Raising Questions about the Rababi tradition

The case of Bhai Ghulam Muhammad Chand’s visit to Indian Punjab raises some interesting questions about religious relations and the religious history of this region, as well as the status of music and performance in this history.  You may have wanted to know what kind of musician he was, and why he was seen as so important that he received an award from an Indian university.  You may also have wanted to know why he wanted to perform at the Golden Temple as well as the University, what kind of connection his ancestors had to this institution, and why his request was refused.

These and other questions you may have had will hopefully be answered by this case study of the Rababi tradition of kirtan, or devotional singing.  It will highlight how a community of Muslim minstrel musicians sustained a medieval tradition of the performance of shabad kirtan (Sikh sacred hymns) for centuries, and how the contemporary context of religious categorisation has deprived them of any official status as performers of shabad kirtan. While Muslim and Sikh sacred practices are commonly understood as distinctively separate, the example of the Rababi tradition highlights how religious boundaries were once far less pronounced and, in this case, were broken down even at the centre of the origins of the making of the Sikh tradition.

Guru Nanak with Bhai Mardana and Bhai Bala

Early nineteenth-century depiction of Guru ̄ Nanak with companions Bhai Mardana and Bhai Bala in debate with the Siddhs. ‘The Golden Temple of Amritsar: Reflections of the Past’ exhibition 2011, Brunei Gallery, School of Oriental and African Studies/UK Punjab Heritage Association (UKPHA), London. www. gt1588.com. Source: Toor Collection.

To explore the case further, please click on the following sections, which explore, in turn,

The Rababi tradition of Kirtan

The modernisation of kirtan – and the marginalisation of the Rababi tradition

The Life of a Rababi – giving some details of the life of Bhai Ghulam Muhammad Chand

References and further reading on this case study

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