Personal reflections on the power of Gurbani Kirtan

When I am present at a kirtan programme, I try to keep my focus on the Gurbani and avoid looking around. Though I am aware of the sangat, by focussing on the kirtan I feel totally connected with the words and sounds which wash over me. - MANJIT KAUR

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Manjit Kaur leading kirtan a week after her wedding in 1995 – Photo: Supplied

By Manjit Kaur (UK) | OPINION |

Growing up as a child in the UK, kirtan was always a part of my life. It was a time when I felt calm and relaxed, and nothing else mattered. I even learned to play the harmonium and sing a few shabads myself, which was a truly amazing experience. The picture above was taken a week after my wedding in 1985 at my brother Sarabjit Singh’s house; he is pictured in the middle. My husband Gurnam Singh can be seen playing the table. Even now, as an adult, kirtan remains an important part of my life. It lifts me up and makes me feel alive and connected. In this short piece, I want to explore the place of kirtan in Sikhi as well as my own personal life.

At the core of Sikhi is the belief in unity and oneness and the importance of spiritual practice to connect with the divine. There are two key ways in Sikhi to do this: Gurbani Kirtan and meditation.

Gurbani Kirtan, also known as Shabad Kirtan, is the singing of devotional poems from the Sikh holy scripture, the Sri Guru Granth Sahib (SGGS). The uniqueness of SGGS is that virtually all the shabads are written to specific notes (ragas) and rhythms (naad) and it is the convergence of the poem, with the raga and naad that produces the deep spiritual effects. When the shabad is sung with love and devotion, as I have personally experienced, one is able to connect with the divine and achieve a state of spiritual bliss, which we call ‘rasa’.

Meditation, or simran, is another key practice in Sikhi. It involves the repetition of the the name of the divine, which is captured in the expression ‘waheguru’! The goal is to silence the mind and focus on the divine. Meditation is seen as a way to connect and merge with universal being, which we call Akaal Purakh.

Together, Gurbani Kirtan and meditation are powerful tools for physical health and spiritual growth. The kirtan is sung in gurdwaras across the world but in reality you can listen to Kirtan and do simian meditation anywhere. For me the goal is to stay focussed 24 hours a day, wherever you are and whatever you are doing.

One of the many benefits of kirtan and meditation is that they can help reduce conflict and stress and promote a sense of peace, both within yourself, but also within the sangat or congregation. The music and chanting can be soothing and calming, while meditation can help balance the mind and reduce anxiety. Another benefit of Gurbani Kirtan and meditation is that they can help develop a deeper understanding of Sikhi.

As I sit down to listen to Gurbani Kirtan I am transported to a place where I feel at peace and at one with everything around me. It’s hard to put into words, but listening to Kirtan feels like a merging of myself with the divine. Even when I am in situations where I am a stranger, perhaps in a different country, I never feel alone, as through Gurbani I feel my Guru is always present within me.

When I am present at a kirtan programme, I try to keep my focus on the Gurbani and avoid looking around. Though I am aware of the sangat, by focussing on the kirtan I feel totally connected with the words and sounds which wash over me. The beauty of Kirtan in the sangat is that it brings people together in a way that is not bound by hate or discrimination. In the sangat are all equal, whatever our skin colour, gender, age, caste or even religion; we come together as one to sing the praises of the divine. There is a sense of unity and love that fills the air, and it is truly a beautiful thing.

As someone who loves music, I appreciate the different instruments that are used in kirtan. From traditional instruments to the guitar, each one adds its own unique flavour to the music. When the singer performs in a calm and gentle manner, without force or shouting, it truly is a pleasure to listen to. It’s as if the talent of the performer is merging with the beauty of the Gurbani, creating a sense of peace and harmony.

When the words “Waheguru” are sung in a calm and relaxing way, it has a powerful effect on my mind and body. I feel a sense of empowerment and control, and I am compelled to join in and feel the meaning of the words for myself. It’s amazing how something as simple as a word can have such a profound impact on the body and mind.

In a world where people are often consumed by things like fame and money, kirtan is a reminder that there is something more important, more precious than material possessions. It is a reminder that there is something greater than ourselves, and that we are all connected to it. For me, kirtan will always be a source of strength, compassion and love, and I will continue to cherish it for the rest of my life.

Manjit Kaur, a UK-based therapist and counsellor, is a presenter of the 1 Show on Akaal Channel. She can be contacted via email at manjitkaur1show@gmail.com

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