The word "shabad" literally means "word". As such it represents the verbal description of the nature of God. This is generally from the Guru Granth Sahib which is the holy book of the Sikhs. The shabad is also referred to as "Gurbani" which literally means "Message of the Teacher".
The philosophy of the shabad and its relationship to spiritual growth is extremely sophisticated. It is said that it takes a tremendous amount of study, devotion, and meditation to truly understand the significance of the Gurbani. This is because, by its very nature, it embraces the infinite qualities of God.
The shabad has historically been performed in very traditional styles. The Guru Granth Sahib, is very specific in the rags that the various shabads are to be sung in. These are very typical of the more classical rags of north Indian music (Hindustani Sangeet). The traditional shabads are also in the more classical tals, such as tintal and ektal.
There is a special class of performers whose duties are to sing the shabads; these are known as raagis. It is a very difficult task to be a good raagi because it requires a rare combination of musical training, raw talent, years of study of the scriptures, and a high level of spiritual development. It is obvious that such a combination is a rare.
In recent times, there was a tendency to perform the shabad in lighter forms. The latitude that was sometimes taken was very great. Some merely performed the shabad in rags different from those specified in the Guru Granth Sahib. However other performers, either due to ignorance or commercial considerations, performed the shabad in very light styles. Sometimes these forms resembled more the film song, or the folk song, rather than the austere and meditative rags specified in the Guru Granth Sahib.
However in the last few years there has been a rising "Gurmat Sangeet" movement. This movement represents an artistic "return to the roots". This movement strives to to reproduce the instrumentation, rags and musical styles of the period in which a piece was composed. This movement has had profound repercussions throughout the field of north Indian classical music, one which extends beyond the Sikh community.
The result of the Gurmat Sangeet movement is significant. Today their are fewer liberties taken with the performance of the shabads. Furthermore instruments which were declining in popularity (e.g., dilruba, seni rabab, tar shehanai) are readily available in most Indian music stores, where just a few years ago they would have been considered speciality items.
© 1998 - 2017 David and Chandrakantha Courtney
For comments, corrections, and suggestions, kindly contact David Courtney at [email protected]