Dharig tinaa kaa jeevi-aa je likh likh vaycheh naa-o.
Cursed are the lives of those who read and write the Lord’s Name to sell it.
khaytee jin kee ujrhai khalvaarhay ki-aa thaa-o.
Their crop is devastated – what harvest will they have?
sachai sarmai baahray agai laheh na daad.
Lacking truth and humility, they shall not be appreciated in the world hereafter.
-Guru Nanak Dev Ji, Sri Guru Granth Sahib Ji, Ang 1245
We are immensely blessed in this age where we have access to immense sources from where we are able to get attracted to Gurbani (Guru Granth Sahib Ji). The internet is awash with several wonderful websites from where we can dowanload as much Kirtan and Katha we can to satiate our appetite for listening to and singing the Word of the Guru. Included in this is the bliss of getting to listen to some of the most blessed voices by inviting well-known and popular Ragi Jathas from around the world. Not only do they bring to us the message of the Gurus through their soothing and vairaag-filled vocals, they also inspire our coming generations that get a taste of the sugar-sweet Word of the Guru that turn around our life and destiny, and help focus our conscious towards the one Akaal Puarkh.
houmai vich gaavehi birathhaa jaae
In egotism, they sing, but it is wasted uselessly.
A sudden, but gradual, turn that is taking place is beginning to cause an opposite effect. To attract Sangat, some Gurudwaras around the world are inviting Ragi Jathas that are popular with the masses and even instruct them to avoid talking about facts about Sikhi that majority of Sangat do not like (no wonder they cannot be called Sadh Sangat). This is what corrupts our Ragi Jathas when many of them place a price that determines whether they accept the invitation to travel to other countries to sing Gurbani Kirtan for the Sangats there. There are only a select few of Ragi Jathas who have no lust for money as they are awake to the pricess message of Gurbani. Besides money, some of them engage in contests of whose style, voice and subject is better. The sole purpose of Gurbani Kirtan is to attract the soul to the nectar of Naam, as singing Kirtan itself is not Naam, it leads to Naam if what is sung is being understood and absorbed.
In the Shabad above, Guru Amar Das Ji makes it clear that all these Rehn-Sabais and Kirtan Darbaars we hold for show are simply wasted. Only those that love the Naam are able to sing the true Kirtan, GuruJi continues to add in the same Shabad, as (through love for the Naam), they contemplate the True Bani of the Word. According to GuruJi, only through Naam Japp can love be cultivated.
gaavan gaavehi jin naam piaar
Those who love the Naam, sing the song.
saachee baanee sabadh beechaar
They contemplate the True Bani of the Word, and the Shabad.
gaavath rehai jae sathigur bhaavai
They sing on and on, if it pleases the True Guru.
man than raathaa naam suhaavai. rehaao
Their minds and bodies are embellished and adorned,
attuned to the Naam, the Name of the Lord. Pause
eik gaavehi eik bhagath karaehi
Some sing, and some perform devotional worship.
naam n paavehi bin asanaeh
Without heart-felt love, the Naam is not obtained.
sachee bhagath gur sabadh piaar
True devotional worship consists of love for the Word of the Guru’s Shabad.
apanaa pir raakhiaa sadhaa our dhhaar
The devotee keeps his Beloved clasped tightly to his heart.
bhagath karehi moorakh aap janaavehi
The fools perform devotional worship by showing off;
nach nach ttapehi bahuth dhukh paavehi
they dance and dance and jump all around, but they only suffer in terrible pain.
nachiai ttapiai bhagath n hoe
By dancing and jumping, devotional worship is not performed.
sabadh marai bhagath paaeae jan soe
But one who dies in the Word of the Shabad, obtains devotional worship.
bhagath vashhal bhagath karaaeae soe
The Lord is the Lover of His devotees; He inspires them to perform devotional worship.
sachee bhagath vichahu aap khoe
True devotional worship consists of eliminating selfishness and conceit from within.
maeraa prabh saachaa sabh bidhh jaanai
My True God knows all ways and means.
naanak bakhasae naam pashhaanai
O Nanak, He forgives those who recognize the Naam.
Guru Amar Das Ji exposes those that perform devotional worship only to show off and reveals to us that only when our ego is subdued (dying in the Word of the Shabad) can will our devotion be accepted in the Court of the True Lord. That is why those Ragis that perform Kirtan for the benefit of heavy monetary returns have little effect on the Sangat, because that kind of Kirtan is all a show and is not drenched in love for the Divine. It is a different matter when Ragis must earn from Kirtan as that is their way of life, but some fall down to greed and ego and all their efforts and means account for nothing. There is a difference between devotion and singing. For many Ragis, they are singers, not devotees (of Shabad). Often, they do not even realise their quiet ego when they attempt to impress the Sangat with their voices. Even the Sangat are not aware that they go to the Gurudwaras simply to entertain their ears; if it wasn’t so, they would not need to wait for a popular Jatha to come to listen to Shabad Kirtan. More often than not, our own resident Gurudwara Ragi Jathas are not recognised for their service (and gift) when they sing Gurbani Kirtan every single day. As soon as the visiting professional Ragi Jathas are gone, the Sangat at the Gurudwara dwindles. Many people are rarely seen at the Gurudwara as they come and sit for two hours only when their ‘favourite’ Jatha comes calling, who in return seeks their dimes.
Kirtan was meant to be a simple and humble way to connect to the Shabad and today we have so many different instruments to turn it into music. Kirtan is not music to please the ears, but to penetrate the soul through contemplation. People have begun to compete for tunes and the best voices. I was taken aback when I read a Kirtan competition some time back . . . how can Kirtan (praises of the one Lord) be turned into a competition which must have a winner and a loser? What a fall we have taken, to bring Kirtan down to our petty levels, even if such contests are to help bring out the best in us. That is not the purpose of Kirtan. Kirtan is meant to teach us come closer and closer and closer to the True Guru so that we can develop love for the Divine.
Our dilemma here is that we cannot say much to Ragi Jathas that come to our countries only if their fee is given. The Gurudwara committees manage to raise the fee (through Sangat’s offerings) only because that will guarantee that their Gurudwara will attarct more Sangat than other Gurudwaras. Then these Gurudwara committees rarely allow these visiting Ragis to hold diwans at other Gurudwaras until a formal request in writting is made to them and acknowledged in the Sangat. Even some Ragi Jathas have become timid in speaking out the real message of Sikhi and have to sugar-coat their parchaar, otherwise they would not be allowed to step in the country again. This rot is having a reverse effect on the Sikh Sangats as the numbers continue to dwindle.
A moorakh like myself considers himself a beneficiary of the visiting Ragi Jathas as I get to listen more and learn more about Gurbani which further helps me to develop Divine Love. But what of the youth, who find no message from the professional Ragi Jathas who come to collect dollars and fill our ears with tunes, rather than the message of Shabad? Many of these youth, end up chatting in the parking lots of the Gurudwaras while their parents sit inside.
But who can speak about this Cosmic Play? How can an unworthy one like me even judge anyone, as I have still a long journey ahead of me? But through this Play, the Merciful Lord teaches His child what true Kirtan of the Shabad is. When I notice a flaw in someone, the flaws inside me stand out taller, and that helps me to silence my discriminating mind so that I can work on my own. Just how Waheguru works His Ways, we probably will never understand, but we can learn from what happens around us . . .