Siree Raag -
The basis of this Raag is steeped in the traditions of mainstream Indian Classical music. Siri Raag is serious and thought provoking in its nature and creates an atmosphere where the listener is led to heed the advice given therein. The listener is made aware of the truth of the message and with this ‘education’ is given the strength to face the future with both humility and the ‘gained’ knowledge.
Raag Maajh -
Raag Maajh was composed by the fifth Sikh Guru (Shri Guru Arjun Dev Ji). The Raag’s origins are based in Punjabi Folk Music and its essence was inspired by the Majha regions traditions of ‘Ausian’; the game of waiting and yearning for the return of a loved one. The feelings evoked by this Raag have often been compared to that of a mother waiting for her child to return after a long period of separation. She has an anticipation and hope for the child’s return, although at the same moment she is painfully aware of the uncertainty of their return home. This Raag brings to life the emotion of extreme love and this is highlighted by the sorrow and anguish of separation.
Raag Gauree -
Gauree creates a mood where the listener is encouraged to strive harder in order to achieve an objective. However, the encouragement given by the Raag does not allow the ego to increase. This therefore creates the atmosphere where the listener is encouraged, but still prevented from being arrogant and self-important.
Raag Aasaa -
Aasaa has strong emotions of inspiration and courage. This Raag gives the listener the determination and ambition to put aside any excuses and to proceed with the necessary actions to achieve the aim. It generates feelings of passion and zeal to succeed and the energy generated from these feelings enables the listener to find the strength from within to achieve success, even when the achievement seems difficult. The determined mood of this Raag ensures that failure isn’t an option and motivates the listener to be inspired.
Raag Goojaree -
If there is a perfect simile for Raag Goojaree, it would be that of a person isolated in the desert, who has their hands cupped, holding water. However it is only when the water begins to slowly seep through their joined hands that the person comes to realise the real value and importance of the water. Similarly Raag Goojaree leads the listener to realise and become aware of passing time and in this way comes to realise the precious nature of time itself. The revelation brings the listener to an awareness and admission of their own death and mortality, making them utilise their remaining ‘life time’ more wisely.
Raag Dev -
Dev-Gandhaaree conveys the feeling of satisfaction that comes from making an achievement. These emotions make the listener feel empowered to do more and diminish any feelings of laziness. This state of satisfaction is that of extreme happiness and contentment, and leaves the listener with the feeling of being in paradise.
Raag Bihaagraa -
The mood of Bihaagraa is that of extreme sadness and pain, which gives rise to the need to find peace and understanding. The heightened emotional state of sadness is only harnessed by the craving for truth and meaning.
Raag Wadahans -
Wadahans is based on Punjabi Folk music and is set in the traditions of Ghoreea, Suhag and Alohnian. The feelings instilled by this Raag can be compared to those of a bride on the day of her wedding; she is happy and sad. Although she is going to her groom, who fills her with hope and joy, she is also sad to be leaving her family.
Raag Sorath -
Sorath conveys the feeling of having such a strong belief in something that you want to keep repeating the experience. In fact this feeling of certainty is so strong that you become the belief and live that belief. The atmosphere of Sorath is so powerful, that eventually even the most unresponsive listener will be attracted.
Raag Dhanaasree -
Dhanaasree is a sense of being completely carefree. This sensation arises from a feeling of contentment and ‘richness’ from the things we have in our lives and gives the listener a positive and optimistic attitude towards the future.
Raag Jaitsaree -
Jaitsaree conveys the heartfelt emotion of not being able to live without someone. Its mood is preoccupied with feelings of dependence and an overwhelming sense of desperately reaching out to be with that person.
Raag Todee -
Todee consists of both wisdom and humbleness. It is throught these sentiments that the Raag takes a simple approach to explain things that we may be aware of but fail to ponder upon. The Raag draws the attention of the listener to contemplate these things and gives an explanation with such conviction, that we are compelled to agree.
Raag Bairaaree -
Bairaaree stimulates the feeling of improving and continuing with a task, which has already been accomplished. It is an unmoving belief that what has been achieved is true and positive, which leads to a hunger and desire to progress to the next stage. Although there is immense confidence in the achievement, there is no conceit or vanity in the accomplishment.
Raag Tilang -
Tilang is full of feeling of having tried hard to impress, but the feeling that the effort made has not been appreciated. However, the atmosphere is not of anger or upset, but of brooding, as the person you are trying to impress is very dear to you.
Raag Soohee -
Soohee is an expression of such devotion that the listener experiences feelings of extreme closeness and undying love. The listener is bathed in that love and genuinely comes to know what it means to adore.
Raag Bilaawal -
Bilaawal conveys the emotions of great happiness that come from having attained a goal or achieved an aim. It is an overwhelming feeling of fulfilment, satisfaction and joy, that is experienced when the accomplishments are very important and dear to you. The happiness felt is like laughing out loud, there is no planning or any ulterior motive; it’s just a natural expression of heartfelt happiness arising from a sense of achievement.
Raag Gond -
Gond is an expression of triumph, however these feelings are balanced and in perspective ensuring that there is also an aspect of humility. Therefore, although there is a sense of knowing and understanding the achievement, there is not a feeling of becoming obsessed or getting lost in the achievement itself.
Raag Raamkalee -
The emotions in Raamkalee are like those of a wise teacher disciplining their student. The student is aware of the pain of learning, but is still conscious of the fact that ultimately it is for the best. In this way Raamkalee conveys the change from all that we are familiar with, to something we are certain will be better.
Raag Nat Naaraayan -
Nat Naaraayan consists of feelings of hastiness and impatience, however simultaneously there is stability and control. Although there is control in the Raag, there is still the impression that it is unbalanced and prone to topple at any time.
Raag Maalee -
Maalee Gauraa conveys the confidence of an expert, whose knowledge is self-evident in both their outlook and actions. This knowledge is learned through experience and therefore creates an air of ‘coolness’. However, this sense of ‘coolness’ is an aspect of true happiness because you have learned how to manage things with expertise and skill.
Raag Maaroo -
Maaroo was traditionally sung on the battlefield in prepartion for war. This Raag has an aggressive nature, which creates an inner strength and power to express and emphasise the truth, regardless of the consequences. Maru’s nature conveys the fearlessness and strength that ensures the truth is spoken, no matter what the cost.
Raag Tukhaari -
Tukhaari conveys the soul’s strong ambition to highlight the greatness of The Creator to the mind. This goal is of paramount importance to the soul and it will therefore, not give up even if the stubborn mind is unresponsive. This Raag illustrates the soul’s focus on its goal, by conveying its message to the mind directly and then adopting a softer approach. The feelings of this Raag are dominated by the soul’s burning desire to convince the mind to follow its plan of enlightenment and hence becoming one with Akaal (God).
Raag Kaydaaraa -
Kaydaaraa expresses and makes the mind aware of the true character and nature of the soul. It conveys the emotions of honesty, integrity and truthfulness in a practical and caring way. This approach highlights the soul’s character and is memorable, so that the mind is made aware, without arousing cynicism.
Raag Bhairao -
Bhairao embodies the soul’s faith and heartfelt devotion towards the Creator. It is a kind of fanaticism, where there is a feeling of not being aware or caring about anything else. The emotions conveyed are those of contentment and of being absorbed in a steadfast belief or faith. In this Raag, the soul is relaying the happiness that the mind could potentially experience if it joined in with this devotion.
Raag Basant -
Basant denotes the changing of the season and the newness of spring. This Raag encourages the mind to brush away its selfishness, just like spring-cleaning removes all the cobwebs and creates a fresh start. There are feelings of hope and expectation of a new beginning and the start of a new cycle. However, these emotions are not dependent on the physical change of the season, but are an encouragement of an internal effort to change.
Raag Saarang -
Sarang’s character is soothing and has the ability to extinguish the mind’s smouldering selfishness and negative nature. The emotions of Sarang quench the mind’s burning desires, by expressing and highlighting the soul’s pure and true thoughts. This is a positive and fulfilling change.
Raag Malaar -
Malaar is a communication of feelings from the soul, to show the mind how to become cool and refreshed. The mind is always burning with the desire to reach its goals quickly and without effort, however the emotions conveyed in this Raag are able to become composure and fulfilment to the mind. It is able to bring the mind into this calmness, bringing a sense of satisfaction and contentment.
Raag Kaanraa -
Kaanraa envokes feelings of being overcome by a personality, which is so impressive that its character is difficult to stop thinking about. The personality conveyed has a magnetism, which makes you think of them as your own and is able to win you over with its remarkable qualities and
Raag Kalyaan -
Kalyaan has a forceful, yet flexible nature. It conveys a desire for something and a resolve to attain it, by whatever means possible. Although determined in its desire, Kalyaan sometimes uses an accommodating approach and at other times has an aggressive approach, in order to reach its goal. This Raag has a determined, forceful, yet persuasive character, through which it fulfils its desire.
Raag Prabhaatee -
The emotions conveyed in Prabhaatee are those of extreme devotion; there is an intense confidence and love for the entity that it is devoted to. This affection arises from knowledge, common sense and a detailed study. There is therefore an understanding and a considered will to devote itself to that entity.
Raag Jaijaavantee -
Jaijaavantee expresses the feeling of happiness and satisfation of achievement, however it simultaneously conveys the sadness of losing. An apt simile for this Raag is that of a king winning a battle, however he is then told that his son has perished on the battlefield. This Raag conveys a sense of having to put your duty first, no matter what your inner feelings may be. The duality of the emotions of joy and sorrow help to keep you stable and prevent you revelling in your own achievement.
Raag Maalaa -
Index of Raags
Poetry (the form in which Gurbani is written) and music (raags) are two sides of the same coin. They are independent and yet complement each other. Music versifies and provides melody, uniformity and cadence to poetry. The factor that binds music and poetry is their metrical-form (ghar or beat). Music (Raag) is based on sound (swar – notes) and a combination of notes produce distinct musical effects. Poetry is determined by Word (Shabad), which communicates a message to the mind. Music (Raag) on the other hand conveys a feeling to the heart and is therefore universal. Spirituality, after all, is striking the right balance between mind and heart. Therefore, when the poetic Gurbani is complemented with raag (music) and bound by ghar (beat), the resulting effect on mind and heart can become a catalyst for spiritual transformation. The raag conveys a feeling and Shabad a message. Every raag is capable of touching the heart with feelings like joy, sorrow, detachment, etc. Upon studying the structure of Guru Granth Sahib it can be seen that Shabads relating to common themes are generally placed under each raag. When the broad themes of Shabads are overlaid with feelings conveyed by these raags, there emerges a reason behind grouping of Shabads under a broad classification of thirty-one raags.
Common Themes of Shabads placed under Raags of Guru Granth Sahib
1. Soohi – Being away from home. The soul being away from the House of Lord and the joy of meeting the true ‘husband.’
2. Bilaaval – beautification of soul, happiness.
3. Gaund – Separation, union, surprise.
4. Sri – Maya and detachment
5. Maajh – yearning to merge with Lord, giving up of negative values.
6. Gauri – Principles, serious, thoughtfulness, composed
7. Aasa – Hope
8. Gujri – Prayer (Pooja)
9. Devgandhari – Merging with spouse, self – realization
10. Bihaagra – Yearning due to separation of soul and happiness due to meeting the Lord.
11. Sorath – Merits of God
12. Dhanasari – Mixed theme
13. Jaitsree – Stability
14. Todi – Maya, separation
15. Bairagi – motivation to sing praises of Lord
16. Tilang – many words from the vocabulary of Islamic origin are used, sadness, beautification.
17. Raamkali – to give up the life of a wandering Jogi.
18. Nat Narayan – Joy of meeting the Lord
19. Maali Gaura – Happiness
20. Maaru – Bravery, profound philosophy.
21. Tukhari – Separation and union with Lord
22. Kedara – Love
23. Bhairav – Man’s state of hell
24. Basant – Happiness
25. Sarang – Thirst to meet God
26. Malaar – State of separated and united soul
27. Jaijawanti – Vairaag (Detachment)
28. Kalyaan – Bhakti (Prayer) Ras
29. Vadhans – Vairaag (Detachment)
30. Prabhati – Bhakti (Prayer)
31. Kaanra – Bhakti (Prayer)
Feelings communicated by the music of Raags:
1. Soohi – joy and separation
2. Bilaaval – happiness
3. Gaund – strangeness, surprise, beauty
4. Sri – satisfaction and balance
5. Maajh – separation, beautification
6. Gauri – seriousness
7. Aasa – making effort
8. Gujri – satisfaction, softness of heart, sadness
9. Devgandhari – no specific feeling but the Raag has a softness
10. Bihaagra – beautification
11. Sorath – motivation
12. Dhanasari – inspiration, motivation
13. Jaitsree – softness, satisfaction, sadness
14, Todi – this being a flexible Raag it is apt for communicating many feelings
15. Bhairaavi – sadness, (Gurus have, however, used it for the message of Bhakti)
16. Tilang – this is a favourite Raag of Sufi Muslims. It denotes feeling of beautification and yearning.
17. Raamkali – calmness
18. Nat Narayan – happiness
19. Maali Gaura – happiness
20. Maaru – giving up of cowardice
21. Tukhari – beautification
22. Kedara – love and beautification
23. Bhairav – seriousness, brings stability of mind
24. Basant – happiness
25. Sarang – sadness
26. Malaar – separation
27. Jaijawanti – Victory (Detachment indicates a victory of spiritual plane)
28. Kalyaan – Bhakti Ras
29. Vadhans – vairaag, loss (that is why Alahniya is sung in this Raag when someone passes away)
30. Prabhati – Bhakti and seriousness
31. Kaanra – Bhakti and seriousness
It’s clear that the Gurus used raags to increase the delivery power of shabad to our mind by invoking complementary feelings in our hearts through usage of the prescribed raags.
Another interesting aspect of raag and Gurbani classification is understood by studying daily time-cycles. A raag has a preferred timing associated with it. There are some morning raags, evening raags, afternoon raags, etc. The timings of raags also complement the changes in human moods and heart during a twenty-four hour time cycle.
Upon classification of thirty-one main raags used in Guru Granth Sahib based on the prescribed raag timings, we find that no raags fall under the time zone 12 AM – 3 AM. It is interesting that the Gurus chose not to use any raag with a time cycle of 12AM – 3 AM, because one would normally sleep between 10PM – 4AM.
Timings of Raags:
6 AM – 9AM: Bhairaagi, Devgandhari
9 AM – 12 PM: Saarang, Suhi, Bilaaval, Gujri, Gond, Todi
12 PM – 3 PM: Vadhans, Maru, Dhanasari
3 PM – 6 PM: Maanjh, Gauri, Tilang, Tukhari
6 PM – 9 PM: Sri, Basant, Maali Gaura, Jaitsree, Kedara, Kalyaan
9 PM – 12 AM: Bihaagra, Nat Narayan, Sorath, Malaar, Kaanra, Jaijawanti
12 AM – 3 AM: No Raags from Guru Granth Sahib
3AM – 6AM: Aasa, Raamkali, Bhairav, Parbhati
Some raags also have seasons associated with them as seasons also denote feelings.
Seasonality of Raags:
1. Basant raag can be sung at any time in Basant season. Shabads with the theme of happiness are clustered under this raag in Guru Granth Sahib.
2. Malaar raag can be sung at any time in the rainy season. Shabads with the theme of separation are clustered under this raag in Guru Granth Sahib.
The Gurus have also indicated the beats associated with the poetry of every Shabad. In Guru Granth Sahib seventeen ghars (taal – beat) are mentioned. These seventeen ghars denote the following beats:
GHAR 1 – DADRA TAAL (There are 1 Taalis and the Beat has 6 Maatraas)
GHAR 2 – RUPAK TAAL (There are 2 Taalis and the Beat has 7 Maatraas)
GHAR 3 – TEEN TAAL (There 3 Taalis and the Beat has 16 Maatraas)
GHAR 4 – CHAAR TAAL (There are 4 Taalis and the Beat has 12 Maatraas)
GHAR 5 – PUNJ TAAL (There are 5 Taalis and the Beat has 15 Maatraas)
GHAR 6 – KHUT TAAL (There are 6 Taalis and the Beat has 18 Maatraas)
GHAR 7 – MUT TAAL (There are 7 Taalis and the Beat has 21 Maatraas)
GHAR 8 – ASHT MANGAL TAAL (There are 8 Taalis and the Beat has 22 Maatraas)
GHAR 9 – MOHINI TAAL (There are 9 Taalis and the Beat has 23 Maatraas)
GHAR 10 – BRAHAM TAAL (There are 10 Taalis and the Beat has 28 Maatraas)
GHAR 11 – RUDRA TAAL (There are 11 Taalis and the Beat has 32 Maatraas)
GHAR 12 – VISHNU TAAL (There are 12 Taalis and the Beat has 36 Maatraas)
GHAR 13 – MUCHKUND TAAL (There are 13 Taalis and the Beat has 34 Maatraas)
GHAR 14 – MAHASHANI TAAL (There are 14 Taalis and the Beat has 42 Maatraas)
GHAR 15 – MISHR BARAN TAAL (There are 15 Taalis and the Beat has 47 Maatraas)
GHAR 16 – KUL TAAL (There are 16 Taalis and the Beat has 42 Maatraas)
GHAR 17 – CHRCHARI TAAL (There are 17 Taalis and the Beat has 40 Maatraas)
Within the rules of Indian Classical Music, uncountable raags can be created. In fact, any form of music (non-Indian and non-classical) can be classified under some form of raag. Hence it is a misconception that raags are something highly classical and beyond the realm of the common man’s understanding. In fact, any form of music can be classified into a raag. But in Guru Granth Sahib, the Gurus have gone into depths of poetry, music and metrical forms to lay the framework that is best suited to convey the feeling and message of the Shabad simultaneously to the human mind and heart.
When each of the prescribed raags offers uncountable permutations and combinations of musical compositions, then why is it that modern Keertanias are not experimenting within the prescribed framework of the Gurus?
Are they camouflaging their limitations in the excuse that Sangat prefers only catchy tunes?
“Among all raags, that one is sublime, O Siblings of Destiny, by which God comes to abide in the mind.” (Page 1423)
Clearly, only that raag is prescribed by which a feeling of spirituality is aroused.
The Gurus have not prescribed catchy musical tunes that may dominate the Shabad. The essence of Keertan lies in effective delivery of the inherent message of the Shabad, using raag and taal as a medium.
The medium must not dominate the essence.
This is where our modern day keertanias are making the mistake of experimenting beyond the prescribed framework of Guru Granth Sahib and singing shabads in catchy tunes. At the end it’s the tune that remains in the mind and not the message.
Music is twice blessed, yet one must guard against misuse of its inherent power. For while it can be effectively used for constructive Keertan by operating within the prescribed framework of Guru Granth Sahib, on the other hand it can also be used for arousing destructive feelings by use of catchy tunes. (as explained earlier, any form of music can be classified into a raag).
It is interesting to note that the main object that has caused the current day deterioration in quality of Keertan is the most widely used musical instrument called ‘Harmonium’. But harmonium is not an Indian instrument. Over one hundred years ago, Europeans brought the harmonica to India. The air box of this European instrument was experimented by Indian musicians to develop a new instrument that was named harmonium. This instrument is not best suited for Indian classical music.
According to Indian classical music, the human ear can recognize twenty-two musical notes in an octave. The harmonium only offers twelve discrete keys in an octave. Only string instruments offer the ability to play all twenty-two notes in an octave, by pressing the string at midpoints. It is for this reason that earlier Indian Music was always played with the accompaniment of only string instruments. In fact if one sees the old pictures of Harmandir Sahib, one only finds string instruments being used by the Keertanias.
Although the harmonium offered a compromise to Indian classical music and should never have been used in the Indian system, it gained rapid acceptance because it was very easy to learn and use. Learning a string instrument requires close to four to five years professional training but the harmonium can be learnt in less than two months.
This was a great blessing to aspiring Sikhs who also wanted to be able to do Keertan. While there is no harm in using a harmonium, and we must also accept its contribution in making it easier for the masses to learn Keertan, thereby helping them start their spiritual journey. However it also caused the biggest deterioration in the tradition of Keertan singing.
The professional Keertanias were now finding it hard to keep pace with the rapid generation of new breed of amateur Keertanias, who did not go through the years of rigorous training, using the string instruments. Materialistic desires lead them to shorten their classical training period by quickly moving to the harmonium. Over generations this trend lead to complete elimination of string instruments from the Gurudwaras. Lack of dedication that crept in because of the ability to learn Keertan in just two months also lead Keertanias to soon start doing Keertan in catchy filmy tunes.
Arguably, our modern day Keertanias should be given a one hundred percent score for having the ability to experiment with music. But unfortunately, this experimentation with catchy tunes is causing more harm than good to Keertan tradition as they have stopped experimenting within the prescribed framework of Guru Granth Sahib.
An instrument that was supposed to attract Sikhs to Gurbani has now become the very reason for the downfall in present day standards of Keertan. It would have been fine for the harmonium to be adopted, but not at the expense of compromising on string instruments. The harmonium should have acted as a stepping-stone for budding Sikh Keertanias to quickly acquire musical sense and move forward to experimenting within the prescribed framework of Guru Granth Sahib. Instead they have chosen the short cut.
The reason for citing the above example is to show the long term pitfalls associated with un-checked experimentation. Modern day experimentalist keertanias need to be cautious and introspect. The first question that needs to be answered is:
What is attracting the youth to this new style of Keertan?
In all probability, it is the music that is attracting them because Keertan is being done in a modern day, highly dramatized form.
I have heard a shabad “Mittar Pyarae Noon…” in which thunder, lightning and sounds of wild animals complement the shabad to project the scene of Machiwara jungle. The only reason one would get attracted to such style of Keertan is because of music. Like any MTV Top of the Charts, such music can’t last long in the minds of the youth, nor can the message get effectively delivered to their mind.
On the other hand, maybe the youth is getting attracted to this style of Keertan because effective English/local language translations are being provided. If that is the case, then the translations can also be provided while doing Keertan in the prescribed framework of Guru Granth Sahib. After all, there are thousands of tunes that can be created from each of the prescribed raags and these tunes need not be highly classical in order to cater to popular tastes of the youth. Even the Gurus did not allow the dominance of classical music over the Shabad.
Our Gurus support forwardness, but where should we draw the line?
Who knows, next there could be an experiment with Jaap Sahib being sung in the Rap style! Will Jaap Sahib in Rap style lead to feelings of spirituality?
The future of Keertan lies in the hands of present day Keertanias. They definitely need to look at ways of improvising and attracting the youth, but not at the cost of further deterioration of Keertan. Our Keertanias should first make the effort to acquire full knowledge of the musical framework of Guru Granth Sahib and then adapt from within it, to attract the youth – not on a short-term basis but on a long-term basis. I believe that if our Keertanias make an earnest efforts to implement the commands of Guru Granth Sahib in their singing style, then the ‘pied pipers’ of pop music will not need to walk the streets to attract the youth, they will automatically get attracted to the Gurudwara.