Its been a while since I last posted and a phone conversation with an old friend from Amritsar spurred me to write something which I have been meaning to for a while.

Amritsar is a very stirring place for me and many others too no doubt. It is a city whose history is inseparable from the Sikh tradition. The very name Amritsar means ‘pool of nectar’, referring to the tank of water in which sits the sacred shrine of the 4th master, Sri Guru Ram Das ji, i.e., the golden temple.

The first time I visited Darbar Sahib, as it is commonly known, I certainly was deeply affected by the devotional and peaceful atmosphere of the place. However, on my return many years later, I couldn’t help but be struck by the mix of emotions which welled up inside me. Hearing the Kīrtan in a style, which so resembled Bhangra that I felt like I was at a wedding party, made me frustrated, sad, disappointed and worst of all, it made me want to leave.

I therefore strongly relate to the views shared by Bhai Baldeep Singh, a 13th generation exponent of Gurbānī Sangīt and scholar too, in this short clip.

The way in which the Rabābīs, blessed with the tradition of Kīrtan by the gurus themselves, have been ousted from their ‘home’, is a tragedy. Traditions which brought Gurbānī alive within the precints of the temple, such as the singing of Kīrtan by groups of Rāgīs and Rabābīs at various points around the tank, have been removed. The openness for great visiting musicians to humbly offer their music as Kīrtan is now non-existent. The sounds of instruments including the Sarinda, Taus, Pakhawaj, Jori, Rabab, Dotara, Chautara, Sitar, Sarod and Tanpura now resound only in the memories of this place having been replaced by the clunky imposter that is the harmonium. The rich variety of Rāgas and Tālas which once adorned all the Kīrtan and was valued and respected by listeners and practicioners alike, are now sung as a mere formality at the beginning, to tick a box, and then cast aside in favour of ‘filmi’ tunes.

The excellence of music, which was upheld by the tradition bearers and servants of the Gurbānī Sangīt tradition, is now in tatters. It was that excellence which inspired the visitors and, famously, the great poet Rabindranath Tagore in his development of Rabindra Sangīt and great musicians from the film industry like singer K. L. Saigal.

Kīrtan is an offering to the divine. In the present era, the level of what is being offered is saddening to me. The Gursikh art is barely a shadow of its former self.

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