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How Did Sikh Music Survive?

Discussion in 'Sikh Sikhi Sikhism' started by Aman Singh, Nov 10, 2009.

  1. Aman Singh

    Aman Singh
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    Admin SPNer

    Jun 1, 2004
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    Music is integral to most religions, perhaps because the language of music is universal, and transcends the limitations of the spoken or the written word. One doesn't have to understand the words or their meaning to revel in, for example, the glorious spirituality of Gregorian chants, or the inimitable synchrony of a choir, or the resonance and the longing of the soul in a cantor's voice. Clearly, the appeal of instrumental music doesn't depend upon words. One doesn't even need to understand the mathematical inter-relationships of the notes, or their infinitesimally small fractions, to, for instance, appreciate Indian classical music.
    Most religions, therefore, use music to frame their worship, with one notable exception. Islam finds music a distraction and does not allow it in religious service, even though the muezzin's call for prayer is intensely musical, and not the monotone of ordinary speech. And yet, some exceptional exponents of classical Indian music have been Muslims, and the spirituality in Muslim Sufi music is legendary.

    This brings me to a curious period in Indian history. The Mughal dynasty, constituting kings who professed the Islamic faith, ruled much of India during the 16th and 17th centuries, and into the early 18th - roughly contemporaneous to the period of the Ten Sikh Gurus. Most of the Mughals were notable patrons of art and culture, some even of music.

    Aurangzeb ruled India at the fag end of the dynasty, commencing in the latter half of the 17th century. He imposed on his far-flung empire a tight and an overly strict, fundamentalist Muslim regime, intolerant of others who did not subscribe to his own, narrow interpretation of the Faith.

    Since music had no place in Islamic worship, he decreed that there be no music in Indian society. There are even some sad stories of musicians of the day who symbolically administered last rites to their musical instruments and formally buried them.

    Three religions were extant in India at that time. Islam was politically dominant; Hinduism was the faith of the majority of the people, while Sikhism was the newly emerging belief of a small minority.
    Islam had no problem with banning music, for its worship had no use for it. Hinduism submitted to the new laws, even though music was a necessary ingredient of its culture.

    Sikhism, however, must have found itself somewhere between a rock and a hard place. Better than 90 percent of Sikh scripture consists of hymns, each carrying instructions on how it is to be performed. The musicology is specified and is an integral part of worship. The "raag" and "taal" of each hymn is listed. The bulk of Sikh scripture was completed in 1604, with final minor additions made around 1706. Through the years that Aurungzeb ruled with his regressive diktats, Sikhs continued to celebrate their worship in music.

    Aurangzeb, known for his authoritarian and intolerant ways and his cruelty, must have deemed it a challenge to his authority: after all, the scripture of the Sikh Faith - still nascent during that early period - had put music front and center.

    Here's something worth pondering over... and for scholars to explore: How did Sikh sacred music survive that tumultuous period?
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