Thursday, 12 July 2012

Gauri Raag by Bibia(n) of Gurmat Gian Group

Gaori Raag sulakhni je Khasmai chit karae.
Gauri Raag is auspicious when it induces meditative contemplation of the Lord. (SGGS Ang 11)

(Also published as "Singing in Raag Gauri" article on Sikhchic and Sikhnet  )

(Note: Some passing knowledge of Gurbani keertan terms has been assumed.)

I first wrote about keertan by “Soul brides of our beloved Guru” in August 2009 for Sikh Times UK.
(Article also on this blogspot at  )

Dr Manbir Singh had forwarded me Gurmat Gian Group’s blogspot with the introduction, “Welcome to Kirtan by Young Sikh Women Musicians of Gurmat Gian Group. Enjoy this Shabad Video.”

On hearing the keynote Shabad, “Oha prem piri” by the Group, trained and led by Bibi Gurpreet Kaur, I became deeply interested in this remarkable initiative at Ludhiana, in central Punjab. More so on reading about the classical keertan background of Bibi Gurpreet Kaur, daughter of a Brigadier surgeon, himself an accomplished classical keertania. Bibi ji is the wife of Dr Manbir Singh, who runs a hospital at Raikot in district Ludhiana, and is the co-ordinator of the Group at Gurmat Gian Missionary College, Ludhiana.

In these recordings, deep spirituality of Ardaas is felt in shabads like "Hey sansaar taap harnay" (GGS:1358). Angelic voices sing in perfect harmony to effortless changes in taal (beat).

This was also the time when the ongoing debate about keertan by women jathas at Darbar Sahib had heated up once again. Despite some outstanding exceptions, traditional keertan rassias (meditative listeners) remain unimpressed by the poor quality of all-male jathas, hardly conversant with classical raags, and mostly untrained in the vocal art of singing to traditional string instruments (taanti saaj).

After producing a number of group audio CDs, Bibi Gurpreet ji accomplished a most challenging classical keertan project by recording 31 shudh (pure) raags of Guru Granth Sahib as a 6-CDs set, “Raag Ratan”. She was accompanied by her daughter, Keerat Kaur, in this project. To my knowledge, this was the first such recording by Sikh women keertanias.

Next in line was an even more ambitious project:, the recording of different Gauri Raag combinations with other raags. This project has now been completed as “Gauri Sagar” recording – a 3-CDs set - by Bibi Gurpreet Kaur and her daughter, Bibi Keerat Kaur.

This is a major milestone achievement in the evolution of classical Gurbani keertan , which has attracted the attention of widely acclaimed Keertanias like Bhai Nirmal Singh. Bhai Sahib has written a glowing report about the Group’s achievements to date in the Punjabi Tribune of 5 June 2012.

There is more Bani in Raag Gauri, the third raag in Guru Granth Sahib, than any other.

There are also more raag varieties in Gauri than any other raag in Guru Granth Sahib. Including the Shudh Gauri there are 12 forms of the Raag. The 11 mishrit (mixedt) varieties are : Gauri Bairagan, Gauri Guaraeree , Gauri Chaetee, Gauri Poorbi, , Gauri Deepki, Gauri Poorbi Deepki, Gauri Bhi Sorath Bhi, Gauri Malwa, Gauri Maajh, Gauri Mala, and Gauri Dakhnee.

According to Principal Dyal Singh of Gurmat Vidyala Gurdwara Sri Rakab Ganj, some raag combinations with Gauri, like raags Bairagan, Deepki, Maajh, Mala and , Malva are unique to Guru Granth Sahib, and there is no mention of these in Indian classical or modern music literature.

According to Sant Sarwan Singh Gandharb, it is not possible to sing Gauri Raag without formal and prolonged tuition by an ustaad of classical raags. In its exposition, it is important to distinguish Gauri from Bhairo, as the notes of Gauri are the same as those of Bhairo Raag. When singing, it is difficult to separate these two raags. In addition, raag Kalingra is also hovering in the vicinity at the higher notes.

On first listening to “Gauri Sagar”, I felt that some appreciation of the technical aspects would generate deeper interest and make the experience more meaningful.

In notes higher than “pa” (pancham) of madh saptak (middle octave), “there is a danger of Raag Kalingra embracing it”! (Sarwan Singh). There is much controversy about even Shudh Gauri. Gauri is best enjoyed up to “pa” (pancham) note of madh saptak with continual stress on “ni” (nikhaad) of mandar saptak (lower octave). The raag belongs to the Bhairo mainstream (tthaath) sung in the morning. As is usual with raag schools, there is some controversy about the stress notes (vaadi and samvadi):, some opting for “ma” (madham) as the main key with “sa” (sharaj) as the supporting key. Others opt for “ray” (rishab) and “pa” (pancham) combination.

Bibi Gurpreet had some reservation about the need to know the basics of raag, when she wrote back, “I feel, keeping the basics and intricacies of raags is the duty and work of keertanias and for sangat to just enjoy the message of Gurubani.” Nevertheless, she did send a sort of guided tour of the deep “Gauri Sagar” ! Otherwise, perhaps too deep even for experienced listeners of classical keertan.

She wrote, “These compositions and singing style are a departure from routine pattern of singing of today which is getting dull and monotonous. I agree after listening to "Padtaal Shabad Gaiki" - a 7-Cd collection - by some well known keertanias like Dr Gurnam Singh, Bhai Nirmal Singh, Prof Kartar Singh, "Singh  Bandhu" Surinder Singh and some others.

Continued Bibi Gurpreet ji, "If we see around it is not uncommon to find the same monotony of teen taal whenever there is a performance based on raags. We are trying to break this monotony by singing in various, not so common, taals and presenting raag based keertan in various shayees like dhrupad, khayal and thumari ...In Gauri Sagar we have used taals like: Matta(9), Sool taal(10), Shikhar taal(17), Rudra taal(11) along with Roopak, Keharva and Teen taal. As in the first shabad of CD1 ‘Bin Bhagavant Naahee An Koae’ a combination of Matta (9) & Keharava (8) is used, which is a very rare combination and to my knowledge hardly anyone must have used.”

I used to joke about “mishrit raags” with Dya Singh of Australia, treating most of his “world music” tunes as “mishrit raags! That was due to my misunderstanding of what a mishrit raag is. A mishrit raag is certainly not  a DIY (do-it-yourself ) "khichri" raag! But no longer is there any doubt about the complexity of a mishrit raag, after reading the following, also supported by those like Sant Sarwan Singh Gandharb.

Wrote Bibi Gurpreet ji, “A major difference between Sudh Raags of Raag Ratan and Mishrit Raags of Gauri Sagar is that these mishrit raags are tougher and difficult raags and to compose in these raags is always a challenge. Like, for example Raag Gauri Poorbi Deepki CD1, 5th Shabad, which is a combination of three raag - Gauri, Poorbi and Deepki. The Shabad in the raag is ‘Tum Gaavoh Maerae Nirbhao Kaa Sohila’ Now, the composition for this shabad had to be made very simple for singing as this shabad is on the lips of everybody. For this shabad we used pakhavaj (small drum) 8 beats to give the feel of singing in older times when pakavaj was used, and by mixing pakhavaj with contemporary music gives a feel of a new style.”

The mystery of Shabad “ Tum Gaavoh Maerae Nirbhao Kaa Sohila ” being sung twice is solved. The Shabad is mentioned in Sri Guru Granth Sahib at two places Ang 12 and Ang 157 with minor differences, under different raags: Gauri Deepki and Gauri Poorbi Deepki. In the 3rd CD, the last Shabad ‘Tum Gaavoh Maerae Nirbhao Kaa Sohila’ is in Gauri Deepki. It has been sung in Shikhar Taal (17) beats, an uncommon beat.

“Gauri Sagar” is recommended for the more mature listener of deeply spiritual classical Gurbani keertan. Ordinary listener is immediately moved by some Shabads like “Dukh bhanjan Tera Naam ji” in Raag Gauri Maajh.

I feel that some distracting repetition, and what seemed like unnecessary protraction of Shabads, could have been avoided to make the listening experience even more enjoyable. Nevertheless, there is much here for dedicated student listeners of classical keertan.

My own interest in this Group has two aspects. Firstly, the male-biased keertan politics, which keeps women kirtanias out of Darbar Sahib. With an increasing number of accomplished Sikh women keertanias, there should be no excuse for saying that there are very few women singers.

Secondly, singing, poetry and art are important qualifications for the proverbial “batees sulakhni” role of a successful housewife in a family. I believe that for the enrichment and progress of Sikh religio-cultural heritage, girls, especially from middle and upper socio-economic backgrounds, should take up classical keertan for developing more rounded personalities, and as good investment for married life and motherhood.

We get glimpses of such women in Indian and Sikh cultural traditions. Sardar Jassa Singh Ahluwalia's mother was an accomplished Gurbani keertania who did keertan at Darbar Sahib (Sakhi, "Shah kahayo Jassa Singh Kalal", Sri Guru Panth Parkaash p.290, Published by Sikh Ithaas Research Board, SGPC.)  

By recording 31 shudh raags of Guru Granth Sahib as “Raag Ratan” and the Gauri Raag and its 11 mixed varieties as “Gauri Sagar”, Bibi Gurpreet Kaur and her gifted daughter, Keerat Kaur, have already secured a place of honour in the Gurbani Keertan tradition. Keerat Kaur is now married and lives in America and receives sangat’s blessing by doing keertan at local gurdwara in Atlanta city.

Bibi Gurpreet Kaurs teaches keertan at Gurmat Gian Missionary College. Like earlier keertan recordings, we look forward to more keertan by her with her girl students in future.

Gurmukh Singh

©Gurmukh Singh

This article may be published or quoted from, with acknowledgement.

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