Monday, 25 April 2011

Gurmat Sangeet: Interview with Dr Gurnam Singh

On May 6, 2006, the Darbar Sahib reverberated with the sounds of stringed instruments for the first time. Dr. Gurnam Singh and a jatha of his students, on the invitation of the SGPC, brought back the traditional Gurbani sounds. Five years down the line, Gurmat Sangeet strains now run across the state (and outside it). Students are eager to train in the Gurmat Sangeet discipline. The Department of Gurmat Sangeet, Punjabi University, Patiala, recently made its (1,800 hours) music archives available online. Presently Dean, Faculty of Art and Culture as well as the founder professor and head of the department, Dr. Gurnam Singh is one of the catalysts in the promotion of Gurbani music. Excerpts from an interview:

Q. Musicologists usually differ on the history and origin of Gurmat Sangeet. What do you say?

A. Gurmat Sangeet is an independent music tradition within Indian music. It began with Guru Nanak. He propagated a spiritual message to people and began binding it in ragas. The ragas used were both the ones which were inspired by folk traditions and the ones that the Gurus created. Prominently two traditions dominated. The Desi (folk) traditions (like Raag Majh and Asa) and Sanatani traditions (like Seri and Gauri).

Q. Some say Gurmat Sangeet existed before court music and some say it came after it.

A. It existed along with courts. Guru Nanak and Babar were contemporaries. The court musicians were called Babar Ke and Gurmat musicians were referred to as Guru Ke. While the former sang for the king, the latter sang for God. Folk traditions enriched classical patronage in darbars while the masses basked in the glory of Gurmat Sangeet.

Q. How did your own journey in Gurmat Sangeet start?

I was tutored by Prof Tara Singh and by my father, Shiromani Ragi Bhai Uttam Singh. When I was a student, no one knew about Gurmat Sangeet. It was sad. Starting on the academic front, I knew Gurmat Sangeet had to be taken to the masses because people had forgotten the importance of the music from the Gurus. In 1993 Gurmat Sangeet was included in the music syllabi of colleges. In 1997 it was included in the syllabi of Punjabi University. The Gurmat Sangeet Chair was set up in 2003 and in 2005 the Department of Gurmat Sangeet was established at the university. The Gurmat Sangeet archives and library followed soon after. Things are just getting better with each day.

Q. Tell us about the role of stringed instruments in Gurmat Sangeet.

A. Gurmat Sangeet was always supposed to be accompanied by stringed instruments. Every Guru practised music with a stringed instrument. Guru Nanak Dev gave us the Rabab, Guru Arjan Dev developed the Sarandha, Guru Hargobind the Taus and Guru Gobind Singh the Dilruba and the Tambura. Stringed instruments complimented raga variations. The instruments originated through folk traditions and the Gurus developed them.

Q. What role do you think Gurmat Sangeet plays in youth today?

A. I have seen Gurmat Sangeet turn people’s lives around. I have students who came from poor backgrounds and small homes. They started learning Gurmat Sangeet and this has earned them respect and employment. Gurmat Sangeet is a strong tool in the propagation of Sikhism itself. Those who practise it get closer to God.

Q.There is a feeling that everyone is after it these days. Do you see any wrong trends emerging?

A. Yes. Gurmat Sangeet has become fashionable. Everyone practises it but very few understand it. When misinformed people dole out lessons in Gurmat Sangeet, sometimes blunders happen and people get the wrong message. Misinformed teachers abound. Also, NRIs are duped in the name of Gurmat Sangeet. They are sold instruments at exorbitant prices. Since it’s a fad now, they fall for it. It’s a widespread evil and people are being cheated in the name of music.

Q. What are your department’s future plans?

A. We are conducting research on stringed instruments. Particularly the Rabab. The Firandia rabab that was handed down to Bhai Mardana at Firanda is the original one. People often confuse it for the Kabuli, Afghani or the Kashmiri Rabab. We plan to bring out a dictionary of terminologies on Gurmat Sangeet and plan to launch online courses for students.


Dr Gurnam Singh

by Aparna Banerji, Tribune India, Sunday, April 24, 2011.

See other stories:
Demand for ragis on the rise in India and abroad.

Compilation of the complete 31 ragas of Guru Granth Sahib released.

 

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