Music and Musial Instruments

The Sikhs love music is no less than any other community. However, the music which is commonly associated with the Sikhs can be described as-

  1. The Sacred or Devotional Music This is a traditional style of singing SHABADAS and is popularly known as GURBANI SANGEET, or ‘SHABAD KEERTAN’. Shabad is an independent hymn or extract from the Holy Granth which is sung by RAGEES conforming as far as possible to the style and tone set in the Granth. Generally, a party of three RAGEES performs ‘Shabad Keertan’, each playing a musical instrument. One plays the JORRI (tabla) and leaves the singing to the other two except to augment the volume at appropriate phrases. The other two play the BAJA (harmoniums) and sing in duet. Professional experienced RAGEES manage to create a rare tranquil or spiritual atmosphere in the Gurdwara.
    THE BAJA (Harmonium) It is the most common and the most important musical instrument of the Sikhs. It has a keyboard rather like a piano, and even a child can play it. It does not cost much and can be carried easily because of its small size (approximately 2′ x 1′ x 1′). In Punjabi terminology any instrument which produces a musical note by blowing or puffing of air is called Baja.
    JORRI (Tabla) Jorri literally means ‘pair’. These are two one-sided drums, one narrower than the other, made of hollowed wood and the surface made of quality skin, usually goats’. Both drums are played by hands; the narrower top is played with the fingers only while the broad top is played with different parts of the hand, the finger-tips, the lower hard part of the palm and the whole open palm. Both the harmonium and the tabla can be used for any kind of Indian music from classical to folk music.
  2. The Ballad Singing Stories and heroic deeds from Sikh history are sung by DHAADIS (ballad Singers) which consist of a party of three to four persons. Two of them play the DHADS as they sing alternative couplets and in duets and one of them plays the SARANGI. They all remain standing throughout their musical discourse. This type of music is still very popular with the general public although almost confined to the Gurdwara or other open gatherings celebrating a religious festival or fair.
    DHAD This is a small two-sided hand drum with a thin waist. A cloth band is tied round this thin waist which helps the DHAADI to hold the DHAD firmly in one hand while he taps (plays) it hard with fingers of the other hand.
    SARANGI This is a stringed wooden instrument which is played with a bow. There are four main strings but beneath them there are as many as forty complimentary strings, which add to the effect and volume of the sound.
  3. The Folk Music Folk Music is extremely popular and the most important single source of entertainment in the Punjab- the homeland of the Sikhs. It is performed in various forms- from plain songs to vigorous dances. The most of them are BHANGRA and GIDHA.
    BHANGRA is the most popular Punjabi dance which is known for its vigour and speed. As such a lot of energy and stamina is required to perform this dance for even a few minutes, Bhangra is a collective dance and the participants are usually men dressed in loose colourful uniform. Women can join in equally. Similarly a Bhangra party may consist of any number of persons, usually more than six, at least one of them playing the DHOLE (a large two-sided drum) which sets the tone and the speed of the dance. Sometimes Bhangra troupes also use other minor instruments as well as some folk songs during their performance.
    GIDHA, like Bhangra, is also a very energetic and impressive Punjabi dance, but is almost exclusively performed by women. The musical instrument which the women use on such occasions is called the DHOLAK. Like the Dhole, it is a hollow wooden cylinder, slightly bulging out in the middle, with parchments on both sides.
    IK-TARA is yet another popular Punjabi musical instrument for accompanying folklore and pop songs. IK-TARA literally means ‘one string’. It consists of a small flat dried pumpkin covered with parchment. Only one finger is used to play this instrument.