GAJJĀ SIṄGH, MAHANT (c. 1850-1914), maestro of Sikh classical devotional music, was born in a Jaṭṭ Sikh family of Vāndar, a village in Farīdkoṭ district of the Punjab. He had a sensitive ear for music from his early childhood. His father, a pious Sikh himself, apprenticed him for religious instruction to the mahant or custodian of Gurūsar (Mehrāj), a historical shrine about 25 km northeast of Baṭhiṇḍā (30º-14'N, 74º-59'E) . The mahant was impressed by the rapid progress Gajjā Siṅgh made in learning the scriptural and other texts and by his ability to sing the sacred hymns in the folk tunes he had picked up in his native village. He arranged, through the mahant of Gurdwārā Ber Sāhib, Sultānpur Lodhī, to send young Gajjā Siṅgh to learn classical music under Mīr Rahmat 'Alī, the eminent court musician of Kapūrthalā state. One of his co-pupils was Mahbūb 'Alī alias Bhāī Būbā, a direct descendant of Bhāī Phirandā of Bharoāṇā, to whom Gurū Nānak had, just before setting out on his travels, sent Bhāī Mardānā to procure a rabāb, i.e. rebeck. Bhāī Būbā and his father, Bhāī Amīr Bakhsh Rabābī, were widely respected among Sikhs as much for their honoured lineage as for their status in the rabābī school of Sikh music. Association with them encouraged Gajjā Siṅgh to master, besides classical music, the traditional Sikh kīrtan. After finishing studies with Mīr Rahmat 'Alī, Bhāī Būbā went to Bahāwalpur state as chief court musician, and Bhāī Gajjā Siṅgh returned to Gurūsar where, after the death of his patron, he succeeded him as mahant. An akhāṛā or seat of the Nirmalā sect, to which the mahants of Gurūsar belonged, had been established at Paṭiālā in 1861. Mahant Gajjā Siṅgh visited there regularly, especially during the rainy season, and his performance both as a vocalist and instrumentalist attracted wide notice. His virtuosity in playing on the tāūs, a bow instrument with frets like a sitār, had become proverbial. He had a style of his own and, copying his master Mīr Rahmat 'Alī's vīṇā, sur-bahār and sitār, he was able to produce the effect of jhālā or jhaṅkār, i.e. trilling, on his tāūs. Bhāī Kāhn Siṅgh of Nābhā, scholar and encyclopaedist, who had attended some of his performances, wrote in his Gurushabad Ratnākar Mahān Kosh : "Bhāī Gajjā Siṅgh has been a peerless paṇḍit of music. Those who have listened to his alāp or melody on the tāūs can never forget him."

         Mahant Gajjā Siṅgh continued to enjoy the patronage of ruling princes of Paṭiālā. Mahārājā Bhūpinder Siṅgh (1891-1938) in fact served a period of apprenticeship with him learning classical music. At the Delhi Darbār of 1911, Gajjā Siṅgh gave a memorable performance representing the Paṭiālā Gharānā of music. He was rewarded with the grant of a free Railway pass for life to travel anywhere in India for the propagation of his art. Encouraged by Mahārājā Bhūpinder Siṅgh, he took up the project of recording the original rīts, i.e. forms or modes of the rāgas as set by Gurū Arjan and preserved orally by Sikh musicians. The work had been undertaken during the time of Mahārājā Raṇjīt Siṅgh by the Nirmalā Mahant of Ḍerā Bābā Mishrā Siṅgh in Amritsar, but it had remained incomplete. However, the then priest of Ḍerā Bābā Mishrā Siṅgh, Mahant Kapūr Siṅgh, was invited to Paṭiālā. Two other helpers appointed were Mahant Melā Siṅgh and Bābā Diāl Siṅgh Kairoṅ. Already in 1910, Bhāī Būbā had, at Mahant Gajjā Siṅgh's persuasion, joined the Paṭiālā court. Rām Krishan Siṅgh, a junior mahant at the historical Gurdwārā Motībāgh, was co-opted as adviser on Sanskrit musical terminology, and Bhāī Durgā Siṅgh, the best-known calligraphist of Paṭiālā at the time, was engaged as the scribe. Mahant Gajjā Siṅgh, as the head of the team, started work on the thirty-one rāgas of the Gurū Granth Sāhib, with an introductory part covering two of the three initial compositions, Rahrāsi and Kīrtan Sohilā, which form part of the daily devotions of the Sikhs. He had also taken up the five chaukīs, i.e. daily choruses or hymn singing sessions, and some of the Vārs in different musical measures when death intervened. Mahant Gajjā Siṅgh died on 12 June 1914, and the work was left unfinished.

Mrigendra Siṅgh