A Connoisseur of Literature and Music: Sant Baba Sucha Singh (writer: Dr.Jasbir Kaur, Patiala)

Dr.Jasbir Kaur, Patiala

Baba Farid writes, “Tin Dhann Janendi Mau Aae Safal Se” (Guru Granth Sahib, 488) (blessed be the mother that engenders (such) successful person). The late Sant Baba Sucha Singh’s Life fits well with the truth of this verse. Those imbued with the Divine tinge divide human beings into five categories. One: Spiritual, who create new messages for the development and happiness of human life. Two: Saintly, who deliver the messages created by the Godly or spiritual in the interests of humanity by making special efforts. Their life is free from rested interests and is motivated only by love for all. Three: Stipney-type, who take a step forward once a while of the path of truth and then retract. They neither do any good to themselves nor are of any use to others. Four: the atheists who deny the existence of both God and any life beyond this one. They live for themselves only. Five: irreligious ones who have nothing to do with uprightness.

Among the five categories mentioned above, the nature of Sant Sucha Singh’s Life-style fits into the second category. Putting up on the outskirts of industrial city Ludhiana, Looking for the scholars and musicians in every nook and corner of the country and abroad, bringing them on a common platform, disseminating the truthful message at the doorstep of seekers by traveling far and wide were the prime motives of his life. These were the motives to be pursued only by a saint.

I met the Baba for the first time in 1991 when he set up Vismaad Naad institution to publicise sikh values in consonance with the modern conditions at international level. My intimate friend Dr. Gurnam Singh, (Head Gurmat Sangeet Chair, Punjabi University Patiala) and Dr. Jasbir Kaur (Lecturer Punjabi University Patiala) had told the about me. During my maiden meeting with him I asked the Saint, the following questions, the answers to which still form a part of my psyche:

Q: Baba Ji, you have taken up so big projects (the Gayan of Gurbani in the specified 31 Ragas and publicizing Sikhism in modern content at world level). It requires a lot of funding and manpower. Will you be able to carry on with this enterprise?
A: Sabar Sahib, you have to face a lot of struggle for reaching any destination of your dreams. Only struggle can help you achieve your target. Still I can say one thing authoritatively that I am not the one give in as it will take the destination still further from you. I have embarked up on this task with support of the Guru. He himself will help me fulfil my aspirations. “Jis Ka Karaj Tin Hi Kiya Manasu Kya Bechara Ram.” (only He is the Doer. What is Man, the poor underling!)

Q: Baba Ji, although this is our first meeting but it seems as if we have been familiar to each other since ages, as if we belong to the same family.
A: The relations of heart are always stronger than blood relations.
Right from the inception of Vismaad Naad institution, the Saint started associating all those eminent litterateurs and musicians with it, who had a passion for Gurmat literature and Gurmat music. For the fulfillment of this cause, Baba Sucha Singh wrote personal letters, made phone-calls himself and personally called at the residences of scholars and musicians as and when he felt need for the same.

The Saint was a fully aware that science has established its supremacy at the global level in the modern age. Science has provided enough means to make life of man more comfortable and these are main focus of attraction for him. New modes of communication like T.V. channels, C.D.’s, cassettes and computer etc. has enabled man to be quipped with every kind of applied commercial and spiritual knowledge which sitting room. The prevailing situation demanded that the propagation of Gurmat music and Gurmat literature too should be in keeping with the scientific technology. The efforts Sant Baba Sucha Singh made in this direction, have proved relevant and successful in fulfilling the needs of modern age.

Gurmat literature was treated seriously to some extent two decades earlier but Gurmat Sangeet is a unique discipline in the world of music. It was neither given any serious consideration nor any efforts were made to establish its distinct identity. As a matter of fact, those who had a good understanding of Gurmat music and they were capable enough to sing Gurbani in the specified Ragas, hesitated to come on this untrodden tracks. The Kirtan performing Ragis Shunned it because the taste of Sikh Sangat had not yet developed a taste for relishing Gurbani in Ragas. The academics avoided it because Gurmat music as a subject enjoyed no recognition. The contribution of Baba Sucha Singh towards cultivating an interest among the devotees for listening to kirtan in the specific Ragas by organizing Gurmat Sangeet Sammelans from 1991 to 2004 is quite substantial. The lacs of devotees who converge at the Vismaad Naad center for this purpose, is an ample testimony to the above fact. This convergence, starting from 4 am. continued till 10 O’clock at night. The eminent and established musicians and Ragis used to participate in these Sangeet Sammelans. Actually the purpose behind the creation of Gurmat music used to be just an ordinary religious ritual in the sikh psyche. As a result, it had not since long been successful in establishing its actual context. Thank God! now this delicate subject of Gurmat music not only has become a part of the consciousness of the Sikh Sangat but has turned into a focus of scientific research at academic level. Two universities of Punjab viz. Guru Nanak Dev University Amritsar and Punjabi Universities Patiala have made the paper of Gurmat music a part of the Syllabus of M.A. in music. Many researches students have got Phd. degrees by taking topics related to Gurmat music for their research into this unexplored sphere. Dr. Jagir Singh, Dr. Harjas Kaur, Dr. Ajit Singh Patiala etc. are a few scholars decorated with doctrate in the subjects related to Gurmat Sangeet.

Punjabi University Patiala has taken a stride forward by setting Gurmat Sangeet Chair headed by Dr. Gurnam Singh. The tireless efforts of Sant Baba Sucha Singh have gone a long way in getting Gurmat music the exalted position it enjoys today.

Indubitably, Gurmat music is an integral part of Indian music only. There is no denying the fact either that even prior to Sikhism, Indian religious have been an uninterrupted tradition of using music as an instrument of communication. But the motive behind building up Gurmat music establishes it as a unique the genre of music has a perspective of its own. What distinguishes Gurmat music from Indian music is the fact that the Gurus used it as a medium of communication for going expression to their emotional and artistic feelings. The beauty of the situation is that the Gurus were both the great mystic poets and musicians par excellence simultaneously. Guru Nanak Dev even himself used to sing in the company of his comrade Bhai Mardana. Guru Arjun Dev initiated the tradition of Kirtan among the Sikhs rather than having just the traditional Rabab-Players.

It would not be superfluous to cast a cursory glance at the elements which provide Gurmat music the status of a unique genre of music. It goes as follows:

  • The definitional vocabulary used with Gurmat music in the Gurbani related to spiritually. No Shabad here has an inkling of exhibitionism of music. Only the communication of thought dominates in Gurbani.
  • Gurmat music is Shabad-oriented while Indian music is permeated by cadence.
  • The main motive of Gurmat music is to Saturate the real purport of Gurbani into the souls the listeners. That is why instead of an abundance of tune, rhythm, lilt, cadence, Gamak (vibration), Murki and Sargam etc. the communication of the essence of shabad is given top priority Tune, rhythm and other such like musical devices are kept sub-ordinate to the fulfillment of this purpose.
  • Indian Sangeet Acharyas have adopted two ways of Raga-Aalaap (prelude to a song or hymn) – Nom Tom and Aakbar Aalaap. Intially, they used to be under ‘Om Hari’ Anant Narayan or ‘Toon Hi Hari Narayan.’ But the Indian vocalists distorted it to the extent that it has lost its relevance today. Gurmat music too has a tradition of Rag-Aalaap but it is different from that of the Indian music. According to Gurbani, “Dhann Su Rag Surangade Alaapat Sabh Tikh Jaaya” (blessed are those Ragas the rendition of which quenches all thirst). Under this concept, there is a tradition of ‘Onkar Ek Dhuni Ekei Ekei Ragu Aalaape’ (There is only one tune i.e. Onkar (God) is one and this is the only Raga to be sung). That is why in Gurmat the basic chant of Ek Omkar Satinaam …… Gurparsad is recited by way of Invocation.
  • The tradition of Gurmat music demands that its singers and listeners remain present in music and bow before the Guru only. But in the programs of Indian music even the most distinguished maestros can be seen bowing their heads before the men of affluence and the managers.
  • In Gurmat music there is no tradition of applauding the performers or shouting Wah! Wah! while the concerts of Indian music generally reverberate with thunderous applause and clapping.
  • The main instruments of Gurmat music was Rabab. Guru Amar Dass introduced Saranda. Guru Arjun Dev was an expert hand at playing Saranda. Rabab was vanished today because playing it is not easy. The same is the case with Saranda. Some musicians do play Dilruba, Sitar, Violin, Saranda etc. But it is only the harmonium that dominates. Mridang and Tabla are used mostly for the rhythmic accompaniment. The instruments played with blowing air into them e.g. Flute, Shehnai etc. are not used in Gurmat music. But there is no such restriction in Indian music.
  • Gurmat music has four Chaukis (Sessions of devotional Singing) viz. Asa Di Vaar, Bilawal or Charan Kanwal Chauki, Sodaru Chauki and Kirtan Sohila Chauki which continues ever since Guru Arjun Dev’s times (These Chaukis number 15 these days). This traditions is in continuous pratice in Harimandir Sahib. But this tradition is seen nowhere in Indian music or at any non-sikh shrine.
  • In Gurmat music there is a provision of adopting the word ‘Rahau’ during Shabad Gayan as Asthai. Sant Baba Sucha Singh was quite familier with the above nine components of Gurmat music. He understood well that music is a great mode of communication for understanding and teaching Gurbani. This is also a fact that human mind can grasp Bani more easily through music only because music has a capacity to curb the flippancy of human mind and provide it an equiposse. This seems to be the only reason behind composing and editing of the entire Gurbani in specific Ragas. The editing, poetic art and music of Gurbani are functional together towards the fulfillment of its actual purpose. There are aeveral verses in the Gurbani in which, rather than treating music as an artistic idea has been accepted as a medium of achieving the spiritual goal.Now a question may naturally raise its head in the mind as to how Baba Sucha Singh developed Sucha fondness for promoting the heritage of Gurmat music. The Baba who was born in the village Jamiatgarh of district Hoshiarpur – an area known for its sweet mangoes in a Gursikh family. His ancestors got baptized during the times of Guru Gobind Singh and carried this tradition along down the generations. The Baba’s grandfather Sr. Ganda Singh was a devoted Sikh imbued with the benediction of spiritually. It is said that he was blessed with mundane as well as miraculous powers. His son i.e. Sant Baba Sucha Singh’s father Bhai Nagina Singh was a well-known activist of Babbar Akali Movement. The Baba’s mother Mata Dhann Kaur played a great role in bringing him on the path of Gurmat. A member of large family comprising five brothers and three sisters, Baba Sucha Singh had started meditating in isolation, right from his school-going stage. Even during adolescence, he displayed a rare sense of elderly responsibility. He used to take good care of Guru Granth Sahib with a filial passion. Looking after the village Gurdwara and working as a Panchayat member, he suddenly set out on a journey towards the hill. It was probably here that he developed a passion for the preservation and promotion of the heritage of Gurmat literature and music. That is why he made Jawaddi Kalan, a center for the fulfillment of his mission.

    The nucleus of Gurmat literature is Guru Granth Sahib a model of Gurmat music is the Kirtan-style followed in Harimandir Sahib. The propagation and dissemination of Gurmat ideology was not keeping pace with the requirements of modern scientific age due to its innate traditional nature and lack of patronage by the concerned scholars in the academic sphere. Secondly the Kirtan tradition of Harimandir Sahib which continued in practice from the Guru-period to the time of Sikh empire lost its stability and got confined around simple rituals. The kirtanists of Harimandir Sahib whom even the great musicians hesitated to compete with, became out of sight. Those who were skilled in this art started moving by forming their own troupes. Sant Sucha Singh undertook on himself the task to revive Gurmat music and chalkedout a programme to organize ‘Gurmat Sangeet Sammelans’ every year on the pattern of Harivallabh Sangeet Sammelan. Thus in 1991, the first Adutti Gurmat Sangeet Sammelan was organized at Jawaddi Kalan from 10th of October to 13th. To develop the format of this Sammelan at a scientific level, ‘Vismaad Naad’ institution was set up. It espoused the task of preserving Sikh heritage. A Raga judgement committee comprising the Gursikh musicians of national repute.

    After a series of meetings, the committee laid down the forms of the ragas of Gurmat music. under this exercise, many workshop were organized to put the forms of Ragas into practice. A video Cassette ‘Rag Naad Shabad Sohne’ and a set of 16 audio-cassettes recorded from the Sammelan was offered gradefully at Harimandir Sahib by the Baba for the success of his venture. This kirtan in the specified Ragas became a means of regaling the crores of people through cassettes and found its way to the Website ‘Shiromani’ of Shiromani Gurdwara Prabandhak Committee. Besides, it also forms a part of late Yogi Harbhajan Singh’s Website “Sikh Internet”, Canada based Dr. Raghubir Singh’s ‘Encyclopedia of Sikhism’ and Dr. Kulbir Singh Thind’s Gurbani CD’s as well.

    Baba Sucha Singh published a colourful series of ‘Rag Sachittra Mala’ from the painting of Ragas drawn by the eminent painter Jarnail Singh. The papers read out in the Seminars were given a book form. Today, these very books are the basic books from +2 to M.A. level classes. The research scholars who are on their way to Doctorate, Cannot afford to ignore them. Vismaad Naad, under the patonage of Baba Sucha Singh, published books entitled ‘Post Modern view of Sri Guru Granth Sahib’ (Dr. Gurbhagat Singh), Simrati Granth Adutti Gurmat Sangeet Sammelan 1991, 1992, 1993, 1997, 1999, 2001, Shabad (1992, Rag Naad Shabad Sohne, Toon Sanjha Sahib Baapu Hamara, Sri Guru Granth Sahib Ji Di Manukhta Nu Den, Dhann Su Rag Surangade, Sabhei Ghat Ram Bole (hindi), Sikh Kaun, Guru Nanak Sangeet Padhti Granth, Shri Guru Granth Sahib Da Gaurav, Gur Shabad Sangeet Academy, Swei Parkash, ‘Tin Paya Maan’ etc.

    Not to stop here, about 14 scholars of Gurmat music were honoured with Gurmat Sangeet Award and more than half a dozen Gurmat literatures were conferred fellowship also.

    Although Sant Sucha Singh slipped out of his temporal frame on 27 August 2002 but his achievement and contribution towards the field of Gurmat literature and music will always be remembered with reverence. Due to his efforts, the sangat has developed a taste for the kirtan based on the proper Ragas. Even in kirstan programmes the Raga-based kirtan is performing kirtan in Ragas while the scholars in academic sphere derive pleasure in enjoying Gurmat literature. And, it is all due to the vision of Sant Sucha Singh.