Why we need Bhai Mardana Sangeet Festival

Jagdev Singh | Butterworth, Malaysia| 11 July 2015 | Asia Samachar |
A take from Bhai Mardana Sangeet Festival 2014. It's back.
A take from Bhai Mardana Sangeet Festival 2014. It’s back.

 The Malaysian-inspired Bhai Mardana Sangeet Festival starts today in Butterworth. The festival provide an awesome stage for local kirtan talent to shine. It celebrates their skills. It is also to push back the growing dependence on foreign ragi jathas.


By Jagdev Singh

I remember my early years as a tertiary student in Kuala Lumpur. Two items ruled our time as youth: studies and the naujawan (youth) activities around town.

Studies were rather straight forward. Attend lectures and study for exams. As for the naujawan activities, we had a lot to look forward to. There were a few naujawan satsangs (youth congregations) in town, including in Petaling Jaya, Titiwangsa and Selayang.

Some how most of us students from the local universities and colleges would all jam at these places. Then there were the rehan sebai kirtan programs (overnight, non-stop kirtan sessions), like the one in Kajang Gurdwara organised by the university students. And not to mention the mini samelans and the Tanah Rata Fellowship Camps by Sikh Naujawan Sabha Malaysia (SNSM).

These were really our extra curricular activities back then. Futsal, movies and the likes weren’t the norm back then, or at least not for me and my “gang”. Facebook was not around yet. We used to really enjoy attending these programmes, listening to the then youth jathas (groups) and “lepaking” in the langgar halls. Sometimes chatting for hours on end. Interestingly, it was at one of these programs where I met my life partner, Mukhtiar Kaur.

Back then, local naujawan jathas used to perform kirtan, myself included. Then there were the adoring Gianis Jagjit Singh, Giana Sukhdaiv Singh ( Sabha parcharaks/sevadars), Giani Mahinder Singh Khalsa (Khalsa Ji) and the rocking Harjit Singh (Asram). We naujawans used to refer to him as the Rock Giani.

I hardly remember attending kirtan programs back then by foreign ragi jathas. The closest we got to an international ragi was Bhai Manohar Singh, who was the “Asthanik Granthi” for Rawang Gurdwara. And for the occasional jab of parchaar or katha, there were the all too familiar Hari Singh (Socso) and Karminder Singh. No one ever got bored of their discourses. And we somehow had no problems understanding their lectures. And we never had to force ourselves to attend these programs either. It was something of a norm to all of us back then.

But things have changed quite a bit today. The pool of local naujawan jathas have been replaced to a great extent by professional overseas ragis. The Rajas & Balleys (naujawans jathas of yesteryears) are becoming a rare sight at Gurdwara programs these days. Even the annual Gurmat Parchaar Samelans of today, we are slowly starting to see an increase of the overseas jatha participation. When once upon a time, one could only see local youth jathas conducting semalens.

And if this trend continues in this direction, five or so years down the road, our kids are going to find attending samelans a chore too, just like attending Gurdwara programs, generally.

Hence the idea of organising a major kirtan program solely for the naujawans, similar to the Cheras Program [the annual kirtan darbar programme organised by SNSM as a kick-start to Vasakhi], was born. With the Guru’s grace, the brainchild of the then SNSM Jathedar Sardar Amarjir Singh, the Bhai Mardhana Sangeet Festival (BMSF) became a reality.

The whole idea was to organise a program to showcase our local talent on a stage grand and special enough for our youth. Where hidden talents can surface and untapped gifts blossom. It had to be attractive enough to attract the youth of today.

Given the objective at hand, we were faced with numerous challenges, namely as to how do we organize such an event, without the likes of big name ragis, and still not let the performing jathas feel that this is just another satsang program.

Another challenge was funding, always the biggest stumbling block. But what we did not expect was the overwhelming support from the Sanggat. The Sanggat really gave us the moral boost we needed. That was the “Lift Off” that made it all happen.

And now in 2015, on our fourth installment of BMSF, all who have attended these programs in the past couple of years will surely agree it has gone beyond their wildest expectations. The pool of talent, the number of youths mesmerizing us with wonderful singing of Gurbani and the sheer display of love for kirtan among the youth, will surely make it worth the while for everyone. It really is worth the sacrifice of time, not to mention what it would mean to these budding talents to have a good turn out.

This year, the Festival has been split into two parts. The first part is today (Saturday, 11 July 2015) at Gurdwara Sahib Butterworth, Penang, from 5pm – 11pm. The second will be held at Gurdwara Sahib Ulu Klang, Ampang on the Aug 22-23.

It will again showcase the very talented non-professional local kirtani jathas. By attending this years event, we will not only witness some wonderful kirtan by our very own youth, but we will also inspire those participating to reach for higher achievements in their sangeet abilities.

Hope to see you there.



[Jagdev Singh, an engineer turn entrepreneur, is a former meet jathedar, or deputy president, of the Sikh Naujawan Sabha Malaysia. He is an active Sikh volunteer on the Malaysian Sikh parchaar circuit]


For more information, check out the Facebook for Bhai Mardana Sangeet Festival – BMSF


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