Kids Corner


Bhai Ghulam Chaand: The Rababi From Lahore

by JAGJIT KLAR, et al



One of the last great rababis (minstrels who sing in the musical and spiritual tradition of Guru Nanak and Bhai Mardana), Bhai Ghulam Muhammad Chaand is from a family and spiritual lineage that dates back to the early days of Sikhi.

The rababi tradition continued at the Darbar Sahib until 1947, but after Partition Bhai Chaand’s family was compelled to leave Amritsar and has been isolated in Lahore, Pakistan ever since. His lifelong dream has finally come true - to once again sing kirtan for a Sikh sangat.


Jagjit Klar reports on a recent concert by Bhai Chaand

Born in Amritsar and now a resident of Lahore, Bhai Chaand is a testament to the great rababi musical tradition and its timeless association with the shabads of the Gurus. The rababis trace their origins to Bhai Mardana, who with the rebab would accompany the Guru as he sang his hymns and compositions.

How fortunate we were to have one of their own here today, an accomplished master conveying our glorious heritage to us in such a way that it would leave an everlasting impression on those who were there to bear witness to it.

Through his performance, Bhai Chaand brought forth the message of the Gurus with a beauty, lucidity and undeniable power that is in our time sadly seen all too infrequently. His kirtan allowed the light of the Timeless One to shine forth from within, filling an auditorium in darkness with glory and divine light, and a realisation of the presence of the Creator in each of us. A realisation of true kirtan. A realisation of truth.

He moved to Lahore in 1947, when Punjab was partitioned and Pakistan was created. There, as with many other rababis who were forced to uproot, he had no more sangat to sing to, and being in a Muslim country, was forced to give up kirtan as it was seen as un-Islamic. He gave up kirtan and took a job in a local theatre. Only recently has he begun performing kirtan again.

He sang shabads that he had been taught from his forefathers, and even shared with us a composition that was over 200 years old. Music that has passed through the blood of many rababis reverberated around the theatre in the Brunei Gallery, and Bhai Chaand relived his days as a young boy, crouching behind his father and uncle, when they sang at Harmandar Sahib.

During the intensely emotional and evocative performance, my mind drifted upstairs to the gallery - [the Golden Temple photo exhibit was still on then.] On my many visits here, there has been a particular photograph that has drawn me in and held me in its almost hypnotic stare: an image of the sanctum sanctorum of Harimandar Sahib.

The scene is engulfed in darkness. One has to strain to see the figures hidden in the shadows: a giani is there somewhere; there seems to be some musical accompaniment; a few pilgrims are seated in the shadows. There is a sense of the unknown in that photograph, a fear of it. A feeling of calm isolation can be felt. An impression of a state of intense concentration. An awakening.

That image, accompanied with the voice of Bhai Chaand, as haunting as it is sweet, singing the praises of Akaal Purakh and conveying the universal message of the Gurus in the way it was originally intended, can perhaps represent best what has been achieved here through the concerts: keeping our classical culture and heritage alive and making it accessible to each one of us.

This is the first time anyone has wanted to know about Bhai Chaand’s past; the first time in 60 years that he has sung kirtan to an audience of Sikhs. His eyes welled up as he drew to an end, and he was presented with the Golden Temple Lifetime Achievement Award. A lifetime of service and sacrifice to Guru Nanak.

It was with a tinge of sadness that I departed the gallery that evening, a part of me feeling as though I was saying goodbye to an old and much loved friend, but my despair didn’t last too long. What has been achieved here will, with the support of those that value their work, prove the catalyst for many great days to come.

As someone who has been known to come over a little Churchillian from time to time I think I can safely say that now is not the end, it is not even the beginning of the end, but it is, perhaps, the end of the beginning.

*   *   *   *   *

Bhai Chaand has extended his stay, and the following new concert dates have been set. It's a once-in-a-lifetime chance to see one of the great rababis perform kirtan live.

Wednesday, 26 October, he is at Clifton Road, Southall - 19:00 - 20:00.
Friday, 28 October - Karamsar Gurdwara, Ilford - 19.30-20.30
Saturday, 29 October - Namdhari Centre, East London - 19.00-20.00
Sunday, 30 October, Ramgharia Gurdwara, Oswald Rd - 9.30-10.30am

Birmingham dates: 4 & 6 November

CLICK here for more info and updates.



October 26, 2011


Conversation about this article

1: T. Sher Singh (Mount Forest, Ontario, Canada), October 26, 2011, 12:33 PM.

A few years ago, while staying with some friends in Lahore, one Friday evening my hosts took me to a home of a friend of theirs. Seated on the living room carpet - all Muslims, young and old, men and women - was a sangat singing Bhai Gurdas' Vaara(n) on Guru Nanak. At the end of the magical evening, during langar - yes, langar! - I enquired about somebody I had been hoping to meet during my trip. I was directed to an older man in their midst. He had been leading the singing all night with his harmonium. It was our erstwhile rababi!

2: A.J. Singh (San Francisco, California, U.S.A.), October 26, 2011, 1:15 PM.

It would be wonderful if the upcoming kirtans can be recorded on video and shared throughout the world via YouTube, etc. It is very important that we not only keep the legacy of Bhai Mardana alive but also let people experience what would be a rewarding spiritual experience inspite of the man-made chaos of 1947.

3: Baldev Singh (Bradford, United Kingdom), October 26, 2011, 1:43 PM.

Very emotive and touching story, especially with the connection to Guru Nanak, 'The Rabab Singer'. The article is however tainted at the end by the references to self-abusive terms such as Namdhari, Ramgharia, etc. Can never understand why people want to denigrate themselves in this insulting way!

4: Sangat Singh  (Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia), October 26, 2011, 2:55 PM.

My late Bhaaiyya ji (father) would tearfully remember Bhai Chand, the Guru's minstrel whose life revolved around Harmandar Sahib. Although we got rid of mahants, but they continued as 'dhus' (uncouth managers), having only changing their garb. Bhai Chand had to leave his revered position of Guru's kirtania. It was Bhai Chand who started using 'parmaans' from Guru Granth Sahib, like the salesman who keeps rolling out the bolts of cloth, one after the other, to catch the eye of the customer. The parmaans made clear the main theme of the shabad instead of doing kathaa, as raagis do nowadays. It is heartening to know that there is yet a nursery in Pakistan that has kept the rababi tradition alive. When Bhai Chand had to abandon his ancestral village of Raja Sansi, he took with him the most valuable treasure - the Guru's bani - with him. This is now showing in Bhai Ghulam Mohammed Chand. Better late than never. Hope he is invited with his 'jatha' in Harmandar Sahib and elsewhere as the Guru's own, and the tradition is restored.

5: Krishan Jalan (Houston, Texas, USA), February 11, 2014, 11:13 AM.

Last night I was listening yo the rabbi raags by Bhai Ghulam Mohammad Chand. I enjoyed them a lot. I was born before partition and moved to India. Now I am settled in the US. I still love rabbi songs. If any one can give me his contact number, it will be great. God bless him.

6: Harminder Singh (Faridabad, India), October 04, 2014, 10:28 AM.

I have heard much from our seniors about Bhai Chand's kirtan but unfortunately we could not hear his kirtan. Aggar Guru Nanak di mehar hovey te saadey vi bhaag khul jaan ...

7: Manpreet Singh (Ambala, India), January 16, 2015, 10:46 AM.

Bhai Ghulam Chaand ji: I have only one thing to say - "aap ji da kirtan sun ke ki milya byan nahi kar sakda, maggar ik gal kaihenga - "Rabb hai!"

8: Maham Suhail (Lahore, Punjab. Pakistan), September 09, 2016, 3:26 PM.

I dove into the depths of pleasure, divinity and gratitude during my years with my much beloved musical and lso spiritual teacher/ustad, Bhai Ghulam Mohammed Chand. I am researching on him for an article I am to write on him for an upcoming OUP publication, and I feel such pure joy to read these comments from people who have felt touched by him, whether they got to bask in his presence in person, or not. God bless his dear soul!

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