19th C cotian, and invokes feelings of lust (rather than love) is not evolution, but devolution, as Guru Ji had taken bharat sangeet back from the Mughal darbaars and given it it's original purpose again, a tool for devotion.

Tabla, I will have to find some evidence for you re it's history and sound. But in simple terms, the straight design of the jori barrel allows for more bass, may be tabla is an evolution, as tabla was designed for entertainment and unrestricted use, and do agree (without having much knowledge) that it probably is more versatile, but for kirtan purposes, which is restricted to the raags, styles and layout of Gurbani, the jori is perfect. Take the amplifier and loudspeaker away and you will see the difference between jori and tabla.

All the paintings/photos I have seen of kirtani before the onset of electronics show jori. If you have any exceptions, it would be great if you could share them. It would be interesting to see what the oldest picture of tabla dates back to.

I did not say kirtan was a style in it self. It is devotional singing, which in Sikh terms is performed in accordance with Guru Ji's hukums. The styles contained within, are as instructed i.e. dakani (south indian), folk syles etc.

Kirtan style and saaj evolved due to the change in poetry and instructions in bani i.e. addition of par-taal by fourth Guru, creation of gurbani vaars by fifth Guru, kyaal and yudh bani by 10th Guru etc.

I suppose if relevant and suitable innovations like the tar-shanai are created it's not a bad thing, but introducing new singing styles (therefore replacing hukmi ones), changing rules (non adherance to title), and introducing lesser saaj which cannot play raag i.e. vaja - provides no benefit or advance in kirtan.

Dear veer ji, I am a traditionalist, old is gold mentality, may be I am somewhat blinded/biased by this mindset, but in many cases, I truely cannot see how our Guru's vidya and culture can be improved on, this could turn into a very complex topic, so I will end here.


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  • 4 weeks later...

Veer Shaheediyan,

Again, you are making non-arguments against Fateh Singh and myself. We are all agreeing about the requirement of Raag.

You now mention Tumris as non-acceptable since they are invented in the 19th century, however I would urge you to do some further research into Indian Classical Sangeet rather than relying entirely on the assertions made by one Professor Surinder Singh Matharu (with due respect), which seems to render all musical contributions of a devotional nature over the past 500 years to Sikhs alone – which is nonsense, have a look at the various Bhajans sung by Hindus and Muslims alike which adhere to Raag and format rather than ‘bollywood pop tunes’ used by Ragis!!!

Moreover, I would urge you to look into the ways in which raags have evolved from their inception and the possible implications that this may have for Sikhs who are currently undertaking a somewhat ‘blind’ view in their research of tradition.

Your comments concerning the Tabla clearly qualify that your assertions on this matter are little more than opinions (Re: “without having much knowledgeâ€). Effectively what you are saying in your closing statement is that you prefer the Jori since it is louder than the tabla!!! (how musical indeed!). I have provided for you several examples of a Tabla being versatile in that it can accomplish what the Jori seeks to do, I would love to hear of a Jori trying to do the same with the Tabla…

Whether or not pictures of kirtanis ‘back in the day’ show joris or tables does nothing for your argument that it is more sophisticated than the tabla, which I think most musicologists will find a bizarre argument.

I am glad that we finally agree on Kirtan not in itself being a style, but a form of devotion which makes use of musical formats as prescribed by the composers (in our case, Gurbani Kirtan and the Gurus, Bhagats and famous Sikhs).

Shaheediyan Veer, like I said, I don’t believe we are that different in our outlook, however a traditionalist is not what you are, you are a revivalist and the issues you are raising and problems with them are typical of many revivalists…namely the introduction of new theories and traditions that never actually existed.

Finally, you introduce a new argument (re: “I cannot see how our Guru's vidya and culture can be improved onâ€) which is not being discussed here and not the implications of any of my comments…it is rather fitting however for my earlier example of the horse which you choose to dismiss!

Anyhow, as above, I think we have exhausted this topic and will be doing little more than flogging a dead horse to continue further. What is important, is that we have a return to Raag-based kirtan adhering to the compositional title raag (and any mention of partaal etc) with the Rahao line used as the sthayae etc.

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Dear veer Niranjana Ji,

Just a few points to clarify:

"You now mention Tumris as non-acceptable since they are invented in the 19th century, however I would urge you to do some further research into Indian Classical Sangeet rather than relying entirely on the assertions made by one Professor Surinder Singh Matharu (with due respect), which seems to render all musical contributions of a devotional nature over the past 500 years to Sikhs alone – which is nonsense, have a look at the various Bhajans sung by Hindus and Muslims alike which adhere to Raag and format rather than ‘bollywood pop tunes’ used by Ragis!!! "

I mentioned tumri as unacceptable because they were developed in and for coutian. Their aim is to invoke a lustful mood. In my humble opinion this is not acceptable in Guru Ghar, that aside, Tumri is not a style which fits into Gurbani or kirtan hukum, so the whole point in invalid in any case.

With all due respect, please do not be so assuming and patronising, I take my little education from various sources, not just Professor Ji, whom I am happy to admit is large source, and believe it or not, we don’t agree on all points. Your point regarding Prof ji’s attitude couldn’t be further than the truth, we study and research Raag from as early as the veda’s and Bharats Natya shastra, through to Carnatic, Bhajan, Sufi and many forms of folk i.e. Rajastani. You should not be so negative and cynical about peoples mammoth efforts to “preserve†Sikhi. Most of the thought behind this “revival†is actually not new, it is drawing on existing practices preserved amongst few people. Nothing is really controversial, research is done (rightfully so) to identify our Guru’s contributions (why should they be forgotten or ignored, just so some stubborn folks world isn’t turned upside down). Everything is sourced, and constantly updated where better information (factual or historical) is discovered. In actual fact, the majority of the academic Gurmat Sangeet arena agree on most points.

“Moreover, I would urge you to look into the ways in which raags have evolved from their inception and the possible implications that this may have for Sikhs who are currently undertaking a somewhat ‘blind’ view in their research of tradition.â€

Again, this is an offensive comment, you obviously are not at all familiar with gigantic efforts that have been made by many, including the preserving of many puratan reets (and in doing so the raag versions) over the past century. There are in fact not that many raags, where only very minor technicalities are in debate. Most are agreed. I would advise that you make a list of well researched points yourself and discuss these with the like of Professor Surinder Singh Ji before calling peoples views blind.

Bhul Chuk Maaf.

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