Those who have recited Gurbani and kept us all connected with divine words
as enshrined in Sri Guru Granth Sahib.
Th e relationship of Sikhs with music is there right from the beginning of the Sikh religion. Guru Nanak
Dev Ji realized the importance and impact of music on the human mind. He, therefore made it a medium to
express his divine thoughts. When Guru Arjan Dev Ji compiled the Adi Granth he set all the compositions
of his predecessors and those of the Saint poets to diff erent musical measures as it was considered that the
music could provide a state of blissfulness in the human mind and restored him to the state of equipoise.
Kirtan in Sikh religion is diff erent from other devotional singing in certain respects. Firstly, it is sung in a
particular musical measures with specifi ed notations as mentioned by the composer himself. Secondly, in
Kirtan, it is the content which has to be dominant and not the instruments. Th irdly, though it can be sung
by anyone anywhere, when it is performed in congregation at the shrines, it is presently, sung only by the
baptized Sikhs and not by others. In Kirtan, there is no clapping, moving body parts or dancing as may be
combined with other devotional singing. It may be mentioned that the earliest singers of Gurbani i.e. who
performed kirtan were rababis, who were mainly Muslims, which tradition started from Bhai Mardana, the
Muslim companion of Guru Nanak, the rebeck player along with him. Th e Muslim groups continued to
recite Kirtan inside Harmandir, Th e Golden Temple, until the partition of the country in 1947, when these
people migrated to Pakistan.
Even during the 18 Century some of the Muslim singers used to sing Gurbani. Jassa Singh Ahluwalia,
the brave Sikh warrior of the 18 Century was also a Gurbani singer. In the beginning of 19th Century,
some prominent Kirtan performers included Baba Sham Singh Ji, Bhai Mansa Singh Ji and Bhai Hira Singh
Ji. Baba Sham Singh used a diff erent musical instrument Taad Tanti which can still be seen in Amritsar
museum. Some more instruments like Rabab and Tanti was gradually replaced by Harmonium and Tabla,
but there were always excellent singers of Gurbani. When the Singh Sabha movement became prominent,
there started appearing a good number of ragis. In the early part of the 20th Century, there were ragis like
Bhai Santa Singh, Mahant Gajja Singh, Bhai Chand Ji and then came Bhai Surjan Singh, Bhai Samund Singh,
Sant Sujan Singh and Bhai Chela Ram Ji, who provided their melodious voice to satisfy the spiritual quest of
the people. Bhai Samund Singh Ji had started singing Gurbani at a tender age of 9 years only, and when he
sang for the fi rst time before a large gathering at the time of fi rst Sikh Educational Conference, he became so
popular that people started inviting him for his performance even at far off places. Bhai Surjan Singh Ji was
a blind musician, but his voice was so melodious that he attracted huge crowds who were eager to hear him
singing 'Asa Di Var'. Bhai Chela Ram Ji was a Sindhi, devoted to Sikh scriptures so intensely that he became
a popular kirtan singer. Some of his family members are still known reciters of Gurbani.
During the recent decades, there has been a spurt of Gurbani singers. It is mainly because of the
expansion of the electronic media and the improving condition of Gurbani Singing professionals. Some of
the Ragis have become merely commercial and the spirit of promoting and propagating Gurbani is missing.
But, a few Ragis are still reciting Gurbani with the main mission of conveying the message of the Masters so
that the listeners devotees understand it and adopt it as a way of living. Th ere are some Ragis, who being in
high demand, are earning good money, but considering their responsibility to serve the society, they have
started certain useful pursuits for the benefi t of all the people. For example Bhai Jasbir Singh Khannewale
spent most of their earnings in establishing a religious center for Dharam Parchar and an ultra modern eye
hospital at Sohana near Mohali in Punjab. Aft er his death his successors Bhai Davinder Singh is carrying on
this mission with expansion plan for the hospital making it a multi specialty hospital. Such type of Nishkam
Jathas are role-models in this regard.