Piety of Gurmat Sangeet Soars in Kirtan by Acclaimed Raagis


Gurdwara resident raagi Bhai Bhupinder Singh Paras (on harmonium) with his group.

By Jawahar Malhotra

HOUSTON: It was religious music with a tempo, based on the taals or scales of Indian classical raags. If you didn’t understand the words you would still be entranced as the range of the voices carried you away from the highs and lows of devotional hymns. The maestro who had perfected his style of reciting the Punjabi hymns taken straight from the Guru Granth Sahib controlled his pitch and delivery so that you had no choice but to be captivated.
“Sajanarraa maeraa sajanarraa mkatt; khaloeiarraa maeraa saajanarraa”. It was Sunday just before noon and he played on that verse over and over in several taals to where it was plain music. “Friend, my friend – standing so near to me is my friend”. The screen above the stage projected the words.


Acclaimed visiting raagi Dr. Gurnam Singh (second from right) with Manpreet Singh from New Jersey on second harmonium, Raghubir Singh from New Jersey on three tablas and Gurpreet Singh from Los Angeles on the stringed dillruba

For three days this past week, Friday August 19 through Sunday afternoon, August 21, Dr. Gurnam Singh and Bhai Nirmal Singh, both with their own group of musicians, brought the piety of the words of the Granth Sahib – the Gurmat Sangeet or Shabad Kirtan – to packed halls of the devout at the Gurdwara Sahib of Southwest Houston. Participating in the Gurmat Sangeet Sammelan was resident raagi Bhai Bhupinder Singh Paras, who regularly captivates the congregation with his voice.

It was the second straight year that the trio participated in the Gurmat Sangeet Sammelan held at the Gurdwara. Gurnam Singh sang as he played the harmonium, with Manpreet Singh from New Jersey on second harmonium, Raghubir Singh from New Jersey on three tablas and Gurpreet Singh from Los Angeles on the stringed dillruba. The four sat in saffron turbans and performed traditional kirtan according to the parampara set by the Sikh Gurus. The equally accomplished Nirmal Singh performed with own group and the three maestros alternated throughout the three days of kirtans.

Dr. Gurnam Singh is Chairman of the Gurmat Sangeet Department of Punjabi University at Patiala, Punjab. He is a practicing Raagi of utmost caliber and has authored 18 books, 123 research papers, and 250 articles on Gurmat Sangeet and several masters and doctoral students are studying under him. He has also made a historical solo recording of 31 Gurbani Raagas for HMV. Bhai Nirmal Singh Khalsa has captivated Sikh sangats all over the world and is the Hazoori raagi of Sri Harimandar Sahib (The Golden Temple), Amritsar where he has performed kirtan for the last 30 years.

Shabad Kirtan began in the 16th century as the musical expression of mystical poetry conceived by the founder of Sikhism, Guru Nanak. He initiated the tradition of communicating the spiritual message through his utterances, acting as humanity’s channel to the divine. AHHHll the other Sikh gurus sang in the ten prevalent classical and folk music styles, accompanied by stringed and percussion instruments and they specified the raaga in which each hymn was sung.


The devoted came to listen and be mesmerized by the performances while the shabads were displayed on a screen above.

Thirty one main raagas and thirty one variants were named in the Sikh music tradition. These raagas have a direct relationship to human moods and feelings at different times of the day and seasons. Over the centuries, Sikh musicians developed into three types: rabais, raagis and dhadhis.

The program was organized by Jasbir Singh, Vice-Chairman, Board of Trustees and assisted by Harcharan Singh of the Sri Hemkunt Foundation, both of whom spoke briefly, giving introductions to the artists. And the sangat which came to the packed performances over three days were not disappointed by the power of the devotional sangeet.

Click Below for a short video of Dr. Gurnam Singh performing at the Southwest Gurdwara