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Indian Classical Music And Sikh Kirtan
by Gobind Singh Mansukhani (M.A., LL.B, Ph.D.) 1982

Kirtan Darbar
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Kirtan Darbar
Kirtan sessions in which several music-groups participate either for competition or otherwise, according to certain rules laid down by the organisers is called Kirtan Darbar. Generally a raga is prescribed and the particpants are expected to sing one or more hymns in tha raga. Judges are appointed who grade the performance of each group, according to marks awarded by them for purity of raga, sweetness of voice, intoination of Gurbani and audience reaction. The author has had the experience of judging some of these competitions. Cash prizes or trophies or medals are given to the first and sometimes to the second and third groups in the order of merit.
The object of holding Kirtan Darbars is to maintain the purity of the raga technique and to ensure the excellence of performance of a particular raga and tala or a certain composition. The element of healthy competition leads to the improvement of the quality of performance of sacred music and raising of the standard of appreciation of the audience. Sometimes, the Darbar is held without prescribing any rules and the best musician is judged according to the taste or the applause of the audience. It is desirable to formulate a set of standard rules for teh conduct of Kirtan Darbars in the interests of uniformity and impartiality.
Celebrations on the occasions of the tricentenary of Guru Tegh Bahadur’s martydom (1975) and the 400th Foundation Day of Amritsar (1977) included some notable Kirtan Darbars held all over the Punjab. Several ragi-groups sang special hymns and the best of them was recorded on Long Playing Records and cassettes and made available for sale. Some of the kirtan sessions were relayed by radio stations in India. These are worthwhile attempts at improving the standard of Gurumat Sangeet, but perhaps something more needs to be done to catch the young and budding artists and give them proper training in recognised institutions. The Namdhari organisation is doing its bit in preserving the Kirtan traditions. Its leaders-Bhai Jagit Singh and Baba Bir Singh-have good mastery over kirtan technique. They also hold Kirtan Darbars and competitiion from time to time. Though classical Hindustani music is a subject of school and university courses, no attempt has been made to intoduce couses in Gurumat Sangeet. It is hoped that the Punjab State authorities and universities located in the region will give serious attention to this need of the times. Only when kirtan is given official recognition and stature, it will show a great improvement in training and performance.
Perhaps it will be good if Kirtan Darbars and competitions are also organised for improving the standard of folk music of the Scripture and particularly the singing ofvars. Most of the traditional dhunis, mentioned earlier in this chapter, are dying out and it is very necessary to preserve them, so that lovers of kirtan may be able to listen to them at least on tapes or discs. I understand that the Punjabi University, Patiala, has recorded some of the traditional tunes of Gurmat Sangeet. I would like it to start a departement of kirtan both for technical research purpose and teaching. Something on an all-India level also should be done in this direction. The Sangeet Natak Akademi, New Delhi which is the central organisation for maintaining muscial archives and tradition, and Tata’ National Centre of Performing Arts, Bombay, which encourages the traditional syles of music schools or gharanas [10] and restores to them their ancient prestige and income, should come forward with schmes to preserve the heritage of kiran for posterity. The recent announcement of the Punjab Government of an Annual Award for the best kirtaniya is likely to bring new talent to the domain of Gurmat Sangeet.
However, musical sessions and kirtan Darbars should be up-graded fo encouraging healty competition and not for the commericialisation of sacred music. It has been observedsome organisation have lately mushroomed to promote popular kirtaniyas and prepare their discs in order to make money. This is aganist the very spiritof kirtan which is intended to offer peace and joy and not exploit the faith of the Sikhs.

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