Bhai Balbir Singh Ragi has been chosen for the coveted National Sangeet Natak Akademi award for his contribution to Gurbani Kirtan. He is also the first Ragi from the Darbar Sahib, Amritsar tradition to be honoured with this award. The previous recipients of this award were Dr. Jagir Singh (2002), Professor Kartar Singh (2008) and Ustad Harbhajan Singh Namdhari (2010).
Maharaj Baba Jagjit Singh, Satguru of the Namdhari Darbar, Bhai Sahib Bhai Gurcharan Singh Ragi and Professor Kartar Singh were honoured with Akademi’s highest 2011 Tagore Fellow (Ratna) award.
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Brief bio-data indicating the achievements made in the field:
Bhai Balbir Singh Ragi was born in his maternal village Mrigindpura near Bhikhiwind (Amritsar), Punjab on March 23, 1933 to Mata Prasan Kaur and Bhai Santa Singh. He was the eldest of the four brothers. His father Bhai Santa Singh was a famous tabla/pakhawaj exponent who taught at the Gurmat Vidyalaya in Taran Tarn (Amritsar). Bhai Balbir Singh received his initial training in Gurbani Kirtan from his father, his grandfather Bhai Kundan Singh, and great-grandfather Bhai Hira Singh. Bhai Balbir Singh began learning singing at the tender age of four. He made his debut at the Darbar Sahib, Taran Taran at the tender age of seven where he sang two compositions. Bhai Balbir Singh accompanied his father who traveled extensively to Benaras, Lucknow, Gwalior, Pune, Calcutta and Delhi for music conferences. He was able to listen to and seek blessings from some of the finest names in Indian classical music.
He was fortunate to learn dhrupad from the legendary Pandit Nathu Ram, a student of Ustad Bhai Boota Singh and Ustad Baba Shardha Singh. Bhai Balbir Singh learnt gurbani kirtan from his elder uncle Bhai Sohan Singh Ragi of Darbar Sahib (Golden Temple), Amritsar. He also has been fortunate to study from the legendary Ustad Bhai Arjan Singh Tarangar, Pandit Krishnarao Pandit (khayal), Ustad Habibuddin Khan (tabla) and Gyani Gyan Singh Almast (jal-tarang). He is also a very talented dilruba player having studied from his father. Bhai Balbir Singh also considers Bade Ghulam Ali Khan, Ustad Salamat Ali Khan and Pandit Dilip Chandra Vedi as his mentors. He has received many honours and titles namely; Shiromani Ragi awards from Indian Council for Sikh Affairs (1983), Kendriya Singh Sabha (1987), Chief Khalsa Diwan (1991), Vismaad Naad Ludhiana (1991), Sant Sujan Singh (1994), Bhai Mardana Yadgari Award (1995), President of India Hon’ Shri K R Narayan (1996), Punjab Languages Department (2001) from the Honorable Chief Minister of Punjab, Sardar Prakash Singh Badal, and Bhai Batan Singh Memorial Award (1997), Sant Sarwan Singh Gandharva Award (2001), S.G.P.C., Amritsar (2004), Bhai Mardana Gurmat Sangeet Vidyalaya and Missionary Society, Midland, UK (2006), Bhai Dilbagh Singh Kirtaniya Samrat Award as well as Bhai Nand Lal Goya Sanman by Guru Nanak Dev University, Amritsar (2010).
Bhai Balbir Singh sang gurbani kirtan at the Darbar Sahib (Golden Temple), Amritsar for 36 years from 1955 till 1991. He remembers nearly three thousand shabads of the Gurubani and can sing in over two hundred ragas. Since, his retirement he continues to sing throughout the country and recorded nearly 30 albums. Bhai Balbir Singh is one of the last remaining links to the original gurubani kirtan parampara, of the Golden Temple, Amritsar.