Kids Corner


Songs of My Beloved

by S.J. KAUR


Magical, deep, mellifluous melody,

Twofold - penetrating the soul and arising from within.

For so many years, these voices have followed me. So profound is their affect on me that they act like a balm for my withered spirit and solace that my soul repeatedly seeks.

Such is the effect of kirtan.

My earliest memory is that of my father's voice, deep and caressing, warmer than the blanket I was rolled up in when he carried me out of bed. He would lay me on the carpet, my head in his lap and lovingly sing with the strings of the tanpura: Wa-he Guru ji, Wa-he Guru.

It was still dark, and dawn a couple of hours away.

As I grew older, he would call out and I recall automatically gathering my blanket and making my way to his lap.

My father has an endearing voice, filled always with warm affection and humour and when he sings it is because he must.

As the story goes in the family circles, my Nanaji (maternal grandfather) came from Delhi to Bombay with my mother; there was talk of marriage between the families. He came over to the house on a Friday.

Every Friday our family gets together, has kirtan, bhog, langar, even when there is no raagi jatha. It so happened that on that particular Friday, dad was doing kirtan when Nanaji walked in.

Afterwards, during langar, my parents' engagement was fixed between my grandfathers.

No one consulted my mother. She was so furious that she could barely contain her tears. By the time Nanaji and mum got back to their hotel room, she was sobbing uncontrollably.

But to this day, she still remembers Guru Gobind Singh ji's shabad dad sang that evening: Dhan jio teh ko jag main mukhteh har chit mainh judh bichaare...

Ma always says she can't sing. More correctly, she can't carry a tune but her voice is clear and sweet like a brook. Each night she would recite Kirtan Sohila to us kids. She always sang the last hymn - Karo benanti sunno mere meeta// sant tehal ki bela - a soothing, gentle flow of gurbani.

When she visits me now, I have her sing it to her two-year old granddaughter Biba and, just like it used to be, I am asleep before she finishes. That is one tune she has managed to keep consistent over the years; well, almost. It is the same tune I sing to Biba each night; well, almost.

Raagi Master Mohan Singh was a gold medalist in classical music. He had won numerous All India Radio competitions, a huge deal in the 1960-70s. He had a voice that defined the adjective, ‘penetrating.' Needless to add, it was remarkably trained and because he was so well versed in raag, he also had a gift for tunes.

He always sang a shabad in raag and knew just where to pause or stress. He rarely did any viakhya (discourse); you simply understood the meaning of the shabad as he sang. Even a slip of a girl like me got the gist of it.

Because of the immense love and respect he had for my grandparents, Masterji came home every Friday, usually in the evening and gave haazri after Rehraas Sahib. At this very moment, I can close my eyes and hear him - Ab kaloo aayyo re// ik naam bovo bovo.

It was a cry ... ‘The dark age is here, beware, be warned, the Lord has given you the Word. Sow it like a seed and reap its benefit." It was a plea, ik naam bovo, ik naam bovo bovo, sweet and persuasive so convincing it stirred your heart and somewhere inside you knew you had to, simply had to, sow the seed of His Word, there was no other way out.

One monsoon season we had a dry spell, not unheard of, yet rare. Bombay typically gets three months of rain, at times incessant between the months of June and September. That Friday, Masterji sang just one shabad, Baras Megh ji/ til bilam na lao.

He sang it in Raag Malhaar, repeatedly breaking into a taan and then returning to the shabad. I don't recall how long he sang, but I remember it began to rain!

The wind was blowing and it rained with such intensity I could hear the branches of the trees sway and give way in the garden below. The downpour came rushing through the windows and the door that opened onto the balcony as if it could not hold back any longer.

As we all sat there, the wind wafting through my hair and on my face half-wet with raindrops, Baras pyaare maneh sadhaare// hoye anand sada nam chaao ... baras megh ji, Master ji implored and commanded in turns, and we all showered ourselves on Him.

"Vaar vaarin jao gur gopal..."

This is life.

This is also the affirmation of life.

There was a seth (rich trader) in Bombay. Whenever Bhai Sahib Dr. Vir Singh ji would visit the city, he would stay with him. In his house till date, each year on Bhai Sahib's birthday and death anniversary, they hold Akhand Paatth followed by kirtan.

Usually Masterji dominated these functions and after he passed away, his son took over. On one such occasion, Bhai Sadhu Singh gave haazri. On this occasion, he first sang: Sobha sobha mere lallan ki// sad navtan nav-rangi sobha. He sang in Raag Kalyan as though he was in a royal court presenting his voice to a king. I will never forget the glory, the majesty of that time and place. The sangat, space and time were all transformed.


That You indeed are Omnipresent,

Forever Prevailing.

One time I recall tears freely flowing down my face as Bhai Sadhu Singh sang: Satgur dhaak liya mohe paapi parda. I looked up hoping no one could see how miserably I was unable to control my tears and how embarrassed I was. I saw my father's back, he was sitting cross-legged, head bent inwards, sobbing. I still lack the courage to love myself in all my nakedness, I hardly hope, let alone expect someone else to.

Truth and love are the ultimate mix.

There is no poetry so beautiful, as moving, as strong, as true and as pure as gurbani.

Gaa-o gaa-o ree dulhani mangal chara// mere greh aaye raja raam dulhara, Bhagat Kabir wrote.

Find me a comparable line - with equal passion, which matches the ferocity of this love and conviction! Find me a few bars of music to sing it with and I can already feel the red of my bridal attire, the clean cool touch of sandalwood, the beauty reflecting off my jewellery. I am the bride of my dreams waiting in excited anticipation.

Jaisee mai aavai khasam ki baani ...

‘I merely utter the words of my Beloved as they flow through me ..." sang Guru Nanak.

Shabad-kirtan is Guru Nanak's legacy and our inheritance. We are entitled to a life set to music, a soul tuned to melody, led by divine poetry. This is also our legacy, what we will and must pass on.

My father once said he loved me so that I could love my kids. It is this love and romance that dissolved many a temptation, kept my heart and soul in order.

Whenever I feel doubt or the need to search, a voice saves me.

The fabric of my existence is embroidered with shabad-kirtan. Wherever I look, I find its threads, strengthening, defining, beautifying my life. Whenever I have turned and returned to it, it has strengthened, defined and enhanced me. It is what my Guru, parents and family have passed on to me. I hope I am successful in passing it on to Biba.

The harmonium is back on our daybed. Biba comes when she hears its strain - her dolls beside her, her Minnie Mouse in her lap, both with their hands clasped together. She gets restless before I can complete the shabad, wanting to fan, to play; then there are requests, "Mama, Ek Onkar Satnam Sri Waheguru."

Her infant hands are yet too small for the harmonium. For now, each night we cuddle up together, small hands in big. Then it's time for nini-paatth (bedtime paatth).

As always, it is the same tune I sing to Biba each night; well, almost. And she joins in, singing the last words of every line:

Karo benanti sunno mere meeta

Sant tehel kee bela,

Eehaa khaat chalo har laaha

Aage basan suhela...


It is my last prayer for the day:

‘May God give you grace

To find the company of the blessed

May God give you courage

To be peaceful and placid

All your life

May He give you wisdom

To understand

And transcend this world

May he grant you light and love

And make His home in your heart'


All these things I hope and pray for you, before me.

... Antar jaami purakh bidhaate shardha mann ki poore//

Nanak daas ehai sukh maange mo ko kar santan ki dhoore.


October 25, 2009

Conversation about this article

1: Sangat Singh (Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia), October 25, 2009, 3:35 PM.

What a lovely and exquisite piece. I am saving and redistributing it to my children and grandchildren. A perfect picture of a blessed Gurmukh family - a glimpse of an early heaven. I do remember fondly Bhai Mohan Singh when I first heard him in the mid 60s; he completely mesmerized us. Unfortunately, no recordings were available in those days. Bless you, Bhenji, for your lovely piece.

2: Gurmeet Singh (Dartmouth, Nova Scotia, Canada), October 25, 2009, 5:21 PM.

Great article. Well written and expressed. Kirtan, sung in a melodious tune, enraptures the spirit, and the soul seems to dance in ecstasy. Dhan Guru Nanak.

3: Satwinder Singh (Dublin, Ireland), October 26, 2009, 6:44 AM.

Waheguru! It's so beautiful. Just one benti, please do share such treasures of personal experiences more often. It just helps a lot ...

4: Amrit Kaur Chadha (U.K.), October 26, 2009, 7:06 PM.

Soul-penetrating article! Thanks for sharing it.

5: Lakhvir Singh Khalsa (Nairobi, Kenya), October 27, 2009, 8:16 AM.

Simply soulful.

6: Swaran Kaur Sidhu (Malaysia), October 29, 2009, 2:55 AM.

Thank you for sharing this. Kirtan is awesome!

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