The performance of Gurbānī kīrtan was established by Gurū Nānak, the founder of Sikhism, in Northwest India during the late 15th century. Since then, kīrtan has been a core practice of the Sikh faith, based on the singing of spiritual hymns. Set to rāgas and tālas, the chants are performed throughout the day at the Srī Darbār Sāhib (Lord’s court), the holy shrine in Amritsar. More than 5000 hymns have been collected in the Srī Gurū Granth Sāhib, the Sikh holy book indexed according to 31 rāgas and their 31 varieties. This volume includes compositions by the Sikh Masters, and poems attributed to Hindu and Sufi medieval mystics, such as Bhagat Namdev, Bhagat Kabir and Sheikh Farid. The Sikh tradition flourished at the crossroads of the Hindu and Muslim milieus, while maintaining the integrity of its own critically inclusive but unique vision. This is reflected in the multifaceted, and yet coherent, corpus of ancient compositions passed on by professional temple musicians, called rāgīs.
The concert will showcase, in particular, the repertoire transmitted by the lineage of Bhāī Jwālā Singh (1879-1952), a legendary rāgī of the Srī Darbār Sāhib. As established in 1968, by a special committee of the Punjabi University of Patiala, this repertoire includes original dhrupad and partāl compositions from the Sikh Gurus’ time (late 15th to early 18th centuries). In comparison with other dhrupad traditions, Gurbānī reveals its distinctive identity, not only for its array of rare rāgas and tālas, but also for being shaped by the sounds of unique instruments, such as the taūs and the jorī-pakhāwaj, whose creation is attributed to the Sikh Gurūs.