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Indian Classical Music and Sikh Kirtan

   


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Chapter 7: Music of the Divine Masters


Music of the Divine Masters
Union with God is attained through kirtan. (Guru Arjan)



Music and Religion

From ancient times, music has been regarded as a sacred art. It is related to certain values which are sublime and permanent but intangible. In the Vedic age, religious songs were sung in India in simple chants. Later on, Gandharva music 'was seen by the Creator in His contemplation and afterwards performed by seers and saints', and was considered as the surest means of attaining liberation. Sacred music was known as Marga Sangeet, while secular music was called Desi Sangeet.

In medieval Europe, hymns were popular in the Christian Churches, Chateaurbriand regarded music as 'the child of prayer and the companion of religion.' In England, church choirs and children's groups were established. Addison valued music as a spiritual aid because it 'wakes the soul and lifts it high and wings it with sublime desires and fits it to bespeak the deity.'

In India,, the contributions of saints and seers to the development of classical music have been manifold and significant. They have enriched it with streams of devotional songs. Jayadev Goswami (12-13 century) was one of the first mystical singers of Vaishnavite Bhakti. His Geet Govinda is regarded as a classic of devotional music. Herein, he sang of the love of Lord Krishna and Radha with great emotion and sincerity. Chaitanaya (1486-1534) of Bengal too sang of the mystic love of Krishna and Radha. Swami Haridas (1480-1575), the teacher of Tansen wasa great expert in the dhrupad style of devotional music. The first five Sikh Gurus (1469-1606) were also great singers and musicologists. They have encouraged professional singers for the benefit of their congregations. It was in 1604 that for the first time, the largest ever collection of sacred hymns of the first five Gurus, fifteen saints and fifteen bards was compiled and named Adi Granth. The Gurus regarded sacred music as a means of spiritual sadhana. They affirmed that the singing of the praises of God stabilised the mind and inspired the devotional element of Karnatak music through his inspiring kritis. In Bengal, Rabindranath Tagore (1861-1941) embellished Hindustani music with his own style called Rabindra Sangeet. His Gitanjali is an important collection of inspired poems for which he received Nobel Prize. In one of his poems, he says:

'When Thou commandest me to sing, it seems that my heart would break in pride,
And I look to Thy face and tears come to my eyes.
Drunk with the joy of singing, I forget myself and call. Thee friend who art my lord.'

Though music is generally tabooed in Islam [1] as an instrument of satan, it enjoys a place of pride among the unorthodox Sufi mystics. They call it Samai Hakani--spiritual trance. The Chisti mystics of northern India encouraged the qawwals (musicians) to sing the praises of God and then got into a situation of rapture when all danced together in a sort of mystic trance.

In India, the bhakti movement gave an impetus to sacred music. There are nine traditional stages of bhakti (devotional worship) according to the Scripture [2]. These are as follows:

1) Sunan : Hearing to the Holy Word.
2) Kirtan : Singing of the praises of God.
3) Simaran : Remembrance of the Lord.
4) Pooja : Love-worship of the deity or God.
5) Pad-sevan : Surrender of the self at the Lord's feet.
6) Vandhana : Supplication to the Lord.
7) Dasa-bhava : Considering oneself as the Lord's servant and obeying His commands.
8) Maitri Bhava : Real friendship with the Lord and total dependence on Him.
9) Atam-nivedan : Surrendering oneself to the Lord as an act of total dedication. This leads to the merger of the individual soul with the Universal Soul.

Though kirtan is regarded as the second stage, the Gurus gave it supremacy over other forms of devotion and valued it as the cheif mode of Sikh worship. Guru Arjan Dev says in this connection:

'Gurbani is the treasure of the jewels of Bhakti.
By singing, hearing and acting up to it, one is enraptured.' [3]

   


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