Musical Framework Of Guru Granth Sahib | SIKH PHILOSOPHY NETWORK
  • Welcome to all New Sikh Philosophy Network Forums!
    Explore Sikh Sikhi Sikhism...
    Sign up Log in

Musical Framework Of Guru Granth Sahib


Jun 1, 2004
An insight by Amandeep Singh

Gurbani Keertan today has been commercialized to such an extent that, barring a few, most singers are only concerned with making quick money. Their limitations to experiment within the prescribed vastness of Guru Granth Sahib is camouflaged in the excuse that the Sangat does not prefer to listen to Keertan in Raags as prescribed by the Gurus and thus it is easier to convey the message of Gurbani in catchy tunes.

This shallow argument poses questions, like:

What does Guru Granth Sahib, our eternal Guru command us on the subject of Keertan?

Why is that the Gurus chose Raags to classify Gurbani?

What is the relation between Shabad and Raag?

Do we need the aid of experimental music to propagate the message of Guru Granth Sahib?

Have our Keertanias experimented with the vastness of Raags and Taals as prescribed by Gurus?

What impact will experimentation have on our future generations?

Keertan today has been commercialized to such an extent that barring a few, most Keertanias are only concerned about making a quick money. Their limitations to experiment with the prescribed vastness of Guru Granth Sahib always gets camouflaged in the excuse that Sangat does not prefer to listen to Keertan as prescribed by the Gurus.

Gurus wrote Shabads in poetical-metric forms and then associate them with Raags and Ghars (Beats/Taals). Does this mean that Gurus have left no scope for experimentation with music? The indication of Raag and Ghar (Beat) with every Shabad implies that Gurus had a definite motive behind fixing a framework. This framework was not set to limit the ability of human mind to experiment with music but to act as an aid in spiritual development. A simple mathematical permutation and combination on notes of any Raag would indicate that each Raag offers thousands of tunes to experiment with.

Poetry (the form in which Gurbani is written) and Music (Raags) are two sides of the same coin. They are independent but yet complement each other. Music versifies and provides melody, uniformity and cadence to Poetry. The factor that binds music and poetry is their Metrical-form (Ghar). Music (Raag) is based on Sound (Swar - Notes) and a combination of Notes produce distinct musical effects. Poetry is determined by Word (Shabad), which communicates a message. Music (Raag) on the other hand conveys a feeling to the heart and is therefore universal. Spirituality after all is striking the right balance between mind and heart. Therefore when Gurbani (Poetry) is complemented with Raag (Music) and bound by Ghar , the resulting effect on mind and body can become the catalyst to change.

As explained earlier that Raag conveys a feeling and Shabad a message. A Raag is capable of touching the hearts with the feeling like Joy, Sorrow, Detachment, etc. Upon studying the structure of Guru Granth Sahib it can be seen that shabads relating to common THEMES are generally placed under each Raag. When the broad THEMES of Shabads are overlaid with feelings conveyed by Raags, there emerges a reason behind classification of Shabads under a broad classification of 31 Raags.

Common Theme of Shabads placed under Raags of Guru Granth Sahib

1. Soohi - Being away from Home. The soul being away from the House of Lord & the joy of meeting the true husband.

2. Bilaaval - beautification of Soul, Happiness.

3. Gaund - Separation, union, surprise.

4. Sri - Maya and Detachment

5. Maajh - yearning to merge with Lord, giving up of negative values.

6. Gauri - Principles, Serious, thoughtfulness, composed

7. Aasa - Hope

8. Gujri - Prayer (Pooja)

9. Devgandhari - Merging with spouse, Self - Realization

10. Bihaagra - Yearning due to separation of Soul and happiness due to meeting the Lord.

11. Sorath - Merits of God

12. Dhanasari - Mixed Theme

13. Jaitsree - Stability

14. Todi - Maya, Separation

15. Bairagi - motivation to sing praises of Lord

16. Tilang - many words from the vocabulary of Islamic origins are used, sadness, beautification.

17. Raamkali - to give up the life of a wandering Jogi.

18. Nat Narayan - Joy of meeting the Lord

19. Maali Gaura - Happiness

20. Maaru - Bravery

21. Tukhari - Separation and union with Lord

22. Kedara - Love

23. Bhairav - Mans' state of Hell

24. Basant - Happiness

25. Sarang - Thirst to meet God

26. Malar - State of separated and united Soul

27. Jaijawanti - Vairag (Detachment)

28. Kalyan - Bhakti (Prayer) Ras

29. Vadhans - Vairag (Detachment)

30. Parbhati - Bhakti (Prayer)

31. Kanra - Bhakti (Prayer)

Feeling communicated by the music of Raag

1. Soohi - Joy & Separation

2. Bilaaval - happiness

3. Gaund - strangeness, surprise, beauty

4. Sri - satisfaction and balance

5. Maajh - loss, beautification

6. Gauri - Seriousness

7. Aasa - making effort

8. Gujri - satisfaction, softness of heart, sadness

9. Devgandhari - No specific feeling but the Raag has a softness

10. Bihaagra - beautification

11. Sorarth - motivation

12. Dhanasari - inspiration, motivation

13. Jaitsree - Softness, satisfaction, sadness

14, Todi - this being a flexible Raag it is apt for communicating many feelings

15. Bhairagi - sadness, (Gurus have however used it for the message of Bhakti)

16. Tilang - this is a favourite Raag of Muslims. It denotes feeling of beautification and yearning.

17. Raamkali - calmness

18. Nat Narayan - Happiness

19. Maali Gaura - Happiness

20. Maaru - giving up of Cowardice

21. Tukhari - beautification

22. Kedara - Love and beautification

23. Bhairav - Seriousness, brings stability of mind

24. Basant - happiness

25. Sarang - sadness

26. Malar - seperation

27. Jaijawanti - Virag

28. Kalyan - Bhakti Ras

29. Vadhans - Vairag, Loss (that is why Alahniya is sung in this Raag when someone passes away)

30. Parbhati - Bhakti and seriousness

31. Kanra - Bhakti and seriousness

Gurus used Raags to increase delivery power of shabad to our mind by invoking complementary feelings in our hearts through the usage of prescribed Raags.

Another interesting aspect of raag and Gurbani classification is understood by studying daily time-cycles. A raag has a preferred timing associated with it. There are some morning raags, evening raags, afternoon raags, etc. The human mind and heart also undergo varying degrees of mood change during a twenty-four hour time cycle.

Upon classification of thirty-one main raags used in Guru Granth Sahib based on the prescribed raag timings, we find that no raags fall under the time zone 12 AM - 3 AM. Normally one would sleep between 10PM - 4AM.

Timings of Raags
6 AM - 9AM: Bhairaagi, Devgandhari
9 AM - 12 PM: Saarang, Suhi, Bilaaval, Gujri, Gond, Todi
12 PM - 3 PM: Vadhans, Maru, Dhanasari
3 PM - 6 PM: Maanjh, Gauri, Tilang, Tukhari
6 PM - 9 PM: Sri, Basant, Maali Gaura, Jaitsree, Kedara, Kalyaan
9 PM - 12 AM: Bihaagra, Nat Narayan, Sorath, Malaar, Kaanra, Jaijawanti
12 AM - 3 AM: --------No Raags from Guru Granth Sahib---------
3AM - 6AM: Aasa, Raamkali, Bhairav, Parbhati

Some raags also have seasons associated with them as seasons also denote feelings.

Seasonality of Raags

1. Basant raag can be sung at any time in Basant season. Shabads with the theme of happiness are clustered under this raag in Guru Granth Sahib.

2. Malaar raag can be sung at any time in the rainy season. Shabads with the theme of separation are clustered under this raag in Guru Granth Sahib.

The Gurus have also indicated the beats associated with the poetry of every Shabad. In Guru Granth Sahib seventeen ghars (taal - beat) are mentioned. These seventeen ghars denote the following beats:

GHAR 1 - DADRA TAAL (There are 1 Taalis and the Beat has 6 Maatraas)
GHAR 2 - RUPAK TAAL (There are 2 Taalis and the Beat has 7 Maatraas)
GHAR 3 - TEEN TAAL (There 3 Taalis and the Beat has 16 Maatraas)
GHAR 4 - CHAAR TAAL (There are 4 Taalis and the Beat has 12 Maatraas)
GHAR 5 - PUNJ TAAL (There are 5 Taalis and the Beat has 15 Maatraas)
GHAR 6 - KHUT TAAL (There are 6 Taalis and the Beat has 18 Maatraas)
GHAR 7 - MUT TAAL (There are 7 Taalis and the Beat has 21 Maatraas)
GHAR 8 - ASHT MANGAL TAAL (There are 8 Taalis and the Beat has 22 Maatraas)
GHAR 9 - MOHINI TAAL (There are 9 Taalis and the Beat has 23 Maatraas)
GHAR 10 - BRAHAM TAAL (There are 10 Taalis and the Beat has 28 Maatraas)
GHAR 11 - RUDRA TAAL (There are 11 Taalis and the Beat has 32 Maatraas)
GHAR 12 - VISHNU TAAL (There are 12 Taalis and the Beat has 36 Maatraas)
GHAR 13 - MUCHKUND TAAL (There are 13 Taalis and the Beat has 34 Maatraas)
GHAR 14 - MAHASHANI TAAL (There are 14 Taalis and the Beat has 42 Maatraas)
GHAR 15 - MISHR BARAN TAAL (There are 15 Taalis and the Beat has 47 Maatraas)
GHAR 16 - KUL TAAL (There are 16 Taalis and the Beat has 42 Maatraas)
GHAR 17 - CHRCHARI TAAL (There are 17 Taalis and the Beat has 40 Maatraas)

Within the rules of Indian Classical Music, uncountable raags can be created. In fact any form of music (non-Indian and non-classical) can be classified under some form of raag. Hence it is a misconception that raags are something highly classical and beyond the realm of the common man's understanding. In fact, any form of music is raag. But in Guru Granth Sahib, the Gurus have gone into depths of poetry, music and metrical forms to lay the framework that is best suited to convey the feeling and message of the Shabad simultaneously to the human mind and heart.

When each of the prescribed raags offers uncountable permutations and combinations of musical compositions, then why is it that modern Keertanias are not experimenting within the prescribed framework of the Gurus?

Create an account or login to comment

You must be a member in order to leave a comment

Create account

Create an account on our community. It's easy!

Log in

Already have an account? Log in here.

Shabad Vichaar by SPN'ers

By the 5th Guru Arjan Dev, the shabad is on Ang 616 of Sri Guru Granth Sahib Ji, translation by Dr. Sant Singh Khalsa.

ਸੋਰਠਿ ਮਹਲਾ ੫ ॥
Soraṯẖ mėhlā 5.
Sorat'h, Fifth Mehl...

SPN on Facebook