24/7 kirtan

I confess that I’m writing this post a few weeks later than I should have. I’m currently in New Delhi, so my usual access to pictures via Canadian television and the internet is severely limited.

One of the distinctive markers of growing up with Punjabi culture was the gray or black radio in nearly every house of every Sikh family member I have. This radio quietly played kirtan, so that sometimes, while watching Hindi soaps, – Awaz: dil se dil tak, Lipstick, or the more recent Jodha Akbar – one would forget the radio was even running. But then, at specific times in the day, the house seemed to revolve around the radio: 6 PM, the Rehras Sahib (the evening prayer); 2 AM, an intense simran (a song based on chant of Waheguru, heaven forbid you ever stay up until 2 AM at your Nanaji and Naniji’s house). I later learned that these radio stations play Sikh holy music around the clock, broadcasting full religious services during different times of the day. In this way, older Sikhs who may not be able to attend the gurdwara for every service can still do paath (study) of the Guru Granth Sahib from their home.

In Canada, I was surprised to not see kirtan radio. Instead, Punjabi-Sikhs tune into Alpha Punjabi’s television broadcast of services, usually from the Golden Temple in Amritsar or from Bangla Sahib in New Delhi (which I had the pleasure of visiting yesterday). These are virtually the same services as you hear on the radio, but the presence of the picture encourages people to gather around the TV instead of privately following the services in their rooms. There may be some subtle differences in the services: for example, the Anand Sahib (a song about finding bliss in the Lord) may be done by three people in Bangla Sahib but only by one in the Golden Temple, and a spoken text like the Ardas might be sung in the Golden Temple but spoken in Bangla Sahib. These slight variations have little impact on the services, as otherwise, their structures are all nearly the same.

There is a line in scripture that is present in the vast majority of services I have ever seen, heard, or attended. It is from the Guru Maneyo Granth, which reportedly is a verse that Guru Gobind Singh, the last living Sikh Guru, recited before he died. “Sab sikhaan ko hukam hain, Guru Maneyo Granth” – all Sikhs are commanded by the Guru Maneyo Granth, another term for the Sikh holy book. This line carries much deeper implications than simply turning on the Alpha Punjabi channel at the same time each morning and/or evening, but the importance placed on listening to kirtan and watching the services from some of the holiest gurdwaras in Sikhism should not be overlooked. Indeed, devout Sikhs are commanded by the Guru Granth Sahib to make the naam and bani (name and word of God) a part of the everyday, even if this entails pausing the FIFA or cricket world cups, or electing to watch that episode of Yudh later.