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BHAI KULTAR SINGH: A LIVE WIRE BETWEEN THE NEW SIKH GENERATION AND THE MUSIC OF THE FIRST FIVE GURUS

Harjap Singh Aujla

Being the grandson of illustrious Bhai Jawala Singh ji of village Saidpur near the historic town of Sultanpur Lodhi, blessed by a long stay by Sri Guru Nanak  Dev ji, and being the son of highly celebrated Late Bhai Avtar Singh ji former Huzoori Raagi of Gurdwara Sis Ganj Sahib of Old Delhi, Bhai Kultar Singh has several advantages as a “Gurbani Kirtania”. His ancesters were associated with the “Guru Darbars” some four hundred years ago. As such they had a unique exposure to the prevalent traditions of “Gurbani Kirtan”in the “Guru Darbars”. One of his predecessors had the privilege of serving in the “Guru Darbar” of the Tenth Master Sri Guru Guru Gobind Singh ji, as one of the several Kirtanias, while the Guru was in the Punjab.  


Bhai Kultar Singh

After the period of the great Gurus, Bhai Kultar Singh’s ancesters started living permanently in village Saidpur near Sultanpur Lodhi in erstwhile Kapurthala state. In addition to the daily chores of performing “Shabad Kirtan”, the family did farming as a second profession. According to Late Bhai Avtar Singh, his predecessors kept alive the ancient “Gurmat Kirtan” traditions of the “Guru Darbars”, in their pristine purity within the family. These lofty traditions, although are getting extinct in other “Graranas”, are still alive within this family. Some of the hallmarks of the ancient “Gurmat Sangeet” traditions include renditions of the “Shabads” in “Dhrupad” and “Dhamar” formats. “Panjtall Aswari”, “Chartall”, “Soolphag” and several other rare“Talls” prevalent in the “Guru Darbars” are preserved within the “Kirtan Shelly” of this family. “Partal” tradition, consisting of rendition of one “Shabad” in several compatible “Taals” is the gift of the great Gurus. This tradition is dying elsewhere, but it is alive with Bhai Kultar Singh’s group.


Complete Jatha of Bhai Kultar Singh Swaran Singh 

My late father Sardar Sochet Singh told me that the biggest fountain head shrines of “Gurmat Sangeet” during the past two centuries have been the “Golden Temple in Amritsar” and the “Gurdwara Janam Asthan Sri Nankana Sahib”. Both these shrines are located within fifty miles of Punjab’s capital and its cultural centre of Lahore. Because of that all the innovations in the fine arts that occurred in Lahore, found their way into Amritsar and Nankana Sahib. Thus the “Kirtan” traditions at Amritsar and Nankana Sahib kept changing all the time. The “Khayal” format of North Indian classical music, which was in its infancy during the period of Sri Guru Gobind Singh ji, developed extensively during the past one and a half centuries. Lahore became the harbinger of the evolutions of new traditions of classical music. Whatever developed and flourished in Lahore and Amritsar found its way into the mode of “Shabad Kirtan” in both the Golden Temple and Nankana Sahib. The family of Bhai Jawala Singh lived in Sultanpur Lodhi, which is remotely located from the much travelled Grand Trunk Road. Because of the remoteness of location, this family maintained its pristine ancient traditions of music alive.  

Bhai Avtar Singh inherited five hundred ancient tunes of “Gurmat Sangeet” from his father Bhai Jawala Singh. And Bhai Kultar, an engineer by profession, recently after switching to rendition of “Gurmat Sangeet”, has learnt at least four hundred tunes based on all thirty one Ragaas included in “Sri Guru Granth Sahib ji”. Bhai Kultar Singh’s voice is a rich male voice and can be modulated effortlessly for all the “Reets” he performs in.  

In addition, Bhai Kultar Singh enjoys a very good command over English language. He has grasped the meanings of the “Shabads” very well and he can explain it to the new generation very effectively in international English. Bhai Kultar Singh’s knowledge of English language is serving as a live wire with the Europe, America and Canada born new Sikh generations. The congregations of old and new generations in the Gurdwaras in North America have liked Bhai Kultar Singh’s “Kirtan Shailly”. The newer generation has liked his “Viakhia” (interpretation) of the Guru’s word enshrined in the holy “Sri Guru Granth Sahib”.  

Bhai Avtar Singh left for his heavenly abode on November 23, 2006. Bhai Swaran Singh, Bhai Avtar Singh’s nephew, who has been the “Tabla” (drum) player of the original “Jatha” (group) consisting of Bhai Avtar Singh Gurcharan Singh since the nineteen fifties, is now a member of the “Jatha” led by Bhai Kultar Singh. The advantage of Bhai Swaran Singh’s presence in the group is that he can play all the “Taals”, which have been played by the Sikh religious musicians since the times of the great Gurus. Bhai Swaran Singh remembers most of the “Shabads” included in the holy book “Sri Guru Granth Sahib”. Bhai Swaran Singh also knows most of the tunes handed down from generation to generation within this family of musicians. His voice is also very good. His voice combines well with that of Bhai Kultar Singh. The third member of the group is Bhai Manmohan Singh, a decendant of a Kashmiri family of traditional Sikh priests and religious musicians. His voice is very good and he combines very well with the other two.  

harjapaujla@gmail.com