GURMAT SAṄGĪT or sacred music of the Sikhs. The founder of the Sikh religion, Gurū Nānak (1469-1539), composed his religious verse to settings of Indian rāgas mostly from the classical tradition. Successive Gurūs followed his example and considered divine worship through music the best means of attaining that state which results in communion with God. Religious music is that musical expression which is appropriate to and presented as a definite part of a formal service of worship. Devotional music may have religious texts, but is performed primarily by individuals usually in secular surroundings. Also it need not fulfil the requirements of religious music in form and structure. Kīrtans, bhajans, sūfiānā kalām and qawwālī na'at, among others, are examples of devotional music. Vedic chant, Quranic chant, the liturgy and hymns of the Christian churches and the śabda Kīrtan of the Sikhs are examples of religious music. A unique feature of much of the Sikh music lies in the fact that the texts therein present the teachings of the Gurūs and a large number were composed simultaneously with the music. This dignified expression of faith comes out in its full impact in the gurdwārā 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 Gurūs more than 400 years ago makes possible this remarkable impact today.

         While the Gurmat saṅgīt was probably influenced by devotional styles prevalent during the 15th and 16th centuries in north-western India, its main characteristics came from Indian classical music. The history of the classical idiom can be traced back to 1500 BC to the Vedic chant and its conception of the effect of the combined sound of music and the text on the individual. Vedic rites used singing accompanied by dancing and instruments to express the meaning of the verses. The "sound" was as important in certain ceremonies as the meaning of the word. In the Ṛgveda, only two or three different pitches were intoned. For the later Sāmaveda, a fixed descending scale of five, six, or seven notes was the basis for saṁgāyana, the musical aspect of Vedic chant. However, another sort of music developed from the materials of the saṁgāyana sometime around 600-500 BC known as mārga. This art of music contained a system of new melodies and rhythms. Seven śuddha (pure or unaltered tones) jātīs formed the basis of this style and these jātīs can be looked upon as the first rāgas.

         Knowledge of the historical development of classical music may be derived in part from a succession of Sanskrit treatises, each describing the musical practice of the particular time in which its author lived. One of the earliest is the Nāradaśikṣā, dating from the first century AD which serves as a bridge between Vedic chant and early art music. These early treatises document how very old the classical music system is. Probably one of the most complete authorities and one that is frequently referred to in modern times is Bharata Munī's Nāṭyaśāstra, a study of dramaturgy in which music, dance and drama are treated as a single major art form. The date of its composition is controversial, but is usually placed somewhere between 200 BC and AD 200. Other texts beginning with Pāṇini (circa 500 BC) and extending to the king Harṣavardhana (AD 589-647) continue to support the use of the three arts together for court and temple performances.

         For melodic purpose the Nāṭyaśāstra gives seven jātī rāgas and three grāmas (scales) : ṣaḍja, madhyama and gandhāra, with the option of producing more jāṭīs by overlapping of the scales. The system included all the twenty-two śrutis. Time measure (tāla) and drumming are discussed and three speeds are described. Of the instruments given, the vīṇā types seem to be the most prominent but the vīṇā was not as highly developed as that in use today. Dhruvas (songs) were of seven types and these were described in relation to the part of the drama where used.

         Mataṅgas's Bṛhaddeśrī (AD 400-600) seems to be the first writing actually to use the term "rāga" and Nārda's Pañcama-Sara-Saṁhitā (circa AD 600-900) is the first to call subordinate rāgas "rāginīs." The main rāgas of Nārda's work are: Śrī, Vasanta, Mālava, Mallāra, Hiṇḍola and Karṇāṭa. Someśvara in his Abhilāṣgāthā-Chintāmani (AD 1131) describes the concept of rasa (mood) and includes performance times from the six seasons of the Indian year for the rāgas.

         Mesarkarṇa in his Rāgamālā (1509) designates the parent rāgas as: Bhairav, Mālkauṅs, Hiṇḍola, Dīpaka, Śrī and Megha. This classification corresponds in most respects with the one found in Rāgamālā at the end of the Gurū Granth Sāhib. Puṇḍarīka (1595) has four volumes to his credit and in these works he gives the performance time for each rāga. His classification uses 19 thāṭs (parent rāgas). He also discusses the picturization of rāgas, an idea exemplified in the rāgamālā paintings of the Punjab hills and other places. Muhammad Razā Khān in Naghmāt-i-Āsafī (1813) rejects the rāga-rāgiṇī system and simply groups rāgas according to tonal relationship but still retains the term "rāginī". His śuddhā scale is Rāga Bilāval of the ancient Mukhārī. Bilāval has remained the standard scale for North Indian classical music since his time.

         These scholars were mainly concerned with the theoretical development of the classical idiom. The actual performance of Indian music was strongly influenced by other factors. By the year 1,000 music had gradually become separated from dance and Sanskrit drama. The growth of regional languages was one of the main causes of the decline of Sanskrit. Few people understood the ancient language and its prākrit.

         Foreign invasions brought about new developments in Indian music. The Arabs came to North India as early as AD 710 when Muhammad bin Qāsim crossed through Balūchistān. The Arabs had been fired by Prophet Muhammad (569-632) to spread their religion all over the then civilized world. By the time of the establishment of early Delhi Sultanate in 1206, the impact of Islamic music had become distinctly noticeable. Sometimes Persian naghmās were combined with Indian rāgas to make new rāgas. Persian was the language of the court, and music was based on Persian poetry with its poetic metre and romantic texts. Moreover, another musical influence came from the Islamic lands with the Sūfīs. About 100 years after the death of the Prophet, Islamic religion split into sects, some adhering strictly to the Prophet's teachings, while others like the Sūfīs preferred other types of religious expression. The Chishtī Sūfīs believed that man could best reach God-consciousness through the use of devotional poetry set to music for meditation. The Sūfīs spread all over the Middle East, congregating in those places where they might find another Sūfī saint. Towards the close of the 12th century, Hazrat Khwājā Mu'īn-ud-Dīn Chishtī with a group of his followers came to Ajmer in Rājasthān. At his shrine devotees still gather to honour the saint and celebrate his 'Urs (anniversary of death) -- with qawwālī singing. From the 14th to the 17th century, the Sūfīs established a chain of monasteries in Rājasthān, Punjab and parts of Uttar Pradesh. Qawwālī Na'at, a Muslim religious music, developed during this period and was well known in the time of Gurū Nānak.

         Foreign musical systems did not change the structure of Indian classical music. Even though men like Amīr Khusrau created new rāgas with Persian names, the larger part of the material used for these was of Indian origin and the form too was Indian. The Emperor Akbar (1556-1605), a liberal patron of the arts, collected both Indian and Persian musicians at his court. The 16th century thus became a period of unusual flowering of the art of music and the famous Tānsen at the Emperor's court still remains one of the most celebrated Indian musicians in history.

         The availability of support for the arts has a definite effect on their quality, proliferation and development. Historically, patronage for the arts came mainly from royal courts and temples. Music, a divine art, has always been a part of temple worship. Temple musicians as well as concert artists perform in the classical idiom for festival celebrations. These concerts may be held in temple maṇḍapams and courtyards within the temple complex. In South India some rulers donated liberally for the support of temple music rather than maintain numerous musicians at court on a permanent basis. Some temples with long programmes of services in such areas as Tamil Nāḍu, Āndhra Pradesh and Oṛīssā did not allow temple musicians to perform at the court.

         The musical programmes of northern regional courts tended to follow the pattern set by the imperial court of Akbar, but on a less elaborate scale. With the decline of Mughal rule in the 18th century, hundreds of musicians left Delhi to join those regional courts where the rulers were patrons of music. Considerable rivalry existed between these courts to secure the best musicians. A large court might have as many as 300 performers on call and the music department was in the charge of a superintendent who arranged all the court music for social and ceremonial occasions. Some rulers wanted music sounding continuously from very early morning until late in the evening.

         During the 19th century gharānās developed in several court towns. Famous musicians attracted students from far and near and thus a sort, of school of music with emphasis on certain aspects of performance was created. Among the best known of the Indian courts that patronized music were Jaipur, Rāmpur, Paṭiālā, Hyderābād, Mysore, Gwālīor and Baṛodā only to name a few. The smaller states in the Punjab hills were vulnerable to frequent attack and few of these chiefs had time to cultivate the arts on a large scale. However, several of the smaller courts patronized painting and picturization of the moods of the different rāgas.

         With the advent of Independence, support for the arts underwent a complete change. Immediately following the withdrawal of the British the princely rulers had to hand over their territories to the State, thus losing the income these provided. During the early 1950's these former rulers were left only with their privy purses and a few other privileges, and in most cases they were not sufficient to maintain the elaborate musical programmes which had been the custom in the past. Within a few years' span, hundreds of musicians all over India were suddenly left without any means of support. All-India Radio did a phenomenal piece of work in quickly setting up the machinery for auditioning and training the court musicians to fit the time schedules of broadcasting. Concerts paid for from public subscriptions were organized by social groups in cities and towns to collect funds for destitute artists as for other causes. Musical evenings in the homes of wealthy professional and business people provided other income for favourite classical musicians. Temple music had to face also the problem of paucity of funds, because the largest contributions had earlier come from the princes.

         Today musicians teach and perform on a freelance basis both for religious occasions and classical concerts. A growing interest in the classical idiom brings many students, although few are willing to practise the long hours that the former guru-śiṣya system demanded. Those few who are able to manoeuvre Western concert tours usually do well.

         The bases of Indian classical music are rāga (melodic measure) and tāla (rhythmic metre). A rāga is a group of notes derived originally from Vedic hymns and folk and tribal melodies and arranged in the ascending-descending order as a scale. A rāga represents much more than a simple scale, because its origin is melodic and the individual notes have specific types of approach in ascent and descent. The distinguishing melodic phrases and characteristic figures are a fundamental part of the total rāga structure. Two rāgas might have the same basic tones, but the melodic phrases might differ along with mood and performance style.

         Great care has been exercised in the past centuries as well as in modern times with regard to the preservation of exact pitch relationship between the tones of any established rāga. The belief exists that this relationship must be precise practically to the exact number of vibrations in order to produce the mood ascribed to a given rāga . The performance-time theory is a result of these pitch relationships and the powers reputedly indicated for specific rāgas are possible only when a careful shaping of melodic sequences is present. A recent experiment investigating brain waves with electronic equipment showed that vibrations resulting from the subject listening to serious music were of the same type as those occurring when the subject was practising yogic meditation. The Indian musicological theory of the past, still adhered to by the purists today, claims that the ultimate effect of a rāga performance can only be obtained when every detail of the rāga has been properly presented.

         The standard scale for Indian music contains seven tones, viz. Sa-Ṣaḍja; Re-Ṛṣabha; Ga-Gandhāra; Ma-Madhayma; Pa-Pañchama; Dha-Dhaivata; Ni-Niṣāda; and Sa-Ṣaḍjā, etc. in a higher pitch. Sa is the tonic or fundamental tone which is the basic note for the drone accompaniment. When a tambūrā is used, the four strings are tuned to three Sa's and one Pa. However, for some rāgas, performers prefer that Ni replace one Sa. Other notes which figure largely in composition are vādī and samvādī. The vādī is a central focal point in rāga phrases and the saṁvādī is the next most frequently heard tone. The location of the vādīs within the scale may have some significance in the performance time theory.

         Tāla, the rhythmic organization of beats, is based on the cyclic principle. Just as the world movement by day and night is based on a 24-hour cycle of the earth rotating around its axis, so does Indian music maintain its rhythmic movement by time cycles which may be of long or short duration. Tin tāla, one of the most popular, has 16 beats divided into four groups, 4+4+4+4; dādrā tāla has six beats with two groups of three beats each. However, groups within a tāla are not always even. Jhaptāla has ten beats grouped 2+3+2+3. Primary and secondary accents within the tāla should fall upon important notes of the rāga. Therefore, strong and light beats have significance for the soloist.

        For tīn tāla:

         *1-2-3-4         52-6-7 -8         90-10-11-12         133-14 -15 -16


        The heavy accent falls on the sam or first beat of the cycle, followed by three light beats. Beat 5 receives a secondary accent followed by three light beats. Beat 9 is unaccented as is the whole group, 9, 10, 11, 12. Beat 13 again is a secondary accent followed by 3 light beats arriving with a heavy accent on the sam. The heavy accent on the first beat of a cycle is highly significant for improvisation where the soloist must time his phrases so that the end falls on the sam. The khālī serves as a warning that the sam is coming and the soloist should prepare his composition so that his phrases coincide with the framework of the tāla. The tablā or pakhāvaj vādak has means for elaborating his part of the composition when time is given for this. Tāla compositions are based on designed subdivisions of the beat with repeatable patterns as part of the design. Tāns or short rhythmic figures played at fast tempo form a part of virtuoso drumming which has a number of fixed compositions for solo performance. When following a soloist, the drummer guides his playing to match and complement what the soloist is performing. He may enhance the artistic result but may not detract from it by trying to overshadow the melodic meaning of the composition. Most great artists, when accompanied by an exceptionally good drummer, give him a chance to display his own capabilities at some point in the performance.

         Drumming is learned through a system of mnemonics called bols or drum syllables. These indicate the fingers to be used, the place on the drumhead where the stroke should fall and whether the stroke is light or heavy. When playing the tablā (pair of drums), the right hand index finger (for right-hand drum) is used for Na, Tha, Dha, Nuh, and Tin; the right-hand middle finger for Ti, Ta, Te, Dha. Combination bols representing both hands (one for each drum) begin with Dha. Drumming involves an elaborate and precise system; these items are small illustrations. Not all elements are given in the bols because some sounds cannot be recited quickly enough. Also certain bols always follow certain other bols. All this is understood only by those who practise the art of drumming under the guidance of a competent teacher.

         The ever-sounding drone of Indian classical music is important both musically and philosophically. Some people consider the drone as symbolic of the primordial sound of the universe, nāda, from which all other sounds have emanated. When Pythagoras (c. 582-507 BC) experimented with a monochord, he proved that all tones could be produced from one primary tone by stopping a single string at different points. However, this fact was known to the Indians long before the time of Pythagoras. In more recent times, Helmholtz (1821-1894) demonstrated the same principle with his overtone series.

         The performing musician must be constantly aware of the drone or sa or ṣaḍaj tone because this is the note against which he measures all other pitches so that completely accurate intonation of the rāga tones is achieved. Each singer may place sa where most comfortable for his voice, which is somewhere in the neighbourhood of the Western middle C. The pitch level for instrumentalists is about the same.

         Classical compositions have a formal organization which begins with alāp, or exposition of the rāga . Each tone of the rāga is shown with its proper approach beginning with the lower tetrachord of the octave and continuing with the upper four notes. Then small figures from the melodic phrases begin to appear and all of this is without drums. As more complete phrases are introduced, the soloist adds the rhythm by strumming on an accompanying instrument (vocal) or the chikārī strings of the solo instrument. In a vocal composition this slow opening section is called vilambit (includes alāp); for an instrumental piece alāp, joṇ, jhāllā. In concert performance, the skill and understanding of the artist are revealed in the treatment and development of the alāp.

         Rāgas have two main parts, the first of which is the sthāī containing melodies located in the lower portion of the scale or lower register (mandar saptak). The second part is the antarā which centres in the upper portion of the scale and the higher register (madhyantar saptak). In some rāgas the melodic material is not separated in this manner but may overlap in both sthāī and antarā. Towards the end of the vilambit or jhāllā, the tempo increases and the drummer prepares to join the soloist. The drut or gat (slow and fast) contains the main composition giving sthāī and antarā in complete rendition with improvisation and elaboration. A development section is based on material from both parts and can be extended to any desired length with increasing tempos as the variations are added until a climax is reached which in itself may be extended. At the conclusion of each variation the same characteristic phrase is used to show its completion. Finally, a short closing section in slow tempo concludes the piece.

         Dhrupad was the popular form during the 16th century. S.M.Tagore claims that "Sultān Husain Sharqī of Jaunpur introduced this style in the 15th century." Earlier, in the 13th century Amīr Khusrau is often credited with the invention of khayāl, but its popularity did not spread until some centuries later, although it must have been known to singers like Tānsen. Dhrupad is slower, much less ornamented and more sedate than khayāl with its allowable freedom. However, the latter style dominates North Indian classical music today.

         Musical instruments commonly used in the gurdwārās (Sikh temples) in the past or acceptable today for the accompaniment of gurbāṇī-kīrtan are rabāb, sitār; sarod, sārandā, sāraṅgī, tāūs, dilrubā, tambūrā, violin, and, the most common now, the harmonium. While the sitār and sarod are admissible in some instances, today's models have been developed as solo rather than accompanying instruments. The sarod is a descendant of the rabāb (rebeck) and has taken the place of that instrument for concert performance. Its tone is more penetrating than that of the rabāb and its appeal lies in the extensive possibilities for ornamentation. The sitār is probably the best-known of the current plucked-string instruments and has acquired considerable secular popularity in recent decades. It, too, has a distinctive sound which was not designed for the accompaniment of singing. Paucity of players on the traditional sārandā, sārāṅgī, tāūs and dilrubā instruments suitable for vocal accompaniment presents a problem which can be attributed to the difficulty in playing, the length of time required for training and the financial problems these present to the student who cannot be assured of a reasonable future income.

         Gurū Nānak used the rabāb for inducing meditation and for musical accompaniment to his verses. Mardānā, his constant companion and musician, played the rabāb and may be seen with Gurū Nānak in old murals and paintings in the Amritsar Temple Museum and elsewhere. The rabāb is in use in Afghanistan, the Middle Eastern countries, Kashmīr and the Punjab. Regional variations may be found in other North Indian states. Persian instruments bearing the same or similar names are not necessarily of the same shape, but do have some similarities in tonal properties.

         Carved from a single block of wood, the Indian rabāb has an exceptionally deep body, standing some nine or ten inches or more in height and perhaps seven or eight inches in width. The sides slant towards the bottom and are pinched in forming two sections of the body, the lower of which is covered with parchment and the upper with wood. The neck is wide, usually with no frets. Basically the instrument has four main strings, but the two upper-sounding strings may be doubled to increase the volume of the higher notes. Some sources say that Gurū Nānak added these two strings. The bridge supporting the main strings lies on the lower parchment-covered portion of the body. Some nine to eleven sympathetic wires lie underneath the main strings and are fastened to pegs along the side of the body. Tānsen is reputed to have played a rabāb with six main strings and a limited number of sympathetic wires.

         A rabāb which may be seen in the Clock Tower Museum of the Amritsar Temple has a body covered with fine leather. The fingerboard above the peg box ends in a flared, carved ornament. The rabāb is usually played with a plectrum but a Beṅgālī model is shown with a bow. (Generally, pinched-insides exist to facilitate bowing). The rabāb is reputed to have a mellow tone suited to the dignified character of religious music.

         The sārandā has some characteristics of the rabāb and the sāraṅgī and like the sāraṅgi, is of folk origin. Fashioned from a hollowed out piece of wood, its body is spherical in shape with a flat open top. The completely pinched-in design actually divides the body into two sections. The upper portion is left open, but is partially covered with a highly ornamented extension of the finger-board, ending in a point at the centre of the body. The lower portion is covered with parchment and a bridge rests in the middle of this section. The short stubby neck is less than half as deep as the main body with pegs along the side for sympathetic wires. The sārandā has three heavy gut-strings and six or more side-strings. When playing, the musician holds the instrument in vertical position in his lap. The bow is short and heavy like that used for the sāraṅgī and the neck has no frets. The sārandā is a most picturesque instrument to behold and its tone resembles that of the sāraṅgī, but with more depth of sound.

         The sāraṅgī, like the sārandā, is a comparatively short instrument of the bow string type, ranging from two feet to 30 inches for concert models today. Folk sāraṅgīs are much smaller. The body is carved from a single block of wood and is barely wider than the neck. The peg-box is left open and has four tuning pegs for three heavy gut main strings and a possible drone string. The sides of the body are slightly pinched in near the bridge which rests on a flat parchment top. When played, the instrument is held in upright position in the lap of the player who does not press the strings downward, as for most instrument, but deflects them sideways with his fingernail pressed against the string sideways. The sympathetic wires lie underneath and to one side of the main strings and are attached to pegs along the side of the neck. The number of these may be anywhere from 38 to 45 and this presents a tuning problem when making a change of rāga in a continuous performance. The sāraṅgī appears in treatises of the 12th and 13th centuries, but no information is available of its having been used at the Mughal court, although it did appear in regional courts of the 17th and 18th centuries. Its ability to emulate the inflections of the human voice makes it desirable for vocal accompaniment especially for the initiative lines. Poor players can only produce a dry uninviting tone which annoys the vocalists and does not enhance the performance.

         The dilrubā is of comparatively recent origin (1850-1875) and was created from the neck of the sitār and the body of the sāraṅgī. An instrument of the bow-string variety, its popularity has been mostly in Mahārāshṭra, Uttar Pradesh and Punjab. The tone is plaintive with a sweet singing quality. Some North Indian vocalists of note prefer it to sāraṅgī and it certainly is more in keeping with the North Indian musical tradition than the harmonium. The neck of the dilrubā has some 18 or 19 arched movable frets tied to the stem of the instrument with pieces of gut or plastic. This makes for quicker adjustment when changing from one rāga to another. The bridge is placed in the middle of the skin-covered body and all wires pass over or through this bridge. Of the four main strings, the one furthest to the left (as in the sitār) is the principal one for playing. The first two strings on the player's left are of steel and the second two of brass. About 20 sympāthetic wires are fastened to a series of small pegs along the right side of the neck. No need exists for chikārī strings as on plucked string instruments. Unlike playing the sitār, the dilrubā strings may not be deflected sideways to produce ornaments. The bow is like that used for the sāraṅgī, and the dilrubā rests in vertical position on the thigh of the player, sitting with folded legs.

         The tambūrā is the traditional instrument for producing the ever-present drone of Indian classical music. Tambūrās usually have four strings, but may have three, five, six, or even seven. When a tambūrā has the usual four strings, three are tuned to the tonic and one to the fifth (PA). Sometimes one of the tonic strings will be replaced with the seventh (NI) when this tone is prominent in a given rāga. The first three strings are of steel and the lower tonic is made of brass. Strings are set in vibration by pressing the fingers across them lightly over the upper part of the hollow stem which has no frets. Strings are never stopped completely and the resulting sound is a blend of all pitches. Tambūrās are almost five feet in length, but shorter models are also used. A wide ivory bridge sits on the thin wooden top of the body which consists of a grown gourd scraped thin. All tambūrās use silk or cotton threads wedged between the bridge and the strings to produce a buzzing sound and to emphasize the overtones. Tuning beads are inserted on the lower part of the strings between the bridge and the base of the instrument to facilitate accurate pitch for these unusually long strings. By moving the beads up and down, the tension is altered slightly, thus raising and lowering the pitch. The usual playing position is upright with the body resting on the floor or in the lap of the player. Sometimes a soloist may use a horizontal position in which case the instrument will lie across the lap of the player. Because the drone is the basis on which the performer establishes his own pitch, the soloist may want to tune the tambūrā himself.

         The Western violin has been prevalent in South India since the early part of the 19th century, but its use in the North has come only in the last few decades. Most violins are imported from Europe, but there are indigenous models too constructed after their Western counterparts. The violin is excellent for accompanying vocal music and is capable of producing all the nuances of the voice as well as the ornaments of the classical system. The instrument, about two feet in length, is held against the chest with the peg box resting on the knee when played Indian style. The shallow body is longer than wide and has indentations on the rounded sides in line with the bridge which is placed in the middle of the thin wooden top. The body is made of thin, carefully shaped wood with two openings on top. The ebony finger-board has no frets and extends over the body almost to the bridge. Four strings extend from the peg-box to the tailpiece which is fastened to the base of the instrument and appears as an extension of the finger-board below the bridge. Inside the body and approximately under the bridge is the sound post. The bow is thin and straight, about 29 inches in over-all length strung with horse-hair, with tension controlled by a screw. The most famous families of violin-makers practised their craft during the 17th and 18th centuries in Cremona, Italy.

         The harmonium and śrutī peṭī are two drone instruments gaining favour in recent years. The śrutī peṭī is a mechanism enclosed in a small box with bellows operated by moving one side of the box backwards and forward. Some models are made to be operated electronically. In either case once the correct pitch is set, it will be retained indefinitely. The harmonium was introduced to India in the nineteenth century and came from Europe where it was invented in 1840 by Alexandre Debain. The earlier models were not well adapted to the Indian classical idiom, but in recent years improvements have been made and tuning adjustments in the better models are so arranged that a fairly accurate rāga scale can be played. The basic principle is the same as for the śrutī box, but the instrument is more complex. Tones are produced by depressing the keys on a piano-type key-board of about two and a half octaves. The dynamic level can also be controlled from loud to soft. Harmoniums are in use in most gurdwārās today with each singer playing his own accompaniment.

         The invention of the tablā, the most commonly used instrument for rhythmic tune, is credited historically to Amīr Khusrau of the 13th century court of 'Alauddīn Khaljī in Delhi. The name tablā is derived from the Arabic tabl, a general term for small and medium sized drums in Arabic countries. The smaller of the tablā pair of drums is called tablā or ḍaggā and the larger, a metal drum, is known as bāyāṅ. The tablā is made from a hollowed-out block of wood. The skin for both drum heads is stretched over the top and fastened to a braided hoop with thongs which extend over the sides of the body to a small leather ring at the base. The tablā uses cylinderical tuning blocks placed between the thongs and the body of the drum. These can also be used on the bāyāṅ if desired. By pushing the blocks up and down with a specially shaped hammer, the pitch of the drum head may be raised or lowered. The two drums are usually made to sound an octave apart but the interval of a third, fourth or fifth may also be used. Three important areas, each with its own sound, are found on the drum heads: the outer rim where the skin is double, the plain section with single skin and the centre black patch made of rice paste and iron filings. On the head of the bāyāṅ the black patch is off centre and the pitch of the bāyāṅ head may be varied by pressing the heel of the palm of the hand on the plain surface while stroking the head with the fingers. The second, third and fourth fingers are the ones generally used for strokes. A system of mnemonics called bols indicates which fingers are to be employed on which portion of the drum head. A common substitute for tablā, where this instrument or its performer is not available, is the ḍholak, a two-sided drum, the one serving as ḍaggā and the other as bāyāṅ.

         Kīrtan derived from Sanskrit root kīrti means singing a devotional song in praise of the Lord of the Universe. The form of the kīrtan was derived from the old prabandhagāna described in the Saṅgīta-Ratnākara of Sāraṅgadeva in the 13th century. Padaprabandhas were early classical songs which led to dhrupad under the impetus of Rājā Mān Siṅgh Tomar of Gwālīor (1496-1517). Prabandhas were systematically organized with three to six sections. Kīrtan preserved this sort of classical arrangement using classical rāgas and tālas. These devotional songs were popular all over India and used limited improvisation and ornamentation. This made them a desirable model on which to develop the Sikh shabad.

         Indian Muslims had a devotional music which came into being as early as the end of the 12th century among the Sūfī followers of Chishtī saints. A group of Chishtīs from Khurāsān in Iran settled at Ajmer and other places in northern India, establishing a chain of monasteries between 1200 and 1350. The Chishtī order extended throughout the Punjab and neighbouring areas and remained active up to the 18th century when its decline began. Its votaries came from both Hindu and Muslim communities. The Sūfīs believed that "musical sound produces an influence in the soul because of its musical structure and similarity to the soul." From this devotional music came the later serious qawwālī which used rāga tunes with a limited number of tālas.

         Śabda kīrtan has been an integral part of Sikh worship from the very beginning. Hymn-singing was in fact the earliest form of devotion for the Sikhs. Even in the time of Gurū Nānak, the disciples assembled together to recite the shabads, i.e. hymns composed by the Gurū and thus to render praise to the Lord. Kīrtan has since been appropriated into the regular gurdwārā service. But Sikh kīrtan eschews all expression of abandon or frenzy in the form of clapping and dancing. Laudation is proffered to the Supreme Being who is without form, niraṅkār or nirākār, and not to a deity in any embodiment or incarnation. The texts of the shabad kīrtan are those that comprise the Holy Book of Sikhs known as the Gurū Granth Sāhib, or Ādi Granth, compiled by Gurū Arjan in 1604. Probably no other religion shows a closer relationship between music and its scriptures than does Sikhism. The Holy Book is organized according to rāgas, 31 in number, to which the poetic hymns belong. The total number of hymns is 5,694 with 4,857 (the author's figures) contributed by six of the ten Gurūs and 837 by Hindu bhaktas, Sikh devotees and Sūfī saints. Under each rāga the hymns of the Gurūs are recorded first and are arranged in the order of chaupadās and dupadās (hymns of 4 and 2 verses, respectively), aṣṭapadīs (hymns of 8 verses), longer poems organized around a motif, and chhants hymns of four or six-verses, lyrical in character, vārs on the pattern of ballads consisting of pauṛīs, each pauṛī preceded by two or more ślokas, and hymns by bhaktas and other devotees similarly arranged.

         The Gurūs were highly knowledgeable of music and well-versed in the classical style. Gurū Nānak kept with him as constant companion a Muslim musician, Mardānā, who played the rabāb or rebeck. Gurū Nānak wished his hymns to be sung to rāgas that express the spirit of the text and performance style to be compatible with the meaning of the hymn. The succeeding Gurūs followed his example. The rāgas named in the Holy Book were selected probably because of their suitability for expressing the ideals represented in the texts for which they were to be used. Over the centuries rāga names and the exact pitch of the tones may have varied. Lack of a precise national system for Indian music indicates that the preservation of rāgas has been dependent upon oral tradition.

         Rāga variants are those melodies to which a rāgī or rabābī, i.e. musician, may move when beginning a new line of text or when inserting explanatory material. Over the centuries more rāga variants have been approved than the few given in the Gurū Granth Sāhib. Rāga variants have some points in common with the main rāga but sufficiently different to set off the textual material musically, thus. keeping the many verses from becoming musically monotonous. For example, the Gauṛī group offers many possibilities. A main rāga from another section of the Holy Book may also be used as a variant. Tālas are left to the discretion of the performer and are usually those of the classical system although regional ones may be used for the lighter forms. Vārs (ślokas and pauṛīs) may be set to authorized folk tunes, some selected by the Gurūs themselves, and treated in light classical style. A vār is not counted as one unit but according to the number of ślokas, pauṛīs and couplets that are included in it.

        At the conclusion of the Gurū Granth Sāhib is Rāgmālā, a classification of rāgas listing 84 measures. The Holy Book contains only 31, eight of which are not given in this Rāgmālā. This circumstance can be interpreted to mean that the classification was not done primarily for the Gurū Granth Sāhib, but was included as it had existed. The purpose of classifying rāgas according to a parent and its offspring, rāginīs and putras, is to clarify and retain the individual character of each rāga. Historically this has been the concern of music theorists rather than performing musicians. Since the basic notes of two or more rāgas may be the same, the performance rules and the melodic material are the chief means of maintaining the proper mood and individual character. In the Gurū Granth Sāhib, a number of affirmations have been made about the virtue of the various rāgas to induce piety and devotion. The majority of these are from Gurū Amar Dās, third in Gurū Nānak's line, but the other Gurūs too have set forth their experience about the rāgas as aids to spiritual experience. About kīrtan (music directed to the expression of devotion) it has been said : kīrtanu nirmolak hīrā ānand guṇī gahīrā -- kīrtan is an invaluable jewel, bringing bliss, treasure of noble qualities (GG, 893). Gurū Arjan says about the beauty and harmony of music to induce the mood of devotion : dhanu su rāg surangaṛe alāpat sabh tikh jāi which are blessed as the beautiful musical measures when performed all desire then ends (GG, 958).

         Gurū Nānak, warning the mind against voluptuous indulgence in music such as had been current in India particularly among the upper classes, says :

        gīt rāga ghan tāl si kūre,

        trihu-guṇa upjai binasai dūre;

        dūjī durmati dardu na jāi,

        chhūṭai gurmukhi dārū guṇa gāi,


        False are such songs, musical measures and reverberating accompaniments

        As arouse the Three Qualities and, destroying devotion, draw the self away from God.

        By duality and evil thinking is suffering not removed :

        Liberation by the Master's guidance comes.

        Chanting Divine Laudations is the true remedy for life's ills

                                                                                (GG, 832).

        Gurū Nānak (in Rāga Āsā) on the ecstasy devotional music evokes :

        rāg ratan parīā parvār;

        tisu vichi upjai amritu sār;

        nānak karte kā ihu dhanu mālu

        je ko būjhai ehu bīchāru.

        The jewel music, born of the fairy family,

        Is source of the essence of amrita;

        This wealth to the Creator belongs --

        Few are there this to realize.

                                                                        (GG, 351)


        The musical directions given in the text of the Gurū Granth Sāhib are detailed so as to guide the composer and performer to adhere to the proper classical tradition in music. On page 838, at the opening of the composition bearing the title Thitīṅ (the dates) in the measure Bilāval, the musical direction is ghar 10, jati. This refers to the particular score in which the music is composed as also to the rhythm on the tablā or drum.

         Gurū Amar Dās, whose attachment to music and its modes is deep and ecstatic, has set down his impressions of some of the musical measures in which he has composed his bāṇī.

        On Sirī Rāga :

        rāga vichi srī rāgu hai je sachi dhare piāru;

        sadā hari sachu mani vasai nihchal mati apāru.


        Sirī Rāga is to be reckoned superior to the other rāgas only if it induces love for holy Truth, whereby the holy Lord should in the self be lodged, and the mind find poise.                                                                     (GG, 83).

        On Gauṛī believed to be a female Rāginī:

        gauṛī rāgi sulakhaṇī je khasmai chiti karei;

         bhāṇai chalai Satigurū kai aisā sīgāru karei...


        The Rāgā Gauṛī is reckoned noble, should she in the Lord fix the self;

        Induce obedience to the Divine Will Which is the best make-up.

                                                                                            (GG, 311)


        Sūhī (lit. vermilion) is woven into a figure (GG, 785). Not the flashy vermilion dye, symbolical of voluptuous pleasures but the fast red of madder (majīṭh) symbolizing constancy in devotion is commanded.

        Bilāval, in Bilāval kī Vār (GG, 849-55), is mentioned to express constancy of devotion, twice by Gurū Amar Dās and twice by Gurū Rām Dās. Bilāval is the rāga expressive of joy. True joy, however, comes not from melody but from the holy Name of God. Says Gurū Amar Dās :

        bilāvalu tab hī kījīai jab mukhi hovai nāmu;

        rāga nāda sabadi sohaṇe jā lāgai sahaji dhiānu.

        rāga nāda chhodi Hari sevīai tā dargah pāīai mānu;

        nānak gurmukhi brahmu bīchārīai chūkai mani abhimānu.


         True joy comes only by utterance of the holy name;

        Music, melody and the words acquire beauty from the mind in poise fixed.

        Leave aside music, melody and words; serve the Lord; thereby may ye be honoured at the Divine Portal.

        Saith Nānak: By contemplation of the Supreme Being through the Master's guidance is egoism from the mind banished.

                                                                                                                                                                (GG, 849)

        On the same page occurs another ślokā:

        bilāvalu karihu tum piāriho ekasu siu liv lāe….

        Ye loved ones, in devotion to the Sole Supreme Being, find you joy;

        Thus will your suffering of transmigration be annulled, and in Truth shall ye be absorbed.

        Ever shall ye live in joy (bilāval) and bliss, should you obey the holy Preceptor's will...

                                                                                                                (GG, 849)

        Gurū Rām Dās, earlier on the same page, at the opening of this Vār, thus expresses the joy of Bilāval, the word itself implying “joy".

        hari utamu Hari prabhu gāviā kari nādu bilāvalu rāgu;

        upadesu gurū suṇi manniā dhuri mastaki pūrā bhāgu...

        The Lord exalted, Supreme Master have I lauded in the tune of Bilāval;

        The Master's teaching have I followed, by Supreme good luck ordained in Primal Time.

        Day and night have I ever uttered the Lord's praise with devotion for Him in my heart lodged.

        My mind and body, in bloom, are like a garden fresh.

        By the lamp of Enlightenment by the Master lit,

        The gloom of ignorance is lifted.

        Nānak, servant of God, finds life from beholding the Lord's face, even though it be for a short hour.

                                                                                                                                         (GG, 849)

        Thus Gurū Amar Dās on Rāmkalī :

        ramkalī rāmu mani vasiā tā baniā sīgāru…

        In chanting Rāmkalī as the Lord in the self is lodged, that is the truest self-decoration;

        As through the Master's land is abloom lotus of the heart,

        On the seeker is bestowed the treasure of devotion.

        With illusion gone is the self awakened,

        And gloom of ignorance lifted.

        She alone has true beauty that with the Lord is in love;

        A woman of good repute, everlasting bliss has she with the beloved.

        Egoists know not of the true make-up,

        Their life is all lost.

        One that has the make-up of other than devotion,

        In transmigration remains caught.

                                                                                (GG, 950)

        On Soraṭhi, the same vision is expressed by Gurū Nānak and Gurū Rām Dās. Gurū Nānak in the opening śloka of Rāgu Soraṭhi Vār M. IV Kī:

        soraṭhi sadā suhavaṇī je sachā mani hoi…

        Soraṭhi is pleasing should it bring to mind the holy Lord. It is pleasing, should teeth not be fouled by food unjustly obtained.

        And on the tongue should run the Lord's holy Name.

                                                                    (GG, 642)

        Gurū Rām Dās in the same Vār (the same page) :

        soraṭhi tāmi suhāvaṇī jā hari nāmu ḍhaṇḍhole...

        Soraṭhi is pleasing should she go out in quest of the Lord's Name

        The Master, exalted being, should she propitiate,

        And by wisdom granted by the Master, the Name Divine utter;

        Day and night should she with Divine love be surcharged.

        And dyed in God, her vest

        In the dye of God should she dip.

                                                                    (GG, 642)

        Gurū Amar Dās thus expresses himself on the measure Kedārā :

        kedārā rāgā vichi jāṇīai bhāī sabde kare piāru...

        Brother! Consider Kedārā exalted among the rāgas,

        Should one chanting it be in love with the holy Word,

        Should join holy company, and to the holy Lord be devoted;

        Casting off one's own impurity, may save one's whole clan;

        Should garner the wealth of noble attributes, and cast off evil qualities.

        Saith Nānak: Truly united is he who turns not away from the Master,

        And forms not devotion to another.

                                                                            (GG, 1087)

        Mārū rāga, whose name comes from marusthal (dry land), is thus celebrated by Gurū Amar Dās :

        mārū te sītalu kare manūrahu kañchanu hoi….

        The burning hot desert He turns to coolness;

        Rusted iron he turns into gold;

        Praised be the Holy Lord, Supreme over all.

                                                                (GG, 994)

        Malār, the rāga associated with the rainy season and joys of romantic love, is thus transmuted into a spiritual experience by Gurū Amar Dās :

        malāru sītal rāgu hai hari dhiāīai sānti hoi...

        Malār's music is cooling; true peace comes from meditation on the Lord.

                                                                                                (GG, 1283)

        Below is given a detailed statement of the functions and atmosphere ascribed traditionally to the various rāgas, along with the bāṇīs composed to each, within the corpus of the Gurū Granth Sāhib. In this statement the bhaktas and other devotees using them are not mentioned. Only the Gurūs are included.

        1. SIRĪ (Shrī)

         Rāga Śrī was favoured by the Hindus for religious occasions and is found in many of the old treatises. In the Rāgmālā listed as a parent rāga, it currently is a member of the pūrvī thāṭa. Still a popular concert rāga today, it is considered one of the most famous from among the North Indian classical system. Gurū Nānak, Gurū Amar Dās, Gurū Rām Dās, and Gurū Arjan composed to this rāga. Traditionally performed at sunset, it is assigned to the rainy season as well as the months of November and December. Its mood is one of majesty combined with prayerful meditation. This rāga is always referred to as "Sirī Rāga" rather than placing the term rāga before the name. It accompanies about 142 śabdas.

        Āroh : Sa Re M'a, Pa Ni Śa

        Avroh : Śa Ni Dha, Pa M'a Ga Re Sa

        Pakaṛ : Sa, Re Re Pa, Pa M'a Ga Re, Re Re, Sa

        Vādī : Re

        Samvādī : Pa


        2. MĀJH

         This rāga is attributed to Gurū Nānak, who developed it from a Punjabi folk tune. It does not appear in the Rāgmālā nor does it seem to be a classical rāga today. Possibly it has been reserved purely for gurbāṇī saṅgīt. Mājh was the setting for compositions by Gurū Nānak, Gurū Aṅgad, Gurū Amar Dās, Gurū Rām Dās and Gurū Arjan. No information about this rāga is available from English sources. The reader is referred to a Punjabi text Gurmat Saṅgīt by Bhāī Vīr Siṅgh, published by the Chief Khālsā Dīwān, Amritsar.

        Āroh : Sa Re Ma Pa Dha Śa

         Avroh : Śa Ni Dha Pa Ma Ga Re Sa

        Vādī : Ma

        Samvādī : Sa


        3. GAUṚĪ

         Gauṛī is one of several Gauṛī rāgas and appears in the Rāgmālā as a rāginī of Sirī Rāga. This is an evening rāga assigned to autumn and its mood is contemplative. The composition in Gauṛī is very voluminous. Gauṛī was used by Gurū Nānak, Gurū Amar Dās, Gurū Rām Dās, Gurū Arjan and Gurū Tegh Bahādur. Several forms of Gauṛī exist historically and this probably accounts for the large number of variants: Gauṛī Chetī, Gauṛī Bairāgan, Gauṛī Dīpakī, Gauṛī Pūrbī-Dīpakī, Gauṛī Guārerī, Gauṛī-Mājh, Gauṛī Mālavā, Gauṛī Mālā, Gauṛī Soraṭh, Gauṛī Dakhanī.

        Āroh : Sa Re Ga Re Ma Pa Ni Śa

        Avroh : Śa Ni Dha Ma Pa, Dha Pa Ma Ga, Ga Re Sa Ni Sa

        Vādī : Re

        Samvādī : Pa


        Occasionally Re is performed with a vibrate as in Sirī Rāga which has the same vādīs. Ni is given prominence through either stopping or lingering on this note.

        4. ĀSĀ

        Āsā is a very old rāga , once popular in the Punjab but seldom heard in concerts today. In the Rāgmālā this is a rāginī of rāga Megha. However, today it is assigned to the Bilāval thāṭa. Āsā is a devotional rāga for the cold season and is performed in the early morning just before sunrise. However, it is also known as a twilight melody with a calm mystical mood. Āsā was used by Gurū Nānak, Gurū Aṅgad, Gurū Amar Dās, Gurū Rām Dās, Gurū Arjan and Gurū Tegh Bahādur.

        Āroh : Sa Re Ma Pa Dha Śa

         Avroh : Śa Ni Dha Pa Ma Ga Re Sa

         Vādī : Ma

         Samvādī : Sa


         Āsā is a crooked (vakra) rāga in that approaches to certain notes have to be made from a set position. Its vāriants as given in the Holy Book are Kāfī and Āsāvarī, both of which have many features in comman with Āsā. This rāga may have originated in Mahārāshṭra about the time of the major Muslim invasions. Its pleasing sound made it suitable for bhajans by the Hindu devotees.

        5. GŪJARĪ

         The name "Gūjarī" probably refers to the state of Gujarāt. This rāga was in existence at the time of Rājā Mān Siṅgh of Gwālīor (1486-1517) who lived at a time of high musical achievement and referred to this rāga in his writings about music. Gūjarī is rarely used as a concert rāga today and little is known about its form. In modern times it has been supplanted by GūjarīṬoḍī. In the Rāgmālā, Gūjarī is listed as a rāginī of Rāga Dīpak. Today GūjarīṬoḍī belongs to the Ṭoḍī thāṭa. Gūjarī-Ṭoḍī may be performed during any season of the year and is assigned to the early morning hours. It produces a mood of thoughtfulness that reaches deep into the heart. Texts set to this rāga strip away all subterfuge and make man see himself as he is and search within for the truth. While not one of the most frequently used rāgas, Gūjarī was the setting for compositions by Gurū Nānak, Amar Dās, Gurū Rām Dās, and Gurū Arjan.

        Āroh : Sa Re Ga M'a Dha Ni Śa

        Avroh : Śa Ni Dha M'a Ga Re, Ga Re Sa

        Pakaṛ : Sa Dha, Ma, Dha Ni Sa, Ni Dha M'a Ga, Re, Ga Re Sa

        Savar : Re Ga Dha M'a

        Vādī : Dha

        Samvādī : Re



         Today Devagandhārī is a rare, little known, ancient rāga. Its performance time is the morning hours. Historically it has had three forms; the less ornamented type is described here. In the Rāgmālā, Devagandhārī is a rāginī of Mālkauṅsa. Today it belongs to the Āsāvarī thāṭa. Its mood is one of prayerful supplication presenting a heroic effect. The texts set to this rāga reveal a heroic search for these qualities which lead one to the Lord. This rāga was used primarily by Gurū Arjan. FortySeven hymns were composed to it including three by Gurū Tegh Bahādur and six by Gurū Rām Dās.

         Āroh : Sa Re Ma Pa Dha Śa

        Avroh : Śa Ni Dha Pa, Ma Pa, Dha Ni Dha Pa, Ma Ga Re Sa

        Pakaṛ : Dha Ni Dha Pa, Ma Ga, Sa Re Ma, Ga Sa Re Ga Sa

        Vādī : Ma

         Samvādī : Sa


        7. BIHĀGAṚĀ

         Bihāgaṛā is very similar to the modern and very popular rāga Bihāg. The resemblance is so close that many performers have trouble maintaining the significance of each. Bihāgaṛā is not given in the Rāgmālā. Today it is classified under the Bilāval thāṭa. Gurū Rām Dās, Gurū Arjan and Gurū Tegh Bahādur set a total of 17 śabdas, chhants and a vār to this rāga. The performance time is between 9 p.m. and midnight, and the mood is devotional and tranquil. The texts composed to this rāga describe the complete peace and response that come to man when he surrenders all to the Lord.

         Āroh : Ni Sa Ga Ma Pa Ni Śa

        Avroh : Śa Ni Dha Pa Ni Dha Pa Dha Ga Ma Ga Re Sa

         Vādī : Ma

        Samvādī : Sa


        8. VAḌAHAṄS

         Little has been written about this rare rāga. It is not in the Rāgmālā, and today it is ascribed to the Kāfī thāṭa. Fifty-three śabdas plus numerous ślokas represent the total number composed to this rāga by Gurū Nānak, Gurū Amar Dās, Gurū Rām Dās and Gurū Arjan. Vaḍahaṅs is considered suitable for the cold season and is assigned to the afternoon hours. Its mood is quiet and tender. Texts set to the rāga explain how the Gurū alone can lead one to the Lord. Without the Lord one is likened to a woman without the love of her spouse.

        Āroh : Sa Re Ma Pa, Dha Ni Pa, Ni Śa

        Avroh : Śa Ni Pa, Dha Ma Ga Re, Sa Ni Sa

        Vādī : Re

        Samvādī : Pa


        9. SORAṬHI

         Rāga Soraṭhi appears in the Rāgmālā as a rāginī of Rāga Megha; today it belongs to the Khamāj thāṭa. Besides Gurū Nānak, Soraṭhi was used by Gurū Nānak, Gurū Amar Dās, Gurū Rām Dās, Gurū Arjan and Gurū Tegh Bahādur for a total of 150 hymns plus numerous ślokas. Soraṭhi belongs to the cold season and is performed in the first quarter of night. The mood is light and cheerful, with a pleasing sound resembling Rāga Desh. The texts composed to this rāga show how the words of the Gurū can enlighten the mind. All fears vanish and one is filled with bliss.

        Āroh : Sa Re Ma Pa Ni Śa

        Avroh : Śa Re Ni Dha, Ma Pa Dha Ma Ga Re Ni Sa

        Vādī : Re

        Samvādī : Dha


         The melodies are characterized by sweeping phrases with glides connecting all leaps, even the shorter ones. Movement is moderately fast.

        10. DHANĀSRĪ

         Rāga Dhanāsrī appears in the Rāgmālā as a rāginī of Mālkauṅsa and currently is a member of the Kāfī thāṭa. It closely resembles Bhimpalāsī in musical content but the vādīs and moods are different. Dhanāsrī is performed in the early afternoon and presents a cheerful, happy mood. It provided the setting for hymns by Gurū Nānak, Gurū Amar Dās, Gurū Rām Dās, Gurū Arjan and Gurū Tegh Bahādur for a total of 101 hymns. These texts stress that man reaps what he sows. Only in the Lord may be found the riches that dispel fear and ignorance and thus cause man to realize his true self.

        Āroh : Sa Ga Ma Pa Ni Śa

        Avroh : Śa Ni Dha Pa Ma Pa Ga Re Sa

        Vādī : Pa

        Samvādī : Sa


        Pa is given considerable emphasis and Ni and Pa receive sliding approaches, a characteristic of this rāga. The pentatonic ascent provides some of the melodic features of this rāga.

        11. JAITSRĪ

         Jaitsrī does not appear in the Rāgmālā nor is it found in the modern literature on the subject. Bhāṭkhaṇḍe gives Jait-Kalyān but this is not to be confused with the above. However, Jaitsrī does appear in a 17th century classification, but not in later ones. Gurū Rām Dās, Gurū Arjan and Gurū Tegh Bahādur composed 30 hymns, a vār and several ślokas to this rāga. Today Rāga Jait is found under the Mārva thāṭa and is assigned to the evening hours. A mood of gentle quietness and mystery pervades this rāga. The texts describe the meditative thoughts of a devotee who has surrendered himself to his Gurū and Lord. Rāga Jait has two forms and the second includes some elements from Sirī Rāga and perhaps this is nearest the original Jaitsrī.

        Āroh : Sa Ga Ma Pa Ni Śa

        Avroh : Śa Ni Dha Pa Ma Ga Re Sa

        Pakaṛ : Sa, Ga Pa M'a Dha Pa M'a Ga, M'a Ga Re Sa

        Vādī : Ga

        Samvādī : Ni


        Because of the two different ways of singing this rāga, melodic patterns are not fixed.

        12. ṬOḌĪ

         A rāginī of Dīpak in the Rāgmālā, Ṭoḍī is today the head of a thāṭa. It is considered one of the most important of the north Indian rāgas. Ṭoḍī was used by the Gurūs for 32 hymns. This is a rāga for the late morning hours and the mood is gentle, with an aura of adoration. The texts composed to this rāga emphasize that no matter what problems man meets or what worldly affairs distract the mind, devotion to the Lord brings one back to the path of release from worldliness.

        Āroh : Sa Re Ga M'a Pa Dha Ni Śa

        Avroh : Śa Ni Dha Pa M'a Ga Re Sa

         Pakaṛ : Dha Ṇi Sa, Re Ga, Re Sa, M'a Ga Pa M'a Ga, Re Ga Re Sa

        Vādī : Dha

        Samvādī : Re


        13. BAIRĀṚĪ

         This rāga appears in the Rāgmālā as the first rāginī of Sirī Rāga. In the Mesakarṇa Rāgmālā (1509), which is almost the same as that of the Gurū Granth Sāhib, the first rāginī of Sirī Rāga is given as Vairāṭī. However, modern sources do not give Bairāṛī nor Vairāṭī but Barāṛī and Varāṛī as well as Varāṭī are listed. Kaufmann believes that all of these names refer to the same rāga, Barāṛī. Whether this is the same as the old Bairāṛī is open to question. The possibility always exists that Bairāṛī was a regional tune. It was used by Gurū Rām Dās for six short hymns and by Gurū Arjan for one. The performance time for Bairāṛī is during the evening hours and it is currently assigned to the Mārva thāṭa. It resembles Pūrva Kalyān, the main difference being the use of Pa which is strong in Bairāṛī and weak in Pūrva-Kalyān. Popley places Bairāṛī in the same group as Sirī Rāga and this would agree with the Rāgmālā.

        Āroh : Ṇi Re Ga Pa, M'a Ga, M'a Dha Śa

        Avroh : Śa Ni Dha P'a, M'a Ga, Pa Ga, Re Sa

        Vādī : Ga

        Samvādī : Dha


        14. TILAṄG

         Favoured by Muslims, this rāga occurs in the Rāgmālā as a rāginī of Hiṇḍol. Today, it belongs to the Khamāj thāṭa. Tilaṅg was used by Gurū Nānak (6 hymns), Gurū Rām Dās (3), Gurū Arjan (5), Gurū Tegh Bahādur (3), Kabīr (1) and Nāmdev (2) for a total of 20 hymns. Tilaṅg is performed at night and has a calm and pleasing mood. In the texts composed for this rāga, the question is asked why man should cling to all the evils of this life when Gurū Nānak has shown the way to true happiness and fulfilment.

        Āroh : Sa Ga Ma Pa Ni Śa

        Avroh : Śa Ni Pa Ma Ga Sa

        Vādī : Ga

        Samvadī : Ni


        15. SŪHĪ

         Sūhī is classified in the Rāgmālā as a rāginī of Megha. It was a favourite with Muslims and was considered proper for the hot season. Today this rāga belongs to the Kāfī thāṭa and its performance time is late morning. In the Holy Book one variant is given, Rāga Sūhī Lalit. Sūhī was used by Gurū Nānak, Gurū Aṅgad, Gurū Amar Dās, Gurū Rām Dās and Gurū Arjan for 130 hymns, a vār plus many ślokas.

        Āroh : Sa Re Ga Ma Pa, Ni Dha Ni Śa

        Avroh : Śa Ni Dha Pa, Ma Ga, Re Ga Re, Sa

        Vādī : Pa

        Samvādī : Sa


        16. BILĀVAL (ancient name Velāvalī)

        Bilāval had become the basic scale for North Indian music by the early part of the 19th century. Its tonal relationships are comparable to the Western C-major scale. Bilāval appears in the Rāgmālā as a rāginī of Bhairava, but today it is the head of the Bilāval thāṭa. The Rāgmālā gives Bilāval as a putra (son) of Bhairav, but no relation between these two rāgas is made today. Bilāval is a morning rāga to be sung with a feeling of deep devotion and repose, often performed during the hot months. Over 170 hymns were composed to this rāga by Gurū Nānak, Gurū Amar Dās, Gurū Rām Dās, Gurū Arjan and Gurū Tegh Bahādur.

        Aroh : Sa Re Ga, Ma Pa, Dha, Ni Śa

        Avroh : Śa Ni Dha, Pa, Ma Ga, Re Sa

        Pakaṛ : Ga Re, Ga Ma Dha Pa, Ma Ga, Ma Re Sa

        Vādī : Dha

        Samvādī : Ga


        17. GOṆḌ

        The Rāgmālā records Gauṇḍ and Guṇḍ as putras (sons) of Sirī Rāga, but does not give Goṇḍ. The possibility exists that Goṇḍ is a regional rāga derived from that group of rāgas with similar names and characterized by phrases from other rāgas e.g. Bilāval, Kānaṛā and Malār. Such names as Gauṇḍa, Gaṇḍ, Gouṇḍa, Gauṇḍī, Gouṇḍgirī, and Guṇḍa appear in classifications from the 11th to the 17th centuries. For those still known today (Gauḍī, Gounḍgirī, and Gouḍ) performance rules are obscure. Performance time is late afternoon or early evening and the mood is comtemplative and dignified. Goṇḍ was used by Gurū Rām Dās and Gurū Arjan (29 hymns). The texts beseech man to depend solely on the Lord for all benefits since it is He who has given him all his blessings.

        Āroh : Sa Re Ga Ma, Pa Dha Ni Dha Ni Śa

        Avroh : Śa Ni Dha Ni Dha Pa, Ma Ga, Re Sa

        Pakaṛ : Re Ga Ma, Pa Ma, Ma Pa Ni Dha Ni Dha Ni Sa, Ni Dha Ni Pa, Dha Ma

        Vādī : Sa

        Samvādī : Ma


        18. RĀMKALĪ

         Rāmkalī is not given in the Rāgmālā but is one of the most important rāgas of the Gurū Granth Sāhib. All Gurūs, including Gurū Tegh Bahādur, have composed verses to this rāga. The total number of śabdas comes to over three hundred. Rāmkalī is a morning rāga performed after sunrise usually during the hot season. The mood is such as to inspire lofty thoughts. In the Gurū Granth Sāhib, a number of hymns in Rāmkalī expound True Yoga and other spiritual issues. Some celebrated compositions such as Sidha Gosṭi, Anandu, Sadd, Oaṅkār and the Vār by Sattā and Balvaṇḍ are composed to this rāga. Some of the verses also contain analogies to music and musical instruments. Four forms of this rāga are recognized, although only two are in general use today. The rāga belongs to the Bhairav thāṭa.

        Āroh : Sa Ga. Ma Pa Dha Ni Śa

        Avroh : Śa Ni Dha Pa, M'a Pa Dha Ni Dha Pa, Ga Ma Re Sa

        Pakar : Dha Pa, Ma Pa, Dha Ni Dha Pa, Ga, Ma Re Sa

        Vādī : Pa

        Samvādī : Re


        19. NAṬ NĀRĀIṆ

         In the Rāgmālā, Naṭ is given as putra (son) of Megha while today Naṭ Nārāiṇ appears under the Bilāval thāṭa and is assigned to the evening hours. This rāga was used by Gurū Rām Dās and Gurū Arjan. Naṭ Nārāiṇ is pictured as a warrior riding to battle. In the Holy Book, the fight against sin is never ending but those who seek refuge in the Lord have their suffering removed.

        Āroh : Sa Ga Ma Re, M'a Pa Dha Ni Śa

        Avroh : Śa Dha Pa M'a Dha Pa, Ga Ma Re Sa

        Pakaṛ : Sa Ma Ga Ma Pa, Dha Pa, Ma, Ga Ma Re Sa

         Vādī : Sa

        Samvādī : Re


        20. MĀLĪ GAUṚĀ

        Gauṛā is listed in the Rāgmālā as a putra (son) of Dīpak, but not Mālī Gauṛā. Currently classified under the Mārva thāṭa, Mālī Gauṛā is performed in the evening at sunset. In recent years it is rarely heard in concert. Gurū Rām Dās and Gurū Arjan composed to this rāga 14 hymns included in the Holy Book.

        Āroh : Sa Re Sa Ni Dha Sa Re Ga M'a Pa, Dha Ni Dha Śa

         Avroh : Śa Ni Dha Pa, M'a Ni Dha M'a Ga, Re Sa

         Vādī : Re

         Samvādī : Pa


        21. MĀRŪ

         Mārū is an old rāga seldom heard in concerts today. Some theorists equate it with Maruva or Marva. In the Rāgmālā, Mārū is a putra (son) of Mālkauṅsa. It is found in other classifications from the 14th to the early 19th century. Mārū was used by Gurū Nānak, Gurū Amar Dās, Gurū Rām Dās, Gurū Arjan and Gurū Tegh Bahādur for 144 hymns, two vārs plus a large number of ślokas. One of its variations is Mārū Kāfī. Mārū is assigned to the hours of sunset and is considered suitable for the cold season. The mood is quiet and contemplative. The tonal material given here is for Mārū Bihāg, Bilāval thāṭa.

        Āroh : Sa Ga Ma Pa, Dha Ni Śa

         Avroh : Śa Ni Dha Pa, M'a Pa Dha Ni Dha Pa Ma Ga Re Sa

         Pakaṛ : Pa Dha Ni Dha Pa Ma Pa Ma Ga, Pa Dha Pa Ga Re, Ga Re Sa

         Vādī : Pa

         Samvādī : Ni


        22. TUKHĀRĪ

         Tukhārī was probably based on a folk tune and was very likely developed by Gurū Nānak into a rāga for the singing of certain śabdas. No rāga of this name appears in the classifications of the period when śabdas were being composed and the Holy Book compiled. A rāga called Mukhārī may be found in the classifications of Karnāṭaka (South Indian) rāgas during the period from the 15th to the 18th centuries. Tukhārī was used by Gurū Nānak, Gurū Rām Dās and Gurū Arjan. Gurū Nānak's composition Bārā Māhā is set to this Rāga. It appears to be a rāga for the morning hours to be sung in winter. Its name Tukhārī is the popular form of tushār (Sanskrit for winter frost). No melodic material for the Tukhārī is available but, for the sake of comparison, the scale of Mukhārī is given:

        Āroh : Ni Sa, Ga Ma Pa, Ni Śa

        Avroh : Śa Ni Dha Pa, Ni Dha Pa, M'a Ga Re Sa

        Pakaṛ : Ni Ni Dha Pa, Ma Pa, Ma Ga, Re

        Vādī : Pa

        Samvādī : Sa


        23. KEDĀRĀ

         Kedārā is an old rāga dating from Gurū Nānak's time or even earlier which has become a very important and popular North Indian rāga today. It is supposed to possess magical qualities, if correctly performed, which can heal the sick. In the Rāgmālā, Kedārā is a putra (son) of Megha but currently is in the Kalyān thāṭa. Kedārā was used by Gurū Rām Dās and Gurū Arjan for a few short hymns. Several forms of Kedārā have been and still are in use. Thus considerable freedom of choice may be exercised by the performer as to how this rāga be performed in association with a given text. In the most commonly used form, Kedārā is performed during the first quarter of the night and is particularly auspicious when the moon is visible, a planet with which it has long been associated. The mood is one of contemplation associated with a sort of ascetic idealism. The sadness expressed in Rāgmālā paintings suggests the longing of man for the Supreme Being when this rāga accompanies a śabda. The Kedārā scale is vakra (crooked) with unusual intervals:

        Āroh : Sa Ma, Ma Pa, Dha Pa, Ni Dha Śa

        Avroh : Śa Ni Dha Pa, M'a Pa Dha Pa Ma, Ma Re Sa

        Vādī : Ma

        Samvādī : Sa


        24. BHAIROṄ

         Bhairoṅ was an important rāga at the time of Gurū Nānak and has continued to retain its significance and popularity. Bhairoṅ (not to be confused with Bhairavī) appears in the Rāgmālā as husband of Bhairavī and four other rāginīs. Today it is the head rāga for one of the ten thāṭas. The Rāga Sāgara, a treatise of circa 8th century, describes this rāga as awe-inspiring and as expressing the "fulfilment of the desire of worship". Mesakarṇa (1509) calls this morning melody of the autumn season one of awesome grandeur. Performed before sunrise, this rāga was used by Gurū Nānak, Gurū Amar Dās, Gurū Rām Dās, and Gurū Arjan for 99 hymns.

        Āroh : Sa Re, Ga Ma Pa Dha, Ni Śa

        Avroh : Śa Ni, Dha Dha Pa, Ma Ga, Re Re Sa

        Vādī : Dha

        Samvādī : Re


         The vādīs are performed with a slow, wide vibrato which may begin with the vādī itself or the highest limit to which it will extend. In descent the vibrato must begin with upper limit. Otherwise Bhairoṅ has few characteristic phrases.

        25. BASANT

         The name Basant is from Sanskrit vasant meaning spring, and during that season of the year Basant may be performed at any time of the day or night. Otherwise, it is reserved for the night between 9 p.m. and midnight. The Rāgmālā gives Basant as a putra (son) of Hiṇḍol, also a spring rāga. Today it belongs to the Pūrvi thāṭa. The only variant noted in the Holy Book is Basant-Hiṇḍol. Basant is a very old rāga dating from the 8th century. Gurū Nānak, Gurū Amar Dās, Gurū Rām Dās, Gurū Arjan and Gurū Tegh Bahādur composed śabdas to this rāga. Performed in slow tempo, this gentle melody depicts quiet joy. The descending scale is usually found at the beginning of a composition with the ascending form following later.

        Āroh : Sa Ga Ma Dha Ni Śa

        Avroh : Śa Ni Dha Pa Ma, Ga Re Sa

        Vādī : Sa

        Samvādi : Ma


        26. SĀRAṄG

         Sāraṅg is reputed to have acquired its name from the famous 14th century music theorist, Sāraṅgadeva. The Sāraṅg rāga consists of a group of seven, each of which is combined with some other rāga. Today when Sāraṅg is given as the rāga, it usually means Brindāvani-Sāraṅga, a member of the Kāfī thāṭa. Performed during the midday period, its mood is quiet and peaceful. In the Rāgmālā, Sāraṅg is listed as a putra (son) of Sirī Rāga. Sāraṅg is an important rāga in the Gurū Granth Sāhib and was used extensively by Gurū Arjan. However, Gurū Nānak, Gurū Amar Dās, Gurū Rām Dās and Gurū Tegh Bahādur also composed śabdas to this rāga and Gurū Aṅgad used it for some ślokas.

        Āroh : Sa Re Ma Pa Ni Śa

        Avroh : Śa Ni Pa Ma Re, Sa

        Pakaṛ : Ṇi Sa Re, Ma Re, Pa Ma Re, Ṇi Sa

        Vādī : Re

        Samvādī : Pa


        27. MALĀR (MALLĀR or MALHĀR)

         Malār is one of the rainy-season rāgas performed from June to September. During the monsoons, Malār can be sung at any time of the day or night; otherwise, it is designated for late evening or early morning. Its mood is joyful because the rains cause the crops to grow and the flowers to bloom. Malār is frequently combined with other rāgas, particularly Megha. Tānsen added some changes to Malhār and this rāga is known as Mīāṅ kī Malhār. In the Rāgmālā, Gauṇḍ-Malār is described as a rāginī of Megha and is the only one with a Malhār name. Today the Malhār rāgas are assigned to the Kāfī thāṭa. A favourite of Hindu musicians, Malhār was used by Gurū Nānak, Gurū Aṅgad, Gurū Amar Dās, Gurū Rām Dās, and Gurū Arjan. The pure Malhār is seldom performed today, and it might be heard in one of its combinations.

        Āroh : Sa, Re Ga Ma, Ma Re Pa, Ni Dha Ni Śa

        Avroh : Śa, Dha Ni Pa, Ma Ga Ma, Re Sa

        Pakaṛ : Sa Re Ga Ma, Ma Re Pa, Dha Ni Pa, Ma Re Sa

        Vādī : Ma

        Samvādī : Sa


        28. KĀNAṚĀ (Kānaḍa)

         The modern name for this rāga appears to be "Kānaḍa", probably a matter of transliteration from its original name. Under the Kānaṛā spelling this rāga was prevalent in the classifications of 16th and 17th centuries. However, in one instance, Kānaṛā and Kānaḍa both appear in the same rāgmālā. This would indicate that at one time these were two distinctly different rāgas. Kānaṛā was used by Gurū Rām Dās and Gurū Arjan for 69 hymns, a vār plus numerous ślokas. In the Rāgmālā, Kānaṛā is a putra of Dīpak. The modern Kānaḍa is one of a group of many Kānaḍa rāgas which are combinations of Kānaḍa with other rāgas; one of the most popular is Darbārī Kānaḍa classified under the Āsāvarī thāṭa. Assigned to the night hours, its mood is quiet and full of majesty. Darbārī-Kānaḍa is performed in slow tempo and is a popular concert form today. The details of this rāga :

         Āroh : Sa Re Ga, Ma Pa, Ni Śa

        Avroh : Śa, Ni Pa, Ma Pa, Ga Ma Re Sa

        Vādī : Pa

        Samvādī : Sa


        29. KALIĀN

         The Indian Sanskrit name for this rāga is Kalyān and the Persian is Yuman. In the Rāgmālā, Kaliān is the son of Dīpak while today it is the head of the Kaliān thāṭa. It is performed during the first part of the night and is considered a blessing bringing all good into one's life. Gurū Rām Dās and Gurū Arjan composed 23 hymns to this rāga. The texts exalt the far-reaching and all-pervading power of the Lord. In the Holy Book the only rāga variant given is Bhopālī (Bhūpālī).

        Āroh : Ni Re Ga, M'a Pa, Dha, Ni Śa

        Avroh : Śa Ni Dha, Pa, M'a Ga, Re Sa

        Pakaṛ : Ṇi Re Ga, Re Sa, Pa M'a Ga, Re Sa

        Vādī : Ga

        Samvādī : Ni


        30. PRABHĀTĪ

        Prabhātī does not appear in the Rāgmālā; the nearest to it in name is Prabal. Prabhātī belongs to the Bhairav thāṭa and is often combined with Rāga Bhairav. Prabhātī was the setting used for some 58 hymns by Gurū Nānak, Gurū Amar Dās, Gurū Rām Dās and Gurū Arjan. This is a morning rāga to be performed in a slow and dignified manner.

        Āroh : Sa Re Ga Pa Dha Śa

        Avroh : Śa Ni Dha Ni Pa Ga Re Sa

        Pakaṛ : Pa Pa Sa, Ni Dha Ni Pa, Pa Dha Ga Pa, Dha Pa Dha

        Vādī : Sa

        Samvādī : Pa


        31. JAIJĀVANTĪ

        Jaijāvantī was used only by Gurū Tegh Bahādur for four hymns. This rāga does not appear in the Rāgmālā but was known as Jāvanta as early as the 14th century. Today it is regarded as an important rāga belonging to the Khamāj thāṭa. This majestic and highly arresting rāga is assigned to the night hours.

        Āroh : Sa, Re Ga Ma Pa, Ni Śa

        Avroh : Śa Ni Dha Pa, Dha Ma, Re Ga Re Sa

        Pakaṛ : Re Ga Re Sa, Ṇi Dḥa Pa Re

        Vādī : Re

        Samvādī : Pa


         Besides the śabdas, there are 22 vārs or ballads in the Holy Book of the Sikhs which form a class by themselves. Vār, a genre mainly of Punjabi origin, comprises a number of stanzas called pauṛīs, sung by performing groups of three or four ḍhāḍīs each to the accompaniment of ḍhaḍḍhs, small two-faced drums held in one hand and played by the fingers of the other, and a sāraṅgī. Vārs in the Gurū Granth Sāhib also have two or more ślokas preceding each pauṛī. The ślokas are recited solo by the ḍhāḍīs (or rāgīs) in turn while pauṛīs are sung in unison by the group in traditional tunes of various folk ballads. To some of the vārs Gurū Arjan, who compiled the Holy Book, added directions with regard to the tunes in which they were to be sung.

         Compositions of the bhaktas and other devotees included in the Gurū Granth Sāhib are also placed under appropriate rāgas and are to be sung accordingly. Besides the contents of the Gurū Granth Sāhib, compositions of Gurū Gobind Siṅgh whose writings form a separate Book, the Dasam Granth, Bhāī Gurdās (d. 1636) and Bhāī Nand Lāl Goyā are approved canon for recitation as part of gurdwārā service. In his voluminous corpus, Gurū Gobind Siṅgh employs a vast variety of prosodic forms and metres, but hymns usually sung by rāgīs are his kabitts, svaiyyās and śabdas. The work of Bhāī Gurdās comprises vārs and kabitts and savaiyyās, the first-named in chaste Punjabi and the two latter in sadhūkaṛī, a form of Hindi mixed with regional diction. Bhāī Nand Lāl wrote primarily in Persian using ghazal as his principal poetic form.

         Dating from the time of the Gurūs, the preservation of the correct performance style has always been a major concern. Mardānā is reputed to have been the first to create a school for such training. Gurū Arjan is credited with establishing the gurmat saṅgīt or the approved style of hymn-singing for the training of rāgīs and rabābīs. He, himself, undertook the teaching of the pupils and was particular about the accurate rendering of the śabdas. Old musical structure and style have survived through some traditional families. Some venerable centres have continued over the generations the programme of instruction for gurdwārā musicians, among them the one at Daudhar. A few other places that have contributed to the preservation of the style are the Prachārak Vidyālā at Tarn Tāran, near Amritsar, the Sis Gañj Gurdwārā in Delhi and the Shahīd Sikh Missionary College, Amritsar.

         Sikh music has some limitations placed upon it in order that the religious requirements of the performance may be retained. Emphasis is placed on the melodic line so as to enhance the meaning of the text. The purpose of the musical settings of the words of the Gurūs is to impress these upon the consciousness of the listeners through emotional as well as intellectual appeal. The Gurūs aimed at conveying experience through the "feelings" to make the maximum impact. Therefore, important words of the text should fall on important notes of the rāga. Poetic pauses should also be observed. The message must reach the listener through clearly enunciated words. Hymns should be sung with affirmation in a full voice and this gives Sikh music its distinctive character. Tempos may be only slow and medium, not fast. Sargam (singing with Sa-Re-Ga) and fast tāns (rhythmic melodic figurations) are not permitted because they attract attention to themselves. Gamaks or ornaments are limited to those essential to the correct performance of a rāga, such as glides between notes, to maintain a connected melodic line. Words must be pronounced clearly and accurately with no adjustments for musical effects. Rāgas to be used may include only those specified or authorized, so that the emotional content may not be varied by the rāgīs. The music must be free of secular characteristics which may be in vogue at any given time. However, the purpose is not to inhibit the creative faculties of the performers lest the vitality of the music be sacrificed. Hand gestures and clapping, so much a part of classical performance, are not in keeping with the required mood of tranquillity. Hence these are totally prohibited. No appreciation may be shown to the musicians except in the dignified ways ordained by the Sikh religion. Congregational singing is encouraged on certain occasions. For this the rāgī sings a phrase or line and the congregation repeats. Or, sometimes, the congregation divides itself in two parts, each of them alternately singing lines in unison.


  1. Tārā Siṅgh, Pandit, Granth Guru Gīrārath Koś. Lahore, 1895
  2. Charan Siṅgh, Srī Gurū Granth Bāṇī Beurā. Amritsar, 1860
  3. Giān Siṅgh, Gurbāṇī Saṅgīt. Amritsar, 1961
  4. Avtār Siṅgh, Bhāī, and Bhāī Gurcharan Siṅgh, Gurbāṇī Sangīt Prāchīn Rīt Ratnāvalī. Patiala, 1979
  5. Simritī Granth : Adutī Gurmat-Saṅgīt Samelan. Ludhiana, 1991
  6. Jasbīr Kaur, Gurmat Saṅgīt dā Itihāsik Vikās (unpublished Ph.D. Thesis). Chandigarh : Panjab University, 1993

Marie Joy Curtiss