Saturday, February 3, 2007

String Instruments in Sikh History

The first performance of Gurbani Kirtan, conceptualized by Guru Nanak, was a special sound founded in Raga, as was all Indian music of the time. A mirasi (professional Muslim musician), Mardana, was Guru Nanak’s favorite traveling companion and fellow Kirtani. The Rabab, a plucked string instrument resembling the modern Sarode (but without the metal plate), provided a quality that was compatible with Guru Nanak’s voice and style for communicating his divine message in verse and rhyme. In fact, the Rabab was used to set the mood in Raga before Guru Nanak began his shabads. “He used to tell Mardana which string (notes) to play for a particular hymn. After Mardana had played on the rabab for a few minutes, so as to create an appropriate atmosphere, Guru Nanak would start singing his song in that raga.” (ibid.: 91)
As was traditional at the time, Kirtan was also often accompanied by the Pakhawaj (Mridangam) or Dholak, popular percussion instruments of the 15th and 16th Centuries. The Taanpura, though not considered essential in 16th century Indian music, became increasingly prominent, over time, in providing a droning background, especially in classical styles. Mirasis who sang and performed Gurbani Kirtan, were renamed Rababis, and became the established singers of the Guru’s Court (in 1521 at Kartarpur). Later, the professional Rababis became largely displaced by amateur Sikh musicians and bards, known as bhatts and ragis, especially during the time of Guru Arjan Dev Ji, when the Golden Temple became the official Court of the Guru.

Source: Raj Academy

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