Explained: Harmonium in Sikh religious tradition, and why Akal Takht wants it removed from Golden Temple

Akl Takht He wants to remove the organ From the Golden Temple in the next three years. Gianni Harpreet Singh, Gathidar of Akal Takht, recently asked the Shiromani Gurdwara Parbandhak Committee (SGPC) to work on ensuring the deadline is met.

On May 21, the Delhi Sikh Gurdwara Management Committee (DSGMC) set its own goal of phasing out aragomas as it required all Sikh Rajis in Delhi to switch to traditional stringed instruments.

What is the reason for being pushed by Sikh bodies to ensure that kirtan, or Gurbani singing, is only accompanied by traditional instruments, and why is the organ on the receiving end?

Organ History

Born in Europe in the 18th century, the organ has undergone many design modifications to become the instrument we know today.

The first prototype is believed to have been built by Christian Gottlieb Kratzenstein, professor of physiology at the University of Copenhagen. Modifications followed, and in 1842, French inventor Alexandre Depin patented his design and named it “harmonium”. This was a foot-pumped organ. It was brought to India by Western traders or missionaries in the latter part of the nineteenth century.
According to the website of the Federal Ministry of Culture, the hand-pumped Indian organ was designed by Dwarkanath Ghose in Kolkata in 1875.

Drone handles were added to the instrument to produce harmony in Indian classical music. Resizing technology has also been added.

By 1915, India had become the leading manufacturer of the organ, and the instrument became an integral part of Indian music. Argomats today can play up to 12 Surs and 22 Shrutis.

However, a section of Indian classical music scholars have continued to note that the organ is not capable of performing all ragas correctly and striking all classical notes with perfection.

In the golden temple

It is not clear when exactly the organ entered the Golden Temple. It is believed to have been there since the beginning of the 20th century.

A painting of worshipers at the Harmandir Sahib by William Carpenter from 1854 shows that the kirtan is performed only with a stringed rebab and a drum-like instrument called a guri – no arganmonium.

However, it is now difficult to imagine Gurmat Sangeet performing without the organ.

In fact, out of the 105 ragi jathas (choir) hired by SGPC, 100 perform kirtan with the organ. Five Gathas have only been added by traditional stringed instruments or Tanti Saaz in recent years.

Dr. Alankar Singh, of Punjab University said, “The organ is said to have been played in Harmandir Sahib for the first time in 1901 or 1902. There are Kirtani jathas which use both harmonium and stringed instruments and come in very good performances.” said Patiala, a professor who specializes in Hindustani classical music and Gurmat Sangeet.

Opposition to Sikh scholars

A group of scholars believe the Gurmat Sangeet, the Sikh tradition that parallels Indian classical music, the organ was “imposed” by the British.

They believe that the organ allows the Raagis to hide their flaws, while Tanti Saaz needs more discipline. These scholars argue that the organ allows the less talented Gurbani singers to become the rajas of the Harmandir Sahib, which in turn affects the quality of the kirtan.

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Over the years, many Sikh Rajis have faced criticism for trying to introduce an element of entertainment into what the Sikh clergy consider to be a strict spiritual discipline. The SGPC even warned Raagis not to drift away from the Raagas mentioned in the Guru Granth Sahib while doing Shabad Kirtan. In Guru Granth Sahib, every Shabad is associated with a dance.

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But it is not easy to replace it

SGPC will not find it easy to phase out a tool that has been part of the Gurmat Sangeet ecosystem for more than a century. There are many generations of Sikhs who have grown up listening to the organ as part of the Gurmat Sangeet. There are Raagis who have trained for years in the discipline. Harmonium and tabla training classes are the norm in most gurdwaras in India and abroad.

Many Sikh scholars opposed to Akal Takht’s call believed that the focus should be on reviving stringed instruments rather than removing the organ. However, the other side sees the dominance of the organ that marginalized Tanti Saz in the first place. They also point out how the Namdari sect shunned harmonium in the 1970s, and completely switched to the use of stringed instruments.

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