I would like to share a nugget from my recent research into one aspect of Sikh music. This is a slightly specialised topic but I hope one of interest to some.
Amongst the Sikhs today, the Namdhari community, identified by their white attire and distinctive turban style, are credited as being the custodians of traditional Sikh music. Put simply, they are said to have preserved an authentic style by conforming to the original genres such as Dhrupad, the Rāgas of Indian classical music and by maintaining the use of traditional instruments. This is in contrast to the popularisation of mainstream Sikh music which has taken place over the last century.
Such a reputation and such respect afforded to a small sect who have otherwise actually been shunned by the wider Sikh community for their differing practices poses an intriguing scenario. Indeed, they are today equally respected in the world of Indian classical music for their musical prowess and contributions.
In our research to uncover the story behind the history and development of the Namdhari musical tradition, me and Jasdeep Bhai interviewed several Ustads based in the U.K. The following clip provides an overview of the Namdhari musical tradition and its development in the words of the Ustads themselves.
As the video highlights, the Namdhari Kīrtan tradition largely reflects the style of the Rabābīs from whom they learnt. The Namdhari Satguru, Baba Pratap Singh ji, established a music school in the early 20th century and brought in great musicians to teach vocal and instrumental music amongst whom were Bhai Taba and Bhai Nasira, two famous and influential Rabābīs of Amritsar. Prior to that, Rabābīs had only been patronised as performers and not teachers and Namdhari music had been a folk tradition in contrast to the classical style of the Rabābīs.
Today the Namdharis are arguably the strongest surviving link to the Rabābī musical tradition of Amritsar. Their subsequent Satguru, Baba Jagjit Singh ji, also did much to further the musical tradition of the Namdharis by sending youngsters to learn from great Ustads and Pandits of Indian classical music thus solidifying their musical base and ensuring the longevity of the Namdhari musical tradition. As a result of this period of influence from Indian classical music, their musical style has naturally become infused with elements of classical music and is no longer purely a representation of the Rabābī school. One of the beneficiaries of Baba Jagjit Singh ji’s patronage, and an authority and senior custodian of the Namdhari–Rabābī musical tradition today, is Ustad Harbhajan Singh who I introduced in a previous post.
Great credit is due to Baba Pratap Singh ji and Baba Jagjit Singh ji of the Namdhari tradition for their preservation of contribution to music. It is owing to them that we have such a strong surviving link to the musical tradition of the Rabābīs which dates back to the medieval period and the time of Bhai Mardana and Guru Nanak.