Kirtan Parampara: Music, Memory and The Oral Tradition of Gurbani Sangeet

2015 Parliament Of World’s Religions, Salt Lake Cit, Utah

Baba Sheikh Farid lived about 9 centuries ago. A Sufi maestro who inflicted upon himself the harshest of penances with the hope that he would be met with his beloved Pir —Allah. He also sang. His, are the oldest recorded verses in Punjabi language. Two of his verses and musical score have survived the clutches of time and adverse values that include people’s callousness in conserving our precious heritage.


When I look at Punjab today —the Punjab of Baba Sheikh Farid; of Guru Baba Nanak; of Guru Arjan Dev, of Guru Teg Bahadur; Of Bulleh Shah; When I look at India today —that Hindostan of Bhagats Kabir, Namdev, Ravidas, Dhanna, Sain Naee, Ramanand, Bhagat Jaidev; When I look at the world today —of Brahma, of Shiva, of Vishnu; of Krishna, of Ram, of Ravana; of Buddha, of Mahavir Jain; of Hazrat Mohammad, of Jesus Christ, of David, of Adam – Eve; We are here in the US where Prophet Joseph Smith also taught;

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Brahmleen Kaur, a niece, in the audience

There has been so much prayer, so much of religion this or a religion that, so much of talk of peace —of god this, of goddess that, of a Prophet this, of a Guru and a Bhagat that —why is such strife all around? Such deceit? Such manipulation? Such greed? Things are even beyond despair? It has been millenniums of war, of conflict, of prayers —what prayer anymore? And in the backdrop of all this, what song can one actually sing?
So much of religions? So much of number dialing – of prayer, of charity but to what use? One thing that one takes away is perhaps that is it enough of religion? Enough of prayer? For nothing seems to work? I am not interested in the world after. We cannot destroy it all here and think there will be anything that we would deserve hereafter!
I am just to come here and go through my motions as if nothing is happening around the world? That all is just okay and I am not troubled? For I have not had a bomb devastating my life apart? For I have not been forced out of my ancestral lands as part of some ethnic cleansing, or for there were natural resources yet to be exploited by the greedy gods of the world and that my habitat prevented them from cheating my rightful resources away from me?
What songs my friends, when the very effort to conserve the memory of one of the most extraordinary traditions and gifts to mankind have been threatened by a government which should actually have been partnering in the process as an equal stakeholder? When the youth is threatened with arrest if they did not stop practicing the tradition at the historic venue synonymous with the tradition and discipline of Gurbani Sangeet —of Gurbani itself?
Tell me, what songs must I sing?


The idea of heaven is that there is one, isn’t it? Just imagine all that man has done or has proposed to others that that they do, across ages, to be able to make it to heaven! From converting  others into one’s own preferred spiritual or religious faith or path,  urging people to further convert others or just telling them so matter-of-factly that if they gave up their life, even, for a cause that was so subjective to their own point of view, that heaven is all where they will be bound for. People have converted others and people have killed others just because they believed they were going to heaven if they did so. They were all so convinced. Can anyone prove that all the huge work perpetrated in the name of going to heaven has ever led anyone to heaven? Believe you me, no! Can anyone ever prove that all charity, done with that subtle intent of piggy backing on the charitable deeds, has ever led anyone to heaven? 
It is our own word against our own word. If you do not believe what I am saying you can pause for a moment and reflect. Because someone said that you, if you did one particular act —from converting others so romantically termed as infidels, if I may, to obliterating others, non-believers, if I may, or inspiring others to do exactly so, would certainly be heaven bound. We are so convinced about it and that is the hilarious part. Look at our selves, all those who are here in attendance at the Parliament of World’s Religions, individually believe (either) they have done enough or are doing enough to be honoured with an eternal place in heaven. But that is just one side of the coin. Look closely, behind the garb of our respective drama of politeness, the world’s God’s theatre, so if I may, we actually aren’t sure of going to heaven for we have the gift of being told that we have sinned enough to have a heaven bound flight a trifle bit elusive —just out of reach. It is a strange predicament —one being told, that I am here cause I have, or an ancestor of mine, has sinned meaning that this world is a reservation for sinners but then there is way out of here to the heaven. 
My friends, my fellow sinners and my fellow heaven bound friends, none of us have seen that place called heaven for it only exists in a scripture this or a scripture that. But we have certainly seen this world, this vulnerable planet we have called Dharti, the Earth, unless I am in heaven having a nightmare of being in hell and addressing a congregation of sinners, privileged ones at that. This is not hearsay and it also finds mention perhaps in all the scriptures of the world. What if all the do’s and don’ts were part of the primary schooling manual? That if we did wrong unto others they will be pained and that they will recognize you as not a nice person. What if just that was being in hell? What if not sharing one’s own privileges with others was mean and selfish and that doing exactly that was being a sinner and being in hell? Here and now? What if respecting and one better, accepting the others irrespective of the caste, creed, race, gender, social statuses, religions, ethnicity, colour for they or we are all the doing of the same Doer and nurtured by the same mother – Kudrat or Nature – was to be emancipated and being in heaven?

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A native American dancer

The problem with us all is that we think we are intelligent but perhaps aren’t so very wise. What if the greatest sin ever to be committed was to disrespect this very planet and its nature —its abuse, its unfair, disproportionate and rampant overuse? What if the greatest sin that man has actually committed has been by giving birth to the concept of discrimination? What if being hypocrite —from a spiritual, religious, racial and social perspective was already being in hell? What if religion was just a fancy mask created to hide our selfish and greedy nature? How can this planet in the middle of nowhere where the gift of the concept of Sewa —of selfless service when even a heavenly abode is not sought in return; where art is; where literature – poetry is; where the paradigm of creativity is; where music is; where beauty is; where love is; where sex is; where a man and a woman are; the gift of having a child is; the concept of love is; the gift of language is; where skill is; where thrill is; where the gifts of reflection, contemplation, retrospection, of thought, is; is actually heaven? What if heaven is where we have always existed and hell is where we have always gone about missing out on this godly  —such a celestial opportunity?

Being in anger, being hateful and in rage is burning in hell my fellow men and women; Being universally kind, gentle, giving, loving is living in heaven —already!
Such is the perspective that Guru Nanak has taught me. I have realized that there is no Pooja no Namaz no Service no Katha or Kirtan different than one another. If they are futile, they are all equally futile and if they are valid, they are all equally valid. That if you do one and not the other, you are okay —that you or I are not going to miss out on anything. That if I have one name while you and others have (an)other kinds of names and religions or faiths respectively — we are all okay. That, I do not have to convert anyone into anything nor would I need to convert myself into another reality to gain anything. For there is neither loss nor gain for there is neither good nor bad!

Motions that I propose…

For the most number of deaths and genocides that have already happened in world history have been caused by social, religious and political intolerance —that is, more deaths than any weapon, nuclear, biological, conventional-nonconventional  – we declare that a ban on all religious conversions for we are all born equal with equal rights to choose and practice any given faith, already in existence or those that will in the future; that, we believe God is not pleased and/or Heaven is not attained just because of the socio-religious orders we follow, their respective rites that we may be practicing but by deeds that are universal and all inclusive that is, for common public good without exception. We resolve to believe and practice the truth that we are the doing of the same Kartar – the Creator —that Formless, Nameless, Genderless, Sui Generis, The Real One.
We accept, for the fact that all are born special, all diverse and we resolve to celebrate all uniqueness as our own and as the very gift of the creator of this beautiful universe, this extraordinary reality called Dharti – the Earth. That all are flawless, complete.

A few images that I took during the PWR:

{#Nikon #D810 with manual #ZeissLenses 85mm & 25mm}

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