‘A SECRET PASSAGE TO THE SOUL’
Specific sounds and mantras are collectively chanted to music, guiding the awareness inward. The repetition of these chants (mantras) vitalize the pranic energy (life-force) in the breath, illuminating the passage to the Soul. Experience the transformation of ‘Sound to Light’ – ‘Breath to Soul’.
Sikhism has a venerable tradition of Shabad-Kirtan (Chanting of Hymns in congregational gatherings. Down the centuries an uninterrupted flow of Kirtan has been going on the abodes of the Guru, i.e. Gurdwaras. The origin of Shabad kirtan is traceable to the divine notes flowing from the Rabab of Bhai Mardana. The personification of the holy Sri Guru Granth Sahib ji as the Master is ample evidence of the fact that all the Sikh Masters recited their divine poetry (i.e. Bani, in common parlance) in Ragas and the entire Bani of Sri Guru Granth Sahib ji has been prescribed mainly under 31 Ragas. There is a fairly good expansion of Ragas singing styles and musical instruments prevailing in the Guru’s abode, which has highlighted the music tradition of Sikhism in its original form.
Amrit Kirtan is a collection of verses from Sri Guru Granth Sahib traditionally sung in the Sikh congregations. The poetry of the Sri Guru Granth Sahib is worthy of the highest consideration in singing the hymns. Music forms the basis of the rhythms and classification of the hymns of Sri Guru Granth Sahib. They follow a definite metrical system called raags. A raag in Indian classical music means a pattern of melodic notes. This form is not only used to preserve the originality of the composition, as the poetry written in this form is difficult to imitate, but more so to provide the divine experience through the medium of music and the sounds of God’s creation. The total number of ragas is 31. The gurus themselves invented some of those. Under each Raag, the hymns are arranged in different meters as Chaupadas and Ashtapadas; long poems include Chhands, Vars, and Bhagat verses.
An outstanding feature of the Guru Granth is the rescission and beauty of its prosody. Whilst a great deal of it is cast in traditional verse forms (e.g. shlokas and paudis), and could best be understood in the context of the well-known classical raags, several hymns and songs make use of popular folklore and meters (e.g. alahanis, ghoris, chands, etc.). The inner and integral relationship between music and verse has been maintained with scholarly rectitude and concern. The complete musicalization of thought was accomplished in a scientific and scholarly manner so that it makes for the unusually vigorous yet supple discipline of the Granth’s own
The Guru Granth verses are often sung in a process known as kirtan. In this process true meaning is revealed directly to the Surat (consciousness and awareness) through cosmic vibrations. The body’s energetic vibrations from our voices bond us to the spiritual light of universal intelligence. As we chant the Granth’s verses the universe speaks to us in metaphoric images. The physical body of the singer experiences the essence of each word through the lightening energy in the brain and the calming vibrations in the body, all caused by the sound currents. They keep the mind to stay focused on the Word. They heal the physical body and cleanse inner thoughts. The sound waves of the Gurmat Raags connect the mind, body, and spirit by alignment of the physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual entities. They implant in the psyche the basis for both spiritual and mental growth. To see a Sikh congregation chant the sacred hymns in unison is to see massed spiritual energy bubble before your eyes. This is how the ordinary words change into the logos and become auspicious.
A unique feature of much of the Sikh music lies in the fact that the texts therein present the teachings of the Gurus and a large number were composed simultaneously with the music. This dignified expression of faith comes out in its full impact in the gurdwara where its import and message may be fully realized by a devoted adherent to the faith. Even those who have no knowledge of the Sikh religion are impressed with the fresh and vital sounds of this music. Retention of the purity of form in performance as set down by the Gurus more than 400 years ago makes possible this remarkable impact today.
In the congregation, kirtan only of Gurbani (Guru Granth’s or Guru Gobind Singh’s hymns) and, for its elaboration, of the compositions of Bhai Gurdas and Bhai Nand Lal, may be performed.
It is improper, while singing hymns to rhythmic folk tunes or to traditional musical measures, or in team singing, to induct into them improvised and extraneous refrains. Only a line from the hymn should be a refrain.
Guru Angad Dev Ji empasized the importance of Keertan in one’s life in the following words:
” Har keertan sune, Har keertan gaave. Tis jan dookh, nikat na aave.”
Thus Keertan becomes a medium or path which would eventually lead you to meet God
Source: Introduction by Bhai Harbans Lal, PhD., D.Litt (hons)