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Gurmat Sangeet is the art and science of singing and playing the hymns of the sacred scripture Siri Guru Granth Sahib in the prescribed Rāga, and with the original string instruments created and promoted by the Sikh Gurus in the historic times. These instruments are: Rabaab, Saranda, Jori, Sarangi, Dilruba, and Taus.
Siri Guru Granth Sahib is the holy scripture of Sikhism. It consists of shabads (hymns) composed by 40 enlightened masters, six of the ten Sikh Gurus among them. With the exception of the first prayer "Jap" (also known as "Japji Sahib"), the titles of all hymns give the rág in which the hymn is to be sung. The scripture was first compiled in 1604 by Guru Arjan, the fifth Guru of the Sikh lineage, who elaborated the rág system applied therein.
A rág is a framework comprising a specifically designed scale of notes with affiliated rules. Any song composed according to this framework will evoke a mood in listener and performer which is characteristic for this rág. This effect can be used very efficiently for healing purposes. The word rág translates as "mood".
The philosophy of the Sikh Gurus describes the concept of a positive entity and a negative entity within humans. The Sikh philosophy names these entities as the mun (mind) and the atma (conscience or soul). Whereas the mind represents the selfish and impatient side of an individual, the soul represents the honest and sincere side. It is central to the belief of the Sikhs that all humans have these two sides to their character, and that both sides are equally important for understanding oneself and becoming one with the creator.
The Shabads of the Sikh Gurus are examples and lessons for the mind and soul to dialogue with each other, so that they can work together rather than against each other. This is indicative of the thoughts, discussions and debates that everyone partakes in on a daily basis inside their head.
Much research has been done regarding the effects of music on one's emotional wellbeing. Thoughts, feelings and emotions are highly influenced by listening to music. The emotional experience derived from music has a powerful effect on the formation of one's moral and intellectual outlook.
"Music faces us with the realization that there are two worlds: the inner and the outer. The inner is often incommunicable, a spiritual world which is difficult to enter from the outer world where we normally speak to one another. Music is bridge for us." (Alfred Nieman)
Music and psyche have been inherently linked in creation myths, obscure thought, legends, and now science. All intuit and theorize that the origin of the world/universe is in vibration, sound, or music. The human fetus floats in the fluid but static feminine, in which are present all of the primary elements of music. Psychologically, what does this mean? In the presence of certain music and composed feelings, a person can more fully explore the inner world with its archetypal and symbolic character.
The following is an excerpt by Guru Nanak Dev Ji on page 6 of the holy scriptures of the Sikhs:
so dhar kaehaa so ghar kaehaa jith behi sarab samaalae ||
Where is that Gate, and where is that Dwelling, in which You sit and take care of all?
vaajae naadh anaek asa(n)khaa kaethae vaavanehaarae ||
The Sound-current of the Naad vibrates there, and countless musicians play on all sorts of instruments there.
kaethae raag paree sio keheean kaethae gaavanehaarae ||
So many Ragas, so many musicians singing there.
The following is an excerpt from a Shabad by Guru Ram Das Ji in Rág Gauree Majh (page 174):
har a(n)thar vaajaa poun hai maerae govi(n)dhaa har aap vajaaeae thio vaajai jeeo ||
O Lord, the music of the praanic wind is deep within, O my Lord of the Universe;
as the Lord Himself plays this music, so does it vibrate and resound.
There are numerous references to Naad, vibration, sound and music by the Sikh Gurus in the Holy Scriptures.
Having realized the ability of music to inspire the listener and performer, the Sikh Gurus harnessed these effects of Raags to convey their teachings. In order for the message of the Shabad to remain as the Sikh Gurus intended, each Shabad has been set to a predefined raag, which is included in the title of the Shabad along with its author. Thus, when a Shabad is sung in its title raag, its true nature and feelings are conveyed. The title raag enhances our understanding of the Shabad by providing us with emotions that go along with the teaching in the particular shabad.
The Sikh Gurus use themes and emotions that all humanity can relate to, such as love, devotion, wisdom, pain, ambition, hope, friendship, desire, determination, ego, duty, liberation, regret, faith, and sadness. The Shabads thus encourage the realization of one's true self, regardless of race, gender or creed.
- GurmatSangeet.org – A non-profit organization promoting Gurmat Sangeet, based in the Midlands, UK.
- iKirtan – Free distribution of Gurmat Sangeet Kirtan
- Gurmat Sangeet Group – Popular resource on Gurmat Sangeet