I was fortunate enough to have the opportunity to spend a week with Bhai Baldeep Singh Ji. I was not able to attend the entire workshop but in the short time with him I learnt much. His devotion to stay true to the Gurus’ tradition and his ability to convey it has been unparalleled for me. Throughout the course of my journey towards the Gurus’ kirtan, I have had an insight into different approaches however, never had the chance to truly experience the Gurus’ approach. I consider myself lucky to have come across Bhai Sahib. To learn under his guidance and blessings is truly a dream come true for me.
From our first meeting at the Sikh Spinning Wheel Film Festival in Toronto many years ago I was taken in by his passion and his work to revive a dying tradition. It was my dream that I would one day come to learn this tradition and with due course, there I was sitting in awe in a classroom in Espanola. I had finally become a part of a revival or a tradition that at once just seemed a faded memory.
I was thrilled to have my second opportunity to meet once again with my Ustaad Ji in London, Ontario. Being around other like-minded students thirsting for this knowledge was a blessing. It made me quite emotional to see that the future of the Gurus’ tradition might just one day live on. Meeting and living with other students made me realize that I am not in this alone and that there are others right there beside me to help me and support me in my endeavors of musical, spiritual and personal growth. A mutual respect and bond developed over the short period I had.
In this workshop Bhai Sahib ji was able to clarify and place the role of the teekas within the Gurus’ tradition. Their uniqueness and the depth of the knowledge contained within these teekas is astounding. Some of these composed by great masters- one of those masters being Bhai Baldeep Singh Ji- are tools that we may use to hone and develop our musical ability. Teekas are steeped in the two of the four pillars within which the Gurbani Kirtan tradition lays those being, sur and tala. These, at one time virtually extinct encyclopedic compositions, have been kept alive by Bhai Sahib and we, as students have been lucky enough to learn some of them.
Bhai Sahib also successfully demonstrated components of the dhrupad alapa. The use of andolan, soot, duran, muran, kampitt, lehak, and gamak were all presented in a very understandable manner. The depth in the dhrupad alapa has always been very appealing to me. To now understand its components and their purpose I feel that I will have a fresh way to approach my understanding of alapa. The use of the sur when presenting Gurbani also was demonstrated. Using the words of Gurbani in a way in which the understanding and feeling is enhanced by the raga is a concept that does not seem to be engaged much today. It seems as if it has been forgotten and left behind as an ancient artifact. I was shocked at the depth at which our Gurus and other Sikh masters developed this tradition. Every morsel is imbued with a spiritual purpose and an understanding in the realm of the divine.
Finally, I was deeply honored and touched when Bhai Sahib asked me to play esraj with him on stage. To be in the presence of a master was quite intimidating and quite nerve wracking for me. It felt as if I was at the bottom of a mountain but momentarily had a glimpse of its peak. A moment that will always be remembered by me is when Bhai Sahib was leaving. I apologized to Bhai Sahib for being a disturbance to his performance and he turned to me and said one thing that will stay with me for a lifetime. He exclaimed, “Raajay, you did not disturb me. For you it is important that you approach every opportunity as learning one. Chotay pitaji (Bhai Avtar Singh Ragi) told me that those opportunities when one’s teacher is on stage in their moment might never ever be replicated again. You can fail once, twice, ten times but those moments are not to be missed. It will come to you as you develop with time.” It made me realize that not only in music or kirtan but, also in life to never miss an opportunity out of fear. It is through failure that we one day come to succeed. If we never take a chance how will we ever achieve anything? The love and sincerity, with which Bhai Sahib called me Raajay, suddenly came over me and I was quite saddened by his departure to follow.
I hope that I will have many more opportunities and will be able to grow under the guidance of not only a great Kirtaniya or master but also, a great soul. God willing I will be able to continue this journey and one day look back at the pain, laughter, sadness, failure, achievement and perseverance that all went into learning and be able to better appreciate the efforts that Bhai Sahib undertook in guiding us and developing us as the Gurus kirtaniyas. A promise I made to myself after is to appreciate every day and use my time wisely in pursuing this path. No matter how tough life may get, I will not let a day go by without riyaz. The responsibility that has been given to us by Bhai Sahib and the Guru is one that requires non-withering dedication and it is a huge one that I feel blessed to be apart of.
January 9th, 2012