When discussing the contributions of the Gurus to society we are able to easily think of the concepts of Langar, the gurudwara, cities, gardens, and many other small but significant actions. However, something that is almost rarely discussed is Gurmat Sangeet.
It’s no secret that the system of Indian classical system had existed before the time of the Gurus, but their contribution and their transformation of that system is what is important. When going through Guru Granth Sahib ji, something that is immediately noticeable is the fact that is divided into sections called: raags.
There have been scholarly disagreements about how many raags there are; however, most scholars believe that number is close to 60. Another interesting fact about this system of organization is that, not only is it unique to Sikhi, but the Gurus themselves created more than half of the raags found in the Guru Granth Sahib.
A raag is an emotion or mood that is portrayed through a musical scale. What is so powerful about this? The entirety of the Guru Granth Sahib (excluding Jap ji Sahib) is written under a certain raag. Every shabad (or hymn) written in the Guru Granth Sahib, is accompanied by a specific raag that is supposed to enhance the emotion and power of that particular composition. The system of organization created by Guru Arjan Dev ji is one of the most elaborate systems used to have divided these raags.
It is important to know this because of how powerful and central Kirtan is to the Sikh tradition. We come from a lineage of not just scholars and revolutionaries, but also of musicians, poets, and innovators. We must reclaim a tradition that was pushed to the back of the Sikh psyche. A tradition so powerful that it changed the dark minds of individuals such as Sajjan Thag (the Thief) into Sheikh Sajjan.
This is one of the most unique tools that Guru Sahib has given us: Kirtan. The ability of portraying emotion through music. To be able to convey struggles, sorrows, happiness, joy, loneliness, hope, separation through music. We have forgotten our tradition, but have begun to take steps in order to ensure that we honor, respect and restore this tradition. There are organizations that have taken a duty to re-educate the Khalsa Panth on matters of musicality and Gurbani. A few of the organizations that have taken the purpose of preserving this part of the Sikh tradition are: the Gurmat Sangeet Library, Gurmat Sangeet Project, Gurmat Sangeet Academy, Raj Academy, and the Gurmat Sangeet Project - Punjabi University, Patiala.
Let us reclaim our heritage and use the tools that the Gurus themselves have provided!
The Kaur Foundation