Preserving Ancient String Instruments


1947-2014 (Archived)
Preserving ancient string instruments
Amritsar, February 22

A unique museum and a music school of the Chief Khalsa Diwan here are doing yeoman service in preserving ancient stringed instruments.The museum, located inside Diwan’s orphanage premises here, has scores of string and folk instruments. Among the most significant preservations of the museum is rebab, a stringed instrument which was used by Bhai Mardana, a companion of the first Sikh guru, Guru Nanak Dev.

There are scores of other stringed instruments like the sarangi, taus, saranda, dilruba, Saraswati veena, sitar, tanpura and sarod.

Then there are folk instruments like bigal, kato, dhad, ghara, algoze, chimta, dafli, tumbi (ek tara), nagara, dholki and dhol. The museum has been tastefully decorated with pictures representing 31 ragas mentioned in Guru Granth Sahib besides photographs of noted musicians. The museum was inaugurated on July 28, 2009, though the Diwan’s music school, Bhai Veer Singh Gurmat Vidyala, had been training students in stringed instruments since 2007.

Talking to The Tribune here yesterday, Diwan officials BS Saini and Diljeet Singh Bedi said every year they select 20 students for a three-year course in their music school after a written test and an interview. “These students are provided free education and board and lodging in the school premises. We get candidates from not only outside Amritsar but also other states like UP and Rajasthan.”

They said the students could opt for any instrument on which they would like to be trained. Among the stringed instruments, the school facilitates training in dilruba, saranda, sarangi and sitar. However, they are finding it tough to zero in on teachers who can train the students on the most ancient instrument, rebab. The school has produced a number of ‘raagi jathas’ out of which seven are performing at the Golden Temple at present while others are also engaged in different gurdwaras. The three-year missionary course is aimed at producing ‘raagis’ and katha vachaks (preachers).

Chief Khalsa Diwan's Honorary Secretary Bhag Singh Ankhi said they had a tough time collecting ancient string instruments and getting their replicas made for the museum. “The rebab which we have in our museum is not of the same description Bhai Mardana had but it is a somewhat modified version of it.” He said his sole aim at the time of building museum was to acquaint the new generation with these instruments. “At least they should know how an instrument looks like,” he averred. It took him three years to collect these instruments, most of which came from philanthropists. Ankhi made a fresh appeal to the people to provide them any ancient musical instrument so that they can get its replica made for their museum.


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It is very sad that few sikhs of the guru are aware of these beutiful instruments.

Rabab-altered and promoted by guru nanak
Saranda-designed, created and played by guru arjan
Taus-designed, created and played by guru gobind singh
Dilruba-re desinged and created by guru gobind singh
Sarangi-promoted by guru hargobind
Jori- created by guru arjun

Intristing facts:

Guru gobind singh created the classical style of singing "kayal" which has taken over the entire north indian(hindustani) musical scene and did away with north indias ancient style of singing, Dhrupad.

Dilruba has won the hearts of many people outside panjab. It has become a very important instrument for the bengali people and was also played in afghanistan and other parts of india.

Guru arjan split the ancient pakhawaj and turned it into Jori which is the FATHER of tabla, the most common and popular percusion instruments of india.

Guru Arjan was a master musicologist who set gurus bani to the musical technology of ragas. Kirtaniyas at gurdwara now ignore the ragas that are supposed to be played to the shabbad and instead now use lewd Bollywood tunes while singing the devine word.

Sikh instruments are practicaly dead and non existent in gurdwaras. Instead all we see are harmonium wich is a foreign non indian instrument that cannot reproduce the ragas in GGS correctly.
It is my honor to share knowledge with the sangat. I really dont think the entire sikh population realizes how powerfull and special the sikh musical tradition is(gurmat sangeet).

Before Guru Arjan maharaj , most of the kirtan was done by muslims on their rebeck's(seni/dhrupad/indian rebab). A lot of these muslim kirtaniyas came from the school set up by bhai mardana before his death so that they could serve the guru in rendering the classical ragas(Indian musical/alchemical compositions). After an ancident involving the ragis and there ego/greed of the kirtan offerings, guru arjan started training the sikhs in the art of sikh/indian classical singing and playing(rendering of ragas) so that the sangat themselves could sing gurbani.

Most sikhs have been to gurdwara countless times, few have heard kirtan the proper way guru intended it to. Few have felt the transforming power of music, the emotion the raga instills to the listener while relating to the message/bani.

Another interesting fact. India is known to have 2 schools of music. Hindustani sangeet/north indian classical music and Carnatic sangeet/south indian classical music. The 3rd category which the world has forgoten is Gurmat sangeet/sikh classical music. Sikh classical music might possibly be the most unique since it mixes elements from both hindustani AND carnatic sanget AND folk music!

Here is how proper kirtan should be rendered. This is raj academy, and they are playing raag Dhanasari which instells a sense of carefreeneess and contentment which we get from the positive things in our life. I believe they are playing like an alaap(intro of raag/mood)which is an improvisation/introduction of the raag before the bani comes in.

YouTube - Prof. Surinder Singh~Partaal~Raag Dhanasri Shaan


1947-2014 (Archived)
Professor Surinder Singh is my one and only favorite and so is Raj Academy of Asian Music.

I want to add a few words to what you have written. He is indeed one who has been steadfast in teaching the world the classical form of kirtan. We notice there is no harmonium. That instrument was introduced with the advent of missionaries on the Indian subcontinent. Professor and his group are using classical instruments only.

The rendition - for me - is completing transfixing and transforming. Nothing quite as beautiful.

Professor Surinder Singh has labored to make classical forms accessible to so many. He offers online courses through the academy leading to degrees in collaboration with a local university. We can see that women are part of his jatha, and these are accomplished musicians using classical instruments. Among the group are his students who are also acclaimed musicians in their own right. Professor's own teacher is also part of his academy and is a teacher there. The academy also offers real time teaching in classical music. So this is so rich and remarkable.

I try to buy all the CD's to support the effort. The partaal which you have posted is Professor's Ek Oankaar. It frequently is the first track of a CD. There is no such thing as hearing too much of it. Too beautify.

Thanks jnanavan ji

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