image caption: Gurmukh Singh OBE AND Images of classical Kirtan with a variety of taanti saaj (string instruments).

Classical Gurbani Kirtan with Taanti Saaj at The Sikh Missionary Society UK

 A welcome relief from commotions in Gurdwaras.


       Many years ago, I attended a meeting of almost all leading UK Sikhs at the time, at the Central Gurdwara, Shepherds Bush, London. It started as a disruptive and noisy meeting. It was only when Bhai Sahib Mohinder Singh ji, accompanied by some Gursikhs like late S. Sewa Singh Mandla, requested all to recite and meditate on the Mool Mantar 5 times that there was peace. Some important decisions were taken that day.

In fact, it can be said that the principle of nationwide solutions to Sikh issues was accepted that day. Today, we face many internal divisions. The setting up of a nationwide Gurdwaras Council has been announced, hopefully, as a progressive next step from regional councils. As I was thinking of such community issues, I attended a classical Kirtan function at the Sikh Missionary Society UK on Saturday 2 June. It was the climax of a 3 days Kirtan training camp. A mixed-age group sang Shabads to the accompaniment of taanti saaj (string instruments). The heavenly Kirtan reminded me of the spiritual experience which guided us at the Shepherds Bush Gurdwara meeting all those years ago. When we become disconnected from our Source of Strength and unity, the Word of the Guru, we are filled with hao-mai (egocentricity) and we become bitter and divided.

There is a tendency for scholars to punctuate their bhashan (speeches) with Gurbani quotations but the message is hardly from the heart which should be filled with humility. Rather, the Gurbani quotations are flung at each other like missiles! That is beadbi (disrespect) of Gurbani. To sing and to spiritually experience the Message is true respect of the Shabad-Guru. The deep Message of Gurbani, especially when conveyed through classical Kirtan, can change bickering leaders to humble Gursikh sevadars of the Khalsa Panth. That should be the environment in a gurdwara.

         The group of Sikh children, men and women performing Kirtan to classical sur and taal (notes and beat) came from towns like Maidenhead, London, Slough, Hayes, High Wycombe and Southall. Weekly Kirtan classes are also held at the Society. They are students of sarangi Surjit Singh and tabla , Manjeet Singh Rasiya. This group showed that it is never too late to learn. The students were given awards on the conclusion of the Kirtan camp.


We need to bear in mind that proper classical Kirtan can only be sung with string instruments (taanti saaj) due to Indian musical shruti concept. Such Kirtan creates a truly heavenly environment when sung to varieties of these saaj (dilruba, sarangi, sitar etc) played in unison.


Every Sikh should be able to do Kirtan or, at least, become a good sarota (meditative listener).  Learning the correct classical raag bases and taals (beat combinations) and daily riaz i.e. practice for honing classical music skills at an early age should be part of the education of all Sikh children. That is the right succession planning for future community sevadars.


Gurmukh Singh OBE