Tell me how should I sing

A recent letter to the editor, entitled 'Going ballistic with Waheguru chant', ignited a heated discussion on the Asia Samachar social media platforms. Regular columnist JAGDESH SINGH weights in on the topic.

Representation photo. Kirtan at a Malaysian gurdwara – Photo: Asia Samachar

By Jagdesh Singh | Opinion |

There was an opinion shared about how a certain style of singing or chanting during Keertan was somewhat not the opinion giver’s cup of tea [See: Letter to Editor: Going ballistic with Waheguru chant]. Suffice to say, as I sip my cup of cha reading comments and feedback on that opinion, that this opinion proved to be somewhat unpopular. Was this opinion tone deaf (no pun intended)?

In my humble opinion (and yes, I’m over-using this word for some reason), singing or chanting in that particularly high pitched style has the same effect on me as singing it Muhammad Rafi style ala Bollywood tuned. It evokes the same emotions for me, the interpretation of the stanza or shabad evolves as I close my eyes trying to understand the message intended for me in that particular moment while listening to and singing along with it. But that’s just me, and that’s my personal experience. And it’s only my opinion (there’s that word again!) as well.

I’m pretty sure I’m not the only one that shares this emotion and experience. My daughters are sort of indifferent to the styles, as long as they’re in the presence of spiritual experiences like being in the Darbar Sahib listening to words sung about their Creator, they’re pretty much satisfied. Their circle of friends enjoy the same as well. As someone commented on the said opinion, the huge crowds immersed in the Keertan experience in the wee hours of the morning is a testament to how popular this ballistic style is. But, the same sized crowd are also present with the more Bollywood style. To each his or her own, right?

Like everything else surrounding spirituality (I try very hard to avoid saying ‘religion’), most of my beliefs and experiences are personal, and private. How I meditate or how I do my daily prayers or how I enjoy conversations about Sikhism can be very personal for me. How I draw inspiration or from whom I get inspired from is very personal to me. The same applies to how I’d like to enjoy listening or joining in the Keertan experience.

What I find ironic is that the comments that came back to oppose the opinion that was shared initially were also…opinions. I wouldn’t term these opposing opinions as backlash, but still insults or defensive comments were hurled, which are opinions as well. Not facts. Because it’s all personal to each, isn’t it?


Now comes the question, should we discourage people giving opinions in the first place? There’s this old saying – “If you’ve got nothing good to say, then don’t say anything at all”, and I’ll admit I’ve subscribed to this idea for a long time in my life. Until I got frustrated that my voice wasn’t being heard, then the saying really didn’t make sense. It’s funny, as I age, I expect the younger generation to live with this saying if the opinions shared don’t conform to my beliefs or my own opinion. This makes me an absolute hypocrite, and I can’t even deny it. The right answer to my own question about discouraging opinions should be – To each his or her own. Everybody is entitled to an opinion. Everybody shouldn’t be afraid to voice their opinion. Honestly, this really isn’t rocket science. It’s fundamentally basic, and it’s something we all preach to our kids. Unfortunately, we don’t practise it ourselves, myself included.

I’ll get off my high horse for now. All I’d like to say now is, go ahead and enjoy experiencing wonderful keertan. It’s a wonderful thing to be able to enjoy it. Remember how it was during the Covid lockdowns when we couldn’t even step into a Gurudwara? Let’s just be grateful we’re out of that now. Let’s not get ballistic about petty stuff.

Jagdesh Singh, a Kuala Lumpur-based executive with a US multinational company, is a father of three girls who are as opinionated as their mother

* This is the opinion of the writer, organisation or publication and does not necessarily represent the views of Asia Samachar.


Letter to Editor: Going ballistic with Waheguru chant (Asia Samachar, 3 Feb 2024)

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  1. Great wisdom from veer Jagdesh – as always. However I fear the issue may not be as straightforward.

    As most people would agree, everyone has a right to a personal relationship with one’s beliefs. Call it spirituality or something else, you should enjoy the liberty of pursuing your divinity in whatever way you please.

    However, the expression of your faith is somewhat limited in a public organisation or congregation. The individual is forced to negotiate with the beliefs of others and is doomed to conform to norms that govern specific settings.

    Although policing the tone of kirtan seems to grow in popularity (this was once traditionally reserved for the old and grumpy), the bigger question here is addressing the dillema of group dynamics as an individual.

    Where would you draw the invisible line that divides us from them? It may not be the tone of shabad, but what about the text one refers to for inspiration? What about the age old question of packing food before ardas or after? Personally I’ve seen communities rise and fall around these questions.

    Ultimately, a strong panth is able to navigate these challenges, inspire individuals and diversity while maintaining a semblance of unity. How do we get there is a whole other question. Quo vadis Malaysian Sikhs?

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