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The legendary Bhai Santa Singh Ji (Chamak)

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Bhai Sahib was one of the most influential kirtanis in the 20th century.

I have found it difficult to find any written information on them, so if anyone comes across any, could you kindly share it.

Bhai Sahib had an amazing and extraordinary voice which no one to date hsa been able to match for uniqueness.

A famous personality who has derived his style of kirtan from Bhai Sahib is Professor Darshan Singh Ji. Although many countless kirtani have tried to follow in Bhai Sahibs style.

Bhai Santa Singh Ji had unique ability to sing in high pitch, continuosly!

Most of their shabd are sung entirely in the tar saptak (highest scale).

It's weird, when you sing along with Bhai Sahib, you think, this is ok, until you realise you are singing one entire scale below them!

Bhai Sahib had beautful and harmonious voice, and mastery of all technical aspects of sangeet, many are not noticed due to their completely effortless renditions of shabd, but look listen close and you will find complex murkhis and intricate meends.

The taals used in combination with the shabd (composition) are also complex, especially when they go into par-taal, its hard to notice when they revert back to the original taal...

Thankfully the vaja is used minimally, and even so is drowned out by Bhai Sahibs magical vocals.

The words could not be any more crystal clear, showing the objective is being kept in mind, i.e. kirtan being presented to Maharaj, and for the benefit of the sangat. This is opposed to some other famous raagis who's words become blurred to due to the style or intoxication of the kirtan.

The pace is also beautiful as it allows the kirtan to be absorbed in meditative pace and and the full effect of the holy words to be felt by the listener.

Unfortunately, the shame is that most is not in nirdaareth raag, but none the less there is still much that can be learnt from Bhai Sahib.

Personally, I find the devotion that exudes from Bhai Sahib inspirational, and am happy to (as always), take the best and leave the rest...





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  • 1 month later...

Bhai Santa Singh

A Unique Exponent of Guru’s Hymns -1

Harjap Singh Aujla

AS a child I was used to waking up between 6 and 7am. But on one cold early winter morning of 1948 my mother woke me up at about 4:30am, gave me a bath and made my “Joora†(a bun of combed and knotted hair worn by the Sikhs). After I put on new clothes, she took me to the family radio and asked me to operate it. I pushed the on-button and the light came on. Soon the sound appeared. The sign-on tune of All India Radio looked like a great achievement. Then a sweet voice announced the time 5:00am and the start of a special one hour morning service on the airwaves of All India Radio Jalandhar-Amritsar in honour of the birth anniversary of Guru Nanak.

The announcer told that we are taking you to the Golden Temple Amritsar for a direct transmission of the recitation of “Asa Di Vaarâ€. In a split second the beat of the drums (Tabla), the sound of harmonium and high pitched voices of a group of musicians could be heard. It seemed that the musicians were emotionally calling Guru Nanak to once again bless this earth with his physical presence in human form. The special recitation of the hymns of the “Guru†sounded genuinely emotional and appeared rather impressive. At that young age I did not understand as to what was being sung, nevertheless, I felt highly impressed by the melody, tone and texture of the music. I had no knowledge as to who was singing, nor did anybody announce it especially. For a number of years the voices heard on that day were shrouded in mystery, but my curiosity was always there to un-revel this mystery.

Several years later, I had a chance meeting in America with Sardar Jodh Singh, the retired Assistant Station Director of All India Radio Jalandhar. Sardar Jodh Singh happened to be the announcer of the programme in the sanctum sancrorum of the Golden Temple on that auspicious day. He revealed for the first time that the group of musicians performing “Shabad Kirtan of Asa Di Vaar†at the Golden Temple during the first ever live transmission on the Birth Anniversary of Guru Nanak was indeed led by Late Bhai Santa Singh, the then senior most musician of the Golden Temple. I knew it all along that it was somebody special, somebody highly accomplished. A number of “Shabads†recorded on 78 RPM gramophone records in the voices of Bhai Santa Singh Ragi and party were available in the market for decades and different stations of All India Radio including Delhi, Jalandhar, Jammu and Lucknow used to play these records.

Bhai Santa Singh had the God given unique capability to sing in very high notes, which most other musicians could not replicate. His exact date of birth is not known, but according to recorded information he was born in the walled city of Amritsar in 1904. During those days very few Sikhs used to sing even in the gurdwaras and those who did sing had to hone their skills at classical music under the strict guidance of Muslim or Pandit professional classical teachers. Bhai Santa Singh was no exception, he enrolled at a very young age as a learner of Sikh classical music in the music department of the famous “Yateem Khana†in Amritsar. The head teacher was a renowned trainer in classical music Bhai Sain Ditta. Several of Sain Ditta’s students served as the “Huzoori Ragis†at the Golden Temple. Other famous students of Sain Ditta included Bhai Taba, Bhai Naseera, Bhai Darshan Singh Komal and Sain Ditta’s own son Bhai Desa. But Bhai Santa Singh was exceptional among them all. Soon after completing his education at the “Yateem Khana†Bhai Santa Singh was employed as a “Hazoori Ragi†at the Golden Temple during early twenties. His group included among others another famous personality Late Bhai Surjan Singh also. Both were bestowed with very sharp and melodious voices and could sing in unison. The democratically elected governing body for the Sikh shrines the Shiromani Gurdwara Prabandhak Committee (SGPC), replacing the old institution of “Mahanthood†took control of all the historic Sikh shrines in Punjab and North West Frontier Province in 1925, but still a very high standard of “Gurmat Sangeet†(traditional Sikh religious music) was maintained at most of its Gurdwaras at least during the first three decades of the inception of the SGPC.

During those days the Golden Temple Amritsar was known for employing highly accomplished musicians for performing “Chawnkis of Shabad Kirtan†in its sanctum sanctorum. Recommendations by the influential and the powerful were never considered for recruitment of staff. Other great musicians in the service of the Golden Temple included legendry Bhai Lal, Bhai Chand, Bhai Chanan, Bhai Hira Singh etc. Soon Bhai Santa Singh carved a nitch for himself. He was very hard-working. As a first step he used to grasp the meaning of the “Shabad†to be sung. He modulated his voice to convey the true meaning of the “Shabad†without the need of explaining it through a speech or a discourse. At times he used to slow down the beat so much that the meaning of each word of the “Guru†was understood clearly even by the layman. While reciting the “Bir Rus Bani†(martial music) of the tenth master Guru Gobind Singh, he used to convey the message of war by increasing the pace of the musical composition.

On special occasions, the Golden Temple and Gurdwara Janam Asthan Sri Nankana Sahib, the two most sacred Gurdwaras, used to exchange their leading musicians. Bhai Santa Singh used to go to Nankana Sahib on those occasions.

All India Radio Lahore came into being in 1936, but the full fledged production facilities were added in 1937. That was the year when Bhai Santa Singh was also approved as a casual radio artist. During those days the line up of the classical vocal radio artists of All India Lahore included among others Dalip Chander Vedi, Bade Ghulam Ali Khan, Master Rattan of Phagwara, Master Madan, Dina Qawwal of Jullundur, Mubarik Ali Fateh Ali of Jullundur and Harish Chander Bali. The leading Sikh religious musicians included Bhai Santa Singh of the Golden Temple and Bhai Samund Singh of Gurdwara Janam Asthan Nankana Sahib. Malika Pukhraj, Bhai Chhaila of Patiala, Mohammad Rafi, Noorjehan, Zeenat Begum, Shamshad Begum, Dilshad Begum, Mukhtar Begum, Parkash Kaur and Surinder Kaur were considered much junior Punjabi song and “Ghazal†singers.

Casual singing at All India Radio Lahore made Bhai Santa Singh very famous. During those days Genophone Recording Company opened its modern recording studio in Lahore. Master Ghulam Haider was hired as its music director. Master Ghulam Haider developed a special liking for the voice of Bhai Santa Singh. He persuaded Bhai Santa Singh to record some “Shabadsâ€. The tunes were either traditional Sikh religious “Reets†handed down from generation to generation or Bhai Santa Singh’s own highly melodious creations. The orchestra with special preludes and interludes was of course Ghulam Haider’s. Eight “Shabads†were recorded on four discs of three minutes each and each became very popular. These recordings were made in 1941-42, but their 45RPM extended play discs were available till 1970s. Other Sikh musician whose recordings of Sikh religious music are among the earliest available on records include Bhai Budh Singh Taan, whose rendering of “As Di Vaar†was available on 12 discs in 78RPM.

“Asa Di Vaar†by the group of Bhai Sudh Singh Pardhan Singh was also recorded during the forties. One or two records of “Shabad Gayan†in the voices of Bhai Gurmukh Singh Sarmukh Singh Fakkar of Nankana Sahib were also available in the market. In addition one disc of “Shabad Gayan†in the voice of child prodigy Master Madan was also recorded during the nineteen forties. This recording after disappearing from the market for several decades is once again available. Some “Shabads†sung by Bhai Budh Singh Taan and Surinder Kaur were also available in the market during the forties. Bhai Samund Singh, although sang regularly for the radio, but did not record his “Shabad Gayan†on discs until the nineteen sixties, when during the Quin Centennial celebrations of the birth of Guru Nanak a set of five long playing records was published.[To be continued]

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  • 12 years later...
Guest Japneet Kaur

Hello, i am the Great Granddaughter of Bhai Santa Singh Ji ,as such you can ask any questions related to them or their work

my Grandmother (His Daughter) would be happy to entertain them,

you can reach me on Japneetkaur14798@gmail.com if you wish to do so

glad to still see this much love,recognition and curiosity from the sangat still. 


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