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Indian Classical Music and Sikh Kirtan

   
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Foreword


It is rather odd, but music seems always to lie low in most of the religions of the world. Doubtless it is used in some, as a part of worship, but strictly and always as just one of the aids. Islam, of course, is quite forthright and throws it right out as sinful. Hinduism says a great deal; concepts such as Nada, Brahman, Anahata Nada and so on, but does very little in practical terms, leaving the subject ambiguous and unresolved. In the Indian North, at a certain stage, music had fallen into such disrepute that until the first few decades of this brought music out in the open and pioneered a movement to give the art respectability and dignity, it could only be taught furtively in the seclusion of shuttered Barsatis and gloomy Tay-Khanas and at dead night.

Even in the Karnatak school where a great deal is made of the saintliness of its composers, music has never been a direct means of formal worship. With the utmost care and circumspection the Karnatak school preempted the use of music as means of formal worship by grammarising it root and branch. So that even during an Arangetram, vis-a-vis with the deity, Karnatak music continues to remain a performance in which technical virtuosity is the chief preoccupation of the qualified student. The sad despairing call of Tyagaraja, asking to be quenched of his thirst for Rama becomes a frond of leaping Solfeges, syncopations and cross rhythms, masses of intricate Gamakas and exploding Arpeggios.

Sikhism is perhaps the only religion in the world that uses music as its chief mode of worship, where music is prayer, is High Mass, is meditation and offering. Firmly it makes the Kirtan and the Seizing into an unmediated and direct pathway to God, the shortest and the quickest means of reaching the true and terminal destination of man's journey through time, after which there are no more journeys to undertake, no more births to redeem. One reason why this happened only in Sikhism, was because its founder was a musician. Mirabai, Kabir, Tyagaraja, Dikshitar, Tulsi, Sur, Dhyaneshwar, or Chandi were all great musicians and saints but none of them founded a religion, whereas Guru Nanak did.

In the West, in the Christian religious tradition, music does play a part in even song, in hymnody and psalm, but this is intended to exhilarate and exalt. There is no evidence in the West of singing saints whose music and saintliness were equal and interchangeable. Bernadette, we are told had a contralto, and St. Anselm sang in a powerful countertenor, almost like a choir boy. But that was all desultory, occasional. To some extent, Western music in its technique and conception, preempts such an internal and mystical use of music. Try to visualise Mozart's Te Derm or a piece like Ave Verum Corpu or the Mass in D producing on a Christian congregation the kind of rapture or spiritual abandon which the Cardens and the Shabads are intended to produce and often do.

Barring Sikhism, the religions of India seemed to have stood in fear of the power of music. By omitting to make a mention of music as a direct mode of attaining the Godhead, it is rarely did not want to use music without first sanitising it, making it all into Raga and Tala Vidya and offering it through the complex drill and format of the performance. So that even where a tradition almost exclusively of singing saints exists as in the Karnatak school where not a whisper of an earthly or a profane concern is allowed to enter music, it becomes difficult to experience the piety and the vision of Tyagaraja without having to fight your way through thickets of Swaraprastharas, through whole gaggles of grace and trills, through too much obscuring skill and craftsmanship. So that you have a situation in which even after the most exalted concert, the listener gets Bhakti only at second hand, slightly shopworn and tried on by too many customers.

In Sikhism this danger is recognised and precautions are taken. It prescribes as one of the conditions of leading a Satsang that the Kirtan should never be made into a performance. The Raga in which the Kirtan is composed is required to be sued cautiously like the fire in a kitchen, properly controlled, properly directed. If the Raga flares into a bonfire, the meaning of the Kirtan would be burned to a crisp. So that Raga and the Tala have to be used as a means whereby the magic spiritual awareness may be experienced. That is all. If the Raga and the Tala should become too assertive, they would manipulate the text and its layered meaning and its measure will succumb to the rigid caprice of the Tala.

If all the separate components of our music are to be muted in Kirtan and if it may not become a performance, wherein will lie a Sikh Kirtan's rapture? How will it penetrate the filters of the mind and enter the soul? To this question the customary answer is the faith, the holiness and the purity of the singers's heart. This answer will silence any questioner. To the challenge of faith, holiness and purity there are no takers. But what we often tend to forget is that there is available in our musical tradition a well prescribed technique of working indirectly towards attaining the
gift of producing this rapture without getting too deeply involved and sidetracked by Raga and Tala. This technique is Swara Sadhana. A Sikh Kirtan's power and purpose cannot be served, if the singer has no knowledge or


Foreword


It is rather odd, but music seems always to lie low in most of the religions of the world. Doubtless it is used in some, as a part of worship, but strictly and always as just one of the aids. Islam, of course, is quite forthright and throws it right out as sinful. Hinduism says a great deal; concepts such as Nada, Brahman, Anahata Nada and so on, but does very little in practical terms, leaving the subject ambiguous and unresolved. In the Indian North, at a certain stage, music had fallen into such disrepute that until the first few decades of this brought music out in the open and pioneered a movement to give the art respectability and dignity, it could only be taught furtively in the seclusion of shuttered Barsatis and gloomy Tay-Khanas and at dead night.

Even in the Karnatak school where a great deal is made of the saintliness of its composers, music has never been a direct means of formal worship. With the utmost care and circumspection the Karnatak school preempted the use of music as means of formal worship by grammarising it root and branch. So that even during an Arangetram, vis-a-vis with the deity, Karnatak music continues to remain a performance in which technical virtuosity is the chief preoccupation of the qualified student. The sad despairing call of Tyagaraja, asking to be quenched of his thirst for Rama becomes a frond of leaping Solfeges, syncopations and cross rhythms, masses of intricate Gamakas and exploding Arpeggios.

Sikhism is perhaps the only religion in the world that uses music as its chief mode of worship, where music is prayer, is High Mass, is meditation and offering. Firmly it makes the Kirtan and the Seizing into an unmediated and direct pathway to God, the shortest and the quickest means of reaching the true and terminal destination of man's journey through time, after which there are no more journeys to undertake, no more births to redeem. One reason why this happened only in Sikhism, was because its founder was a musician. Mirabai, Kabir, Tyagaraja, Dikshitar, Tulsi, Sur, Dhyaneshwar, or Chandi were all great musicians and saints but none of them founded a religion, whereas Guru Nanak did.

In the West, in the Christian religious tradition, music does play a part in even song, in hymnody and psalm, but this is intended to exhilarate and exalt. There is no evidence in the West of singing saints whose music and saintliness were equal and interchangeable. Bernadette, we are told had a contralto, and St. Anselm sang in a powerful countertenor, almost like a choir boy. But that was all desultory, occasional. To some extent, Western music in its technique and conception, preempts such an internal and mystical use of music. Try to visualise Mozart's Te Derm or a piece like Ave Verum Corpu or the Mass in D producing on a Christian congregation the kind of rapture or spiritual abandon which the Cardens and the Shabads are intended to produce and often do.

Barring Sikhism, the religions of India seemed to have stood in fear of the power of music. By omitting to make a mention of music as a direct mode of attaining the Godhead, it is rarely did not want to use music without first sanitising it, making it all into Raga and Tala Vidya and offering it through the complex drill and format of the performance. So that even where a tradition almost exclusively of singing saints exists as in the Karnatak school where not a whisper of an earthly or a profane concern is allowed to enter music, it becomes difficult to experience the piety and the vision of Tyagaraja without having to fight your way through thickets of Swaraprastharas, through whole gaggles of grace and trills, through too much obscuring skill and craftsmanship. So that you have a situation in which even after the most exalted concert, the listener gets Bhakti only at second hand, slightly shopworn and tried on by too many customers.

In Sikhism this danger is recognised and precautions are taken. It prescribes as one of the conditions of leading a Satsang that the Kirtan should never be made into a performance. The Raga in which the Kirtan is composed is required to be sued cautiously like the fire in a kitchen, properly controlled, properly directed. If the Raga flares into a bonfire, the meaning of the Kirtan would be burned to a crisp. So that Raga and the Tala have to be used as a means whereby the magic spiritual awareness may be experienced. That is all. If the Raga and the Tala should become too assertive, they would manipulate the text and its layered meaning and its measure will succumb to the rigid caprice of the Tala.

If all the separate components of our music are to be muted in Kirtan and if it may not become a performance, wherein will lie a Sikh Kirtan's rapture? How will it penetrate the filters of the mind and enter the soul? To this question the customary answer is the faith, the holiness and the purity of the singers's heart. This answer will silence any questioner. To the challenge of faith, holiness and purity there are no takers. But what we often tend to forget is that there is available in our musical tradition a well prescribed technique of working indirectly towards attaining the
gift of producing this rapture without getting too deeply involved and sidetracked by Raga and Tala. This technique is Swara Sadhana. A Sikh Kirtan's power and purpose cannot be served, if the singer has no knowledge or

   
Displaying Page 5 of 200