At dusk in Sultanpur Lodhi rāga āsā appeared as Bhai Baldeep Singh began alāp. As the melody opened up, he requested the Manganiar musicians to sing something in rāga āsā from their tradition. From deep inside Rajasthan, the notes of āsa were the same. Singing in perfect unison accompanied by kamaicha, dolak and kartal, the form of rāga āsā was remembered just as the gurbāni sangeettradition has remembered it.
Rāga āsā is meant to be sung when the sun is at the horizon, rising or setting. As the evening grew dark, Bhai Baldeep taught the group of Rajasthani, Punjabi, Italian and American students as he sang a traditional āsā composition from gurubāni in sikar tāl, a seventeen beat cycle. “Rise early, chant night and day, you won’t have anxiety and misfortune will vanish.” For me these are the perfect words, the perfect reminder.
The Rajasthani tribes share similar roots with the rabābis who have participated in Sikh music since the beginning, when Guru Nanak gave a rabāb to Mardana right here in Sultanpur Lodhi. Until recent years, musicians from these groups have included some gurubāni in their repertoire. On this night, gurubāni is returned to a new generation.
This shabd by Guru Arjan Dev Ji in rāga āsa is one of the songs on my “to-do list”. How can you compare scraping a composition out of the notation and receiving it from a teacher? The former is like unearthing a skeleton, the latter is like meeting the ancient one, full of life, in flesh and blood, decorated with fine clothes and ornaments. The instruments complete the setting, filling the room, giving the rāg some furniture to sit on. Unearthing dry remains can certainly be an exciting discovery. Meeting a living treasure at home is a different kind of miracle.