Gurmat Sangeet

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Gurmat Sangeet is a unique musical tradition which is five centuries old. It is part and parcel of the Sikh religion. Nanak, born a Hindu, the founder of the Sikh religion, and its first Guru began the tradition as he and his childhood Muslim friend Bhai Mardana traveled around Asia and the Middle East spreading Nanak's divine message of one loving God. The tradition was continued and refined by every Sikh Guru through to Gobind Singh ji. It continues to this day. With Gurmat Sangeet, the divine message is communicated through Shabad (hymn/s, religious messages or poems) Kirtan(Sikh devotional music). Shabad Kirtan has become an inseparable part of the Sikh way of life. The Kirtan Chauki tradition has been in vogue in the gurdwaras for centuries and the Kirtan tradition as practised on special occasions is an extended form of this tradition. This practical Kirtan tradition is in accordance with the Shabad Guru of the Sri Guru Granth Sahib.

The Bani of the Granth Sahib, written and indexed according to the prescribed Raagas, singing forms, music signs/ headings and the other guidelines issued in the Bani, creates an original and specific musicology. A scientific approach to music can help in recognising more explicitly the musical tradition according to the Guru Granth Sahib.

Such a system of music, enshrined in the Holy Guru Granth Sahib is exactly in accordance with the musical tenets established by the Gurus. What came to be known as "Gur Shabad Kirtan" is a unique confluence of Shabad and Kirtan propounded by Guru Nanak with the aid of the divine music from Bhai Mardana's Rabab. There music and songs to God emerged as a unique system in Indian music which has spread into the musical traditions of the world. In Bani Gur-Shabad Kirtan has been assigned a very prominent status as stated in the following couplet:

Kaljug meh kīrṯan parḝẖĝnĝ. Gurmukẖ japī­ai lĝ­ė ḝẖi­ĝnĝ.

In this Dark Age of Kali Yuga, the Kirtan of the Lord's Praises are most sublime and exalted.
Become Gurmukh, chant and focus your meditation.

sggs page 1075
Har kīraṯ kaljug paḝ ūṯam har pĝ­ī­ai saṯgur mĝjẖĝ.

Ha­o balihĝrī saṯgur apunė jin gupaṯ nĝm pargĝjẖĝ. ((2))

In this Dark Age of Kali Yuga, the Kirtan of the Lord's Praise brings the most noble and exalted status; the Lord is found through the True Guru.
I am a sacrifice to my True Guru, who has revealed the Lord's hidden Name to me. ((2))

sggs page 697

The Guru Granth Sahib contains Bani of the Gurus in addition to the Bani of contemporary and earlier Saints and Bhagats. The classification of Bani according to Raags makes it clear that the Bani is written in accordance with a particular system as conceived by Guru Arjun Dev the fifth Guru while compiling and editing the Guru Granth Sahib. Beside the Raagas, different classical and folk singing styles, Rahaao and other music signs are those elements of the Gurmat music system which always remain active due to their original musical characteristics and for the presentation of Shabad Kirtan. The Bani under Shabad Kirtan is to be sung according to the prescribed raags, raaga forms, singing styles, music sings, Rahaao, Ank (digit) and so on. Different music elements which discipline Shabad Kirtan, can be known by an independent systematic discussion about them and its functional aspect may become more clear by systematic thought.

The Raaga

The entire Bani of the holy Sri Guru Granth Sahib has been classified under 31 Raagas and 31 different Raaga forms (Parkaars) thus making a total of 62.

Raaga references on the Gurbani as headings are a clear indication for singing any piece of Gurbani according to the prescribed Raaga and that has been ordained in Sikh tradition and fundamentals. Importance of the Raagas has been stated as follows:

Sabhnaan raagaan wich so bhalla

bhaaee jit wasiaa man aaee.

sggs page 1423
Dhan su raag surangrhe

aalaapat sabh tikh jaae.

sggs page 958
Gunh govind gaavah sabh harijan

raag ratan rasnaa aalaap.

sggs page 821

Under the Gurmat Sangeet tradition, Raagas are in propagation with their original melodic forms. Sikh musicians, uninfluenced by the changes in Shudh Thaat notes as Bilawal scales from Kafi scale, kept the traditional purity of Gurmat Sangeet in practical form. As a sequel, a tradition which is more than 500 years old, remains very much in existence as the Sikh musical tradition. These original Raaga forms of Gurmat Sangeet are a unique contribution to Indian music's Raaga tradition.

These Raagas (31 Main and 31 Raaga forms) are Shudh (Siree, Maajh, Gaorhee, Aasaa, Dhanaasree, Soohee, Maaroo, Tookharee, Parbhaatee etc.), Chhayalag (nine Raaga forms of Gaorhee and Asa Kaafe, Tilang Kafee, Soohee Lalit, Bilawat Mangal, Parbhatee Bibhaas etc.), admixture of two Raagas or including the melodic reflection of any other Raaga, and Sankeeran (Gaorhee, Poorbee, Deepkee), combination of more than two Raagas. Originality of seasonal (Malhaar, Basant etc.) and regional (Maajh Aasaa, Tookharee etc) Raagas under Raag forms is another important feature of the Gurmat Sangeet System. With a view to disseminate the divine message to the people, Guru Nanak Sahib toured different places.

These travels of Guru Nanak are popularly known as Udasis. During these long travels (udasis) Guru Nanak Sahib used Raagas belonging to local tradition to aid in propagating his message, of which the Deccani Raaga (Gaorhee Dakhnee, Wadhans Dakhnee, Bilwal Dakhnee, Raawklee Dakhnee, Maaroo Dakhnee, Parbhatee Dakhnee) tradition deserves special mention. Dakhani in word in the Sri Guru Granth indicates the southern music system. In Gurbani, the Raaga Dhyana (Sri Guru Granth Sahib, Page 83, 585, 791, 849, 950, 1027, 1285, 1419, 1425 etc.) of some Raagas have been given with a view to express the nature of different Raagas in their spiritual context according to the Gurmat.

Singing Styles

Bani has different headings alongwith Raagas such as Ashtpadian, Chaupade, Ghorian, Alahllian, Vaar and the others in the Guru Granth Sahib. Under the Bani arrangement, these forms not only assume poetical forms but specific singing styles and music forms also which have a particular technique. The Gurus have not only used different classical and folk music forms in Buni but these have also been used in conformity with the Gurmat musical system which is based on elements of music like Raagn, Rahaao, Ank and other musical singes. Under this system, classical musical forms have been liberated from the rigorous discipline of the art of music and given an equipoise(Sehaj) by conforming it to the spirit of the Sikh musical system. Similarly spontaneous freedom of folk forms has been given the specific discipline of Gurmat Sangeet.

The Guru Granth Sahib contains Ashtpadi and Partal of classical music and Vaar, Chand, Ghorian and Alahunian of folk music. Vaar (ballad) singing style has a special place in the folk music. In the Guru Granth Sahib different Vaars under different Raagas have been given a heading of traditional folk musical tunes.

Ank (Digit)

In the Guru Granth Sahib, the digits have been marked at different places viz, 1,2,3,4.. etc. as Ank. In addition to the signs like Rahaao, the Bani has been divided through different digits. The line ending with digits (Ank) in a Shabad, provides serial to a Shabad unit. While being helpful in its systematic presentation, it also helps in understanding its meanings. In the presentation of Shabad Kirtan, Rahaao which contains the central idea of the shabad is to be sung as Sthaaee in the beginning and after everv Antra to make the spirit of the Shabad more explicit. The lines containing different similes, illustrations and reasoning etc. are also directed through different digits (Ank). These have to be sung in the forin of Antrus.


Under the Gur Shabad Kirtan tradition, Rahaao has a central and important place. In Rahaao the shabad has its central idea which is to get activated as a centripetal force in the presentation of the Shahad. Literally, Rahaao indicates pause, rest or to be stable (Sahitya Kosh Paribhashik Shabddawali Page 871). In the medieval period system, Prabandha and Dhrupad singing style has one element, Dhruv which is known as Achal. The other name of Dhruv is Rahaao which has been used for singing of Bani. Medieval saints and bhagats or poets have also used Dhruv or 'Tek' for 'Rahaao' in their literary creations. In their works the first couplet is of Tek or Rahaao, while in Gurbani, Rahaao follows the first line or couplet of the Shabad with the mark Rahaao. The particular digits are also found to indicate the number of Rahaao. In certain Shabads, l Rahaao (ik Rahaao), 2 Rahaao (Do Rahaao), Guru Granth Sahib, Page 26-26, Rahaao (Tin Rahaao), 3 Guru Granth Sahib, Page 154, 4 Rahaao (Chaar Rahaao), Guru Granth Sahib, Page 96-97, 899 are also seen.

Under the Gurmat Sangeet Shabad Keertan, Rahaao is taken as Sthaaee and the tradition is to sing it repeatedly after every Antru because the Rahaao line has the central idea of the Shabad while the Antra line resolves the problem by giving argument and evidence. When the problem is resolved and there is a change in thought the Rnhaao line also undergoes a change. If a Shabad has more than one Rahaao the second Rahaao line gets activated after the change in thought of the Shabad. The singing process of Rahaao in a Shabad is as follows:

According to the prescribed recitation system, Rahnno in a Shabad through the repeated singing of its line, is helpful in bringing forth the central idea and confirms the idea and increases its intensity. Rahaao is the central force in a Shabad which is active in the inner texture of the Shabad.

The word "Rahaou" marks "pause", and denotes main theme line. In other words, the verse of "Rahaou" contains the basis, essence or central thought of the Shabad. Whilst, the remaining lines of the Shabad are considered an exposition of the verse of "Rahaou". That's why Raagees use it as "Asthaaee" (first or the main part of the music composition) and thereby sing it repeatedly. In some Shabads, there are more than one "Rahaou", such as Rahaaou 1, Rahaaou 2, Rahaaou 3, Rahaaou 4, etc.(for example, see Pages 26-26, 154, 96-97, 899 of the SGGS). This indicates introduction of a new thought. There is no "Rahaou" in the "Slokas". In regard to the Vaars of Bhai Gurdaas Jee, the last line of the "Pauree" is considered to contain the main thought.


Under the Gurmat Sangeet system in addition to the above function of Rahaao, there are other musical signs. In the Guru Granth Sahib for the recitation of Gurmat Sangeet, the next musical sign is that of Ghar. It is written as Ghar ek, Ghar do, Ghar tin. Total number of Ghars in the Guru Granth Sahib is seventeen. Scholars have different views about the concept of Ghar:

  1. According to Bhai Kahan Singh Nabha (Gur Shabad Ratnakar Mahan Kosh, Page 441) Ghar has two meanings: a Tala or a kind of Tal, Swar and kinds of Murchanna.
  2. According to Bhai Vir Singh, "There are three grams in musical instruments. Grams is constituted of Ghar. So Ghars are based on notes of these three Grams. Ghar indicates the prominent note of the Raaga being sung." (Guru Granth Kosh, Page 302).
  3. Majority of the music scholars take Ghar as Tala. This tradition of scholars seems to be influenced by the Persian Tala system where different Gala forms are addressed as Ek Gah, Do Gah, Sih Gah, and Chahar Gah. (Shabadarth Sri Guru Granth Sahib Pothi Pahli S.G.P.C., Page 74)
  4. Therefore, it is possible that the Gurus also used Ghar to indicate Tala. It is accepted under the Persian music tradition that Amir Khusro invented 17 Taalas which are almost identical to Hindustani Talas and came to be used in India alongwith Persian names. (Nibandh Sangoot Edi. Lakshmi Narain Garg, Page 557-558)

Majority of the scholars accept Ghar as Tala though Ghar is not more in vogue due to fixed scale and time difference. Even then under the Gurbani musical system, Ghar is clearly indicated as a musical sign.


The heading Jati under Raaga Bilawal is indicated as Bilawal Mahala 1 Thiti Ghar 10 (Sri Guru Granth Sahib, Page 838) Under Indian musical system it is used as Jati. It means stages of rest in continuous tempo.

4th Rahaaoo/Sthaaee : 4th Ank/Antra
3rd Rahaao/Sthaaee : 3rd Ank/Antra
2nd Rahaao/Sthaaee : 2nd Ank/Anthra
1st Rahaao/Sthaaee : 1st Ank/Antra

  • All the three are combined functions (Kartab) of jorhi (Tabla), while the right hand acts as Gat. When both hands are free and the voice also comes out freely, it is called Karkat, means Sath (Professor Sahib Singh, Shri Guru Granth Sahib darshan (Pothi Six) Page 229]. Similarly, Jati is related to playing Gat on Jorhi (Tabla).

The above views make it clear that in medieval times, the Band Bol of Tabla were in vogue. Bhai Kahan Singh Nabha's view in this regard seems appropriate. Contemporary musicians define Jati as "when the right hand plays Khulla Bol on Jorhi and left hand plays on Band Bol, such a rhythmic process is called Jati. It is clear from the heading as mentioned in the Guru Granth Sahib that this hymn in Raaga Bilawal is to be sung in the modulation of Ghar 10, with the specific pauses in Jati style and the poetic form/singing style is Thiti.


Out of 22 Vaaras included in the Sri Guru Granth Sahib, 9 have different Dhuni headings. These Dhuni signs indicate the special basis for singing tunes. The headings of Dhunies are as follows

  1. Vaar maajh kee tathaa salok mahalaa 1 : malik mureed tathaa rhandarharhaa sohee-e kee dhunee gaasnhee. (Page 137)
  2. Gaouri kee vaar mahalaa 5 : raa-e kamaaldee moidee kee vaar dhun upar gasnhee. (Page 318)
  3. Aasaa mahalaa 1 vaar : salokaa naal salok bhee mahale pahile ke likhe tunde us raajai kee dhullee. (Page 862)
  4. Goojree kee vaar mahalaa 3 : Sikandar biraahim kee vaar kee dhunee gaavanhee. (Page 508)
  5. Wadhans kee vaar mahalaa 4 : Laila behleemaa kee dhunee gaavnhee. (Page 585)
  6. Raamkalee kee vaar mahalaa 3 : Jodhe weerei poorbaahee kee dht(nee. (Page 847)
  7. Saarang kee vaar mahalaa 4 : Raae mahime has7le kee dhunev. (Page 1237)
  8. Vaar malhaar kee mallalaa 1 : Raanhe kailaas tathaa maalde kee dhuee. (Page 1278)
  9. Kaanrhe kee vaar mahalaa 4 : Moose kee vaar kee dhlolee. (Page 1312)

These Dhuni headings are the special features of ballad singing style sung on the heroic deeds of the warriors of Northern India. In addition to their importance for Gurbani, it has great significance for the Hindustani Music. These headings also provide a new formulation for the division Of Indian Music into Hindustani and Karnatic systems. In the landscape of Northern Indian Music tradition, the Punjabi tradition emeges as a central source. The above mentioned musical signs, in combination with Raagas and music forms, create a special tradition for the Shabad Kirtan tradition which is clearly based on the prescribed system of bani in the Guru Granth Sahib.

Process of Shabad Kirtan

The process of shabad kirtan's singing/presentation, in the light of the above musical elements and music tradition as enshrined in the Guru Granth Sahib is as follows: Shabad has the basic importance in the Kirtan tradition. The basic purpose of Shabad Kirtan is to imbibe the light of the Shabad into the human mind. Under Gurbani, truth is as the central point. Rahaao lines are to be sung first as they form the central spiritual point of the Shabad. Under their specified musical forms of classical and folk traditions, Rahaao lines are to be sung as Sthaaee and other lines are to be sung as Antras after dividing them in the light of the given tips.


Meraa man lochal gur darshan taaee.
Bilap kare chatrik kee niaaee.

Trikhaa na utrai saant na aavai bin darsan sant piaare jeeo.l
Trikhaa na utrai saant na aavai bin darsan sant piaare jeco.l

Hao gholee jeeo ghol ghumaaee gurdarsan sant piaare jeeo. 1 Rahaao

Teraa mukh suhaavaa jeeo sah dhun baanhee. Chir hoaa dekhe saaringpaanhee.
Dhan su des jahaa toon vasiaa meet muraare jeeo. 2

Hao gholee hao ghol ghumaaee gur sajan meet mumare jeeo. 1 Rhaao

Ik gharhee na milte taa kaljug hotaa.

Hun kad mileeal pria tudh bhagvantaa.

Moh rainh na vihaavai need na aaval bin dekhe gurdarbaare jeeo. 3

Hao gholee jeeo ghol ghumaaee tis sache gur darbaare jeeo. 1 Rahaao

Bhaag hoaa gur sant milaa-i-aa. Prabh abinaasee ghar mah paa-i-aa.

Sev karee pal chasaa na vichhrhaa jan Naanak dass tumare Jeeo. 4

Hao gholee jeeo ghol ghumaaee jan Nanak daas tumaare jevo. Rahaao 1

(Sri Guru Granth Sahib, Page-96)

Kirtan Process Of Above Shabad

In the above Shabad, the Keertan process begins by making the first Rahaao as Sthaaee in which the Guru says:

Rahaa l.(First Sathaaee): Hao gholee ieeo ghol ghlenlnave gurdarsan sant piaare jeeo.l. Rahaao. (I am a sacrifice, and my soul, I sacrifice unto the sight of the Guru, the dear.1.)

Ank (Digit) 1. (First Antraa ): Meraa man lochai gur darsan taaee. Bilap kare chatrik kee niaaee. Trikhaa na utral saant na aaval bin darsan sant piaare jeso. I. (My soul longs for a sight of the Guru. It bewails like a piedcuckoo; my thirst is not quenched, nor peace I find without the sight of the dear Guru saint.1)

Rahaao l.(First Sathaaee): Hao gholee jeeo ghol ghljmaaee gurdarsan sant piaare jeeo. 1. Rahaao. (I am a sacrifice, and my soul, I sacrifice unto the sight of the Guru, and dear 1).

Ank2.(Second Antraa) Teraa mukh suhaavaa jevosa dh baanhee. Chir hoaa dekhe saaringpaa1lhee. Dhan su des ja11an toon vasiaa mere sajanh meet muraare jeeo. 2. (Thy face is beautiful and the sound of Thine \Vords imparts Divine knowledge. It is long since the sparrow havsTk has had a glimpse of water. Blessed is the land where Thou lives, 'O' venerable Divine Guru, my friend and intimate.2).

Rahaao,2. (Second Sathaaoo): Hao gholee hao ghol ghumaaee gur sajan meet muraare jeeo.l. Rahaao. (I am devoted, I am devoted unto the honourable, Godlv Guru, my friend and inhmate. 1).

Ank 3.(Third Antra): Ik gharhee na milte taa kaljug hotaa. Hun kad mileeal pria tudh bhagvantaa. Moh rainh na vihaavai need na aaval bin dekhe gurdarbaare jeeo.3. (Should I meet Thee not even for a moment, it amounts to the dark age, When shall I now meet Thee, 'O' my beloved auspicious Lord? I cannot pas the night and sleep comes not to me, mzithout beholding the Guru's Court.3).

Rahaao 3.(Third Sathaaee): Hao gholee jeeo ghol ghu11lnQee tis sache gur darbaare jeeo. 1. Rahaao. (I am a sacrifice, nnd I sacrifice my soul unto that True quart of the venerahle Guru. 1).

Ank 4.(Fourth Antraa): Bhaag hoaa gur sant milaa-i-aa. Prabh abinaasee ghar mah paa-i-aa. Sev karee pal chasaa na vichhrhaa jan Naanak dass jeeo.4. (It is my good fortune to have met the saintly Guru. The immortal Lord, I have found in my own home. I will now serve Thee and even for a trice and a moment will not separate from Thee Servant Nanak is a serf or Thine, O' reverned Master! 4).

Rahaao 4.(Fourth Sathaaee): Hao gholee jeco ghol ghumaaee jan Nanak daas tumaare jeso. Rahaao. 1. (I am devoted, and my soul is devoted unto thee, servant Nanak is a slave of Thine).

In the above Shabad Guru Arjun Dev is yearning for darshan (sight) of the saintly Guru and is expressing different psychological states in terms of separation. Four Rahaao lines with four different Rahaao 4 Ank / Digit (1,2,3,4) signs are being changed with directions as indicated in the Shabad after every Antra line; that is why the Shabad Kirtan process will be as follows:

  • First Rahaao First Antra - First Rahaao
  • First Rahaao Second Antra - Second Rahaao
  • Second Rahaao Third Antra - Third Rahaao
  • Third Rahaao Fourth Antra - Fourth Rahaao


In the Guru Granth Sahib not only are musical elements and units determined but there are also many directions for the musician and presentation of Kirtan; the Guru says: Bhalo Bhalo Re Keertaneea Raam Ramaa Raamaa Gun Gaao Chhod Maya kai Dhand Suaao (Sri Guru Granth Sahib, Page 885)

According to the above couplet, the musician's ideal is Kirtan shorn of any greed and ego. The Kirtaniaa is not to show off his ego, but he is to render Kirtan with humility.

Ik gaavat rahe man saad naa paae. Haome wich gaavah birthaa jaae. (Sri Guru Granth Sahib, Page 158) (Some go on singing, but their mind deri-ves no solace. In pride, they sing and all goes in vain.)

The singer's heart is full of gratefulness, and he performs Kirtan by freeing himself from all ego and with a feeling of submission for the praise of God. Kirtan performed with the above feeling only is in accordance with Gur Shabad Kirtan tradition. Only by following this technique of recitation, the truth of the Shabad can be experienced.

Ghorian, Alahunian & Karhale

In addition to the classical music, the folk music (because of its wide appeal) is also given importance in the SGGS. In this regard, in addition to the Vaars listed above, there are some Shabads about the "Ghorian" and "Alahunian" etc. "Ghorian" Shabads are on marriage and other festive occasions. "Alahunian" Shabads are on death.

Karhale is a type of the "Chhand". It also denotes a type of folk music the camel riders sing while traveling. The Gurbani has repeatedly compares our wandering minds with the camel as well.


This is also a musical sign for the Ragees. Partaal means there are different Taals (beat) for the parts of the Shabad. In other words, Partaal means the parts of the Shabad should be sung in different Taalas and tempo. In the SGGS, there are 49 Shabads in Partaal set to different "Ghar".


This is also a musical sign for the Ragees. This term appears once in the SGGS (page 369, Aasaa Raaga). Essentially it conveys direction to Raagees to sing the Shabad in its pure form. For example, when the Shabad is in Aasaa Raaga, then it must be sung in that Raaga (and Ghar).


IKPADAA, DUPADAA, TIPADAA, CHAARPADE, CHHAND, CH HAKAA, ASHATPADEE, SAVAYYAS As the name implies, "Ikpadaa" denotes the Shabads of one verse. When "Ikpadaa" shabads have two verses, they are sung as one verse. "Dupadaa" are the Shabads that contain, besides the Rahaou lines, two stanzas. "Tipadaa" are the Shabads of three stanzas. Similarly, the "Chaupade" are the Shabads of four verses, "Chhands" are the Shabads of six lines, and "Ashatpadee" are the Shabads of eight verses. "Chhhakaa" is of six Padaas. Someplaces both "Chaupade Dupade" appear together (for example, see SGGS page 185). It means that particular Shabad contains "Chaupade" following "Dupade". The "Savayyas" are the compositions of praise. SALOKA: A form of verse or stanza, generally a two-liner form allowing a variety of metrical arrangement.


"Paurees" are a form of stanzas. They also contain the essence of the Vaars. Literally meaning ladder or rung, it is a form of stanza adopted for Vaars. They generally consist of 6 to 8 lines each. Stanzas of Baabaa Nanak's Japuji are also traditionally called Paurees. Traditionally, Raagees are supposed to conclude Kirtan with singing of a "Pauree" from Raagas Bilaaval, Kaanraa etc.


Funhe is a form of the Chhand (for example, see SGGS page 1361). Chaubole is also a form of the Chhand (for example, see SGGS page 1363 where it has 11 verses). Gaathaa denotes composition in an ancient language (mixture of Sanskrit, Paalee and other languages). Many Buddhist scriptures are written in this language (for example, see page 1360 of SGGS).


"Solahe" is the Shabad containing generally sixteen stanzas (for example, see SGGS page 1021). They are only found in Raaga Maaroo. There is no "Rahaaou" in them. Also, they follow "Ashatpadees".


Initially called Adi Granth, the contents of the SGGS (1,430 pages) contains Baanee of the Gurus (Guru Nanak Dev, Guru Angad Dev, Guru Amar Das, Guru Ram Das, Guru Arjan Dev, Guru Tegh Bahadur, and one Sloka of Guru Gobind Singh Jee), and Hindu saints (Brahmans and Soodras) and Muslim Sufis. These 15 saints were Kabeer, Nam Dev, Ravidas, Sheikh Farid, Trilochan, Dhanna, Beni, Bhikan, Sur Daas, Parmanand, Pipa, Ramanand, Sadhana and Sain. It also contains the hymns of eleven Bhattas and Bards, they were Mathuraa, Jalap, Harbans, Talya, Salya, Bhal, Kulh Sahar, Nal, Kirat, Sadrang and Gayand. In addition, it also consists of the hymns of Mardaanaa (the minstrel of Baabaa Nanak), Raamkalee Sad by Sunder , and Vaar of Sattaa and Balwand. The word "Mahalaa" at the top of the Shabad identifies which Guru is the author. For example, "Mahalaa 1" identifies the first Guru, "Mahalaa 2" identifies the second Guru, "Mahalaa 3" identifies the third Guru, "Mahalaa 4 " identifies the fourth Guru, "Mahalaa 5" identifies the fifth Guru, "Mahalaa 9" identifies the ninth Guru. This notation appears with the Baanee of the first five Gurus and the ninth Guru only.


Literally "Pattee" means a writing board, slate or notebook (Fattee). When it appears at the top of the Shabad, it's also used to impart the Divine Teachings in the order of Varanmaalaa (alphabet), for example see page 432 of the SGGS.

Kirtan Chaukies

Original kirtan chauki tradition of Gurmat Sangeet was started from the time of Guru Nanak Sahib, developed and propagated by all the Sikh Gurus. Sri Darbar Sahib Harmandir Sahib (The Golden Temple) has a unique Kirtan tradition in the form of different keertan chaukees, such as:

  1. Tinpaher dee keertan chaukee
  2. Asa di var di chaukee
  3. Bilawal dee chaukee
  4. Anand dee chaukee
  5. Charn kamal dee chaukee
  6. Sodar dee chaukee
  7. Aartee or kaliaan
  8. Kalyan's chaukee
  9. Kaanrhaa or keertan sohile dee chaukee

Besides these chaukies, determined according to Raaga and time, there is a particular Kirtan tradition for different occasions, festivals and ceremonies. Singing of Raagas according to different weather and seasons creates particular Kirtan Chaukies. Apart from these Sahad Kirtan Chaukis, Kirtan in folk style, Vaaran da Kirtan and chauki sahib's Kirtan also deserve special mention. Vaar Kirtan performed at the holy Darbar Sahib since the times of the 6th Guru and the singing of Vaar (Ballads) by the Dhadis, also forms a characteristic part of Sikh Music.

Kirtan Instruments

The Gurus while creating the above Kirtan tradition not only started different Kirtan Chaukees in functional from but also chose special musical instruments. Playing on the Rahab by Bhai Mardana during Guru Nanak's time, Siranda during the times of Guru Amar Dass and Guru Ram Dass, Siranda and Israj during the period of Guru Arjan Dev, Taus and DhadSarangi for Vaar singing during the period of 6th Guru, Mirdang during the ninth Guru's time, Tanpura during Guru Gobind Singh's time, were particular which explicity proves the use of special musical instruments. The use of special musical instruments in vogue was also done in an original way. The use of those 'Tanti (stringed) instruments are especially useful for purity of notes, of the Raaga and traditional excellence of the Gur Shabad Kirtan.

Kirtan Centres

In development of the great original tradition, the Gurus beginning with Guru Nanak Sahib along with Sangat(congregation) set up some Kirtan centres where musicians (performers of Kirtan) practically and fractionally developed such tradition. Sikh history bears testimony to the fact that after the Second Udasi, Guru Nanak Sahib set up the Sikh Dharamsal (Gurdawara) as an institution where the tradition of Kirtan started by the Guru was specially reiterated. Historical references make it clear that Gurbani was sung twice a day, in the morning and in the evening at Kartarpur.

Sodaru Aartee Gavveeai Amrit Vele Japa Uchaaraa (Bhai Gurdas, Vaar 1, Paurhi 38)

  • At this place, first by making Bhai Mardana stay on, Guru Nanak proceeded on his Third Udasi. Bhai Mardana continued to perform Guru Nanak Bani's Kirtan. After Bhai Mardana's passing away, his son Bhai Sajada (Sehjad) used to sing in the Guru's abode. Hence Kartarpur emerged as the first centre of Gurmat Sangeet.
  • Guru Amardas founded Goindwal as a special centre for the propagation of Sikhism, 22 Manjies (Seats) were founded where as Sikh traditions and Sikh ways of life were propagated in different areas. Gurmat Sangeet was also popularised among the Sikh congregations . Bhai Deepa, Bhai Pandha, Bhai Bhula were the famous Kirtaanias of the Guru's period.
  • After Guru Amardas, Guru Ramdas laid the foundation of Chak-Ram Das Pura, which later became famous as Amritsar. Satta and Balwand were the famous Kirtanias of Guru Ram Das's time. Here singing of Asa Di Vaar in the morning, Sodar in the evening and Arti at night, remained in practice. By the time of Guru Ram Das, the Shabad Kirtan tradition of Gurmat Sangeet was fully developed and established under which a unique singing style like Partal came to be practised, not found in any other musical tradition.
  • The Fifth Guru, Arjan Dev Sahib had the onerous responsibility of developing Gurmat Sangeet tradition on a firm footing. By this time the Harmandir had been founded at Amritsar where continuous singing of Shabad Kirtan Dhuni was performed by different Chaukies. At this Centre of Guru Arjan Dev, where Rababi Kirtan Tradition emerged in a distinctive form, common Sikhs were also encouraged to perform Kirtan which is illustrated by the Satta Balwand story of getting annoyed with the Guru. At this time, besides professional Rababis, amateur Shabad Kirtan by Sikh sangat tradition also came into being.
  • After Guru Arjan Dev, Guru Har Gobind introduced Vaar music by Dhadies along with Kirtan.
  • Anandpur Sahib was founded by Guru Tegh Bahadur Sahib where he made the traditional Kirtan an inseparable part of practical tradition. Bhai Saddu and Maddu were the famous Kirtan performers at this great Sikh centre.

From the period of the Gurus, the same technique of training and propagation of Gurmat Sangeet has continued. According to one tradition, Rababi Kirtan performers continued to impart training on individual basis and with professional efficiency. As a result, different Rabab players and their progeny continued to perform Gurmat Sangeet, using the art of music. This tradition was in no way inferior to the contemporary tradition of the Mughal Court. In the world of music, these Rabab performers of the House of the Guru were recognised as Babe Ke. On the other hand, court musicians were known as Babur Ke. Babe Ke held a respectable place among the contemporary musicians because of their association with spiritual music traditions. This tradition of Rababi kirtankars continues till this day. Their particular style of singing and their perfection of Gurbani recitation successfully helps in differentiating their style. Many Kirtan performers became famous as a result of the amateur Kirtan tradition started during Guru Arjun's time. These Rabab performers who were recognised in comparison to the professionals, used to get their training from such musicians who were conforming to Guru's tradition and were well associated with the principles and practices of Gurmat Sangeet. Of these famous Kirtan performers of the Guru period Bhai Deepa, Bhulla, Narain Das, Pandha, Ugrsain, Nagori Mal, Bhai Ramu, Jhaju, Mukand are better known. Under the Gurmat Sangeet training tradition, where Rababis had family traditions, the amateur Kirtan performers had institutional traditions. Though historical sources of the contemporary taksals (institutions) are not available, their functioning at different places bear testimony to the fact that the seeds of this tradition were there in the Guru's period.

In the contemporary Gurmat Sangeet tradition, some taksals and institutions are as follows: Damdama Sahib, Taksal
Budha Jor Taksal
Mastuana Taksal
Tarn Taran Taksal
Damdami Taksal
Daudher Taksal
Singhwala Taksal
Hargana Taksal
Sewa Panthi Taksal
Dumali Taksal
Kleran Wala Taksal
Gurmat Vidyalya Rakabganj Taksal
Yateem Khana, Amritsar
Sourma Ashram, Amritsar
Jawadhi Kalan Taksal
Gurmat Sangeet Study Circle, Punjab
Gurmat Sangeet Academy, Punjab
Gurmat Sangeet Society, Patiala
Amrit Kirtan Trust, Chandigarh
Gurmat Sangeet Society, Chandigarh
Punjabi University, Patiala
Gurmat College, Patiala
Gurmat Sangeet Academy, Anandpur Sahib
Sikh Missionary College, Amritsar (S.G.P.C.)
Sikh Missionary College, Damdama Sahib (S.G.P.C.)
Gurmat College Delhi Gurdwara Management, and others

Sikh Music Literature

Since the beginning of the 18th century, many a scholar had composed shabad Kirtan compositions in music notaions. This parallels the efforts made in the arena of Hindustani music. Beside this practical performance on record, many scholars have contributed to the establishment of Gurmat Sangeet theory as well.

In the contemporary world of Sikh music, Gur Shabad Kirtan tradition, as founded by the Gurus and developed by the Sikh Panth, has established itself as an independent and original identity. This tradition of Gurmat Sangeet prescribed in the holy Guru Granth Sahib can be termed as Sikh Musicology. In order to understand the Gurmat Sangeet tradition as directed and determined by the Gurus, such Kirtan is to be performed in a particular Raaga according to the established tradition. Bhai Vir Singh Ji, the famous Sikh scholar in the essay "ਸ਼ਬਦ ਦੇ ਭਾਵ ਤੇ ਰਾਗ ਦੀ ਤਾਸੀਰ" (Shabad De Bhav Te Raag Di Taseer), published by the Chief Khalsa Diwan in 1958 states:

"ਧਾਰਨਾਂ ਵੱਲ ਪੰਜਵੇˆ ਗ੝ਰੂ ਜੀ ਦਾ ਵਿਸ਼ੇਸ਼ ਧ੝ਯਾਨ ਇਸ ਲਈ ਸੀ ਕਿ ਸ਼ਬਦ ਰਾਗ ਦੀ ਝਸੀ ਤਰਜ਼ ਵਿਚ ਗਾਂਵਿਆਂ ਜਾਵੇ ਕਿ ਜਿਸ ਤਰਜ਼ ਵਿਚ ਸੰਗੀਤਕ ਕਾਇਦਿਆਂ ਅਨ੝ਸਾਰ ਉਹੋ ਭਾਵ ਪੈਦਾ ਕਰ ਦੇਣ ਦੀ ਰਚਨਾਂ ਦੇ ਅਰਥ ਭਾਵ ਵਿਚ ਤਾਸੀਰ ਹੈ ਅਰਥਾਤ ਸ਼ਬਦਾਂ ਦਾ ਅਰਥ ਭਾਵ ਤੇ ਧਾਰਨਾਂ ਦਾ ਸੰਗੀਤਕ ਅਸਰ ਦਿਲ ਪਰ ਇਕੋ ਕਿਸਮ ਦਾ ਵਲਵਲਾ ਪੈਦਾ ਕਰਨ"
"Guru Arjan paid particular attention to the tunes in which Shabads were sung because it is extremely important that Shabads be sung in those tunes, conforming to the relevant Raga, which evoke the same emotions as the contents of the Shabad."'' - Bhai Vir Singh

He further states that the very compositions which were sung at the times of the Gurus embody the essence of Gurmat Sangeet.