Kirtan as Envisaged by the Gurbani

In order to impart the Truth (ਸਚ) to masses, as examples (ਹਵਾਲਾ), all the 35 contributors of the Sri Guru Granth Sahib (SGGS) have used terms in their Bani (ਬਾਣੀ) that were already within the use and within the psyche of people of the time.

However, they have used these terms as examples (ਹਵਾਲਾ), but explicitly with new meanings and understanding to fit the new spiritual paradigms of Sikhi or Gurmat.

KIRTAN (ਕੀਰਤਨ) is one of those terms.

Following the stale pre-1469 concepts, Ragis (commercial or for-hire singers of the Gurbani) have taken the word ‘Kirtan‘ out of context and put the trademark of music on it meaning Kirtan is to sing Gurbani ONLY through musical instruments.

There is no such direction or instruction in any place in Gurbani where the meaning of Kirtan is to sing Gurbani ONLY through musical instruments.

AS Baabaa Nanak explained in the outset of the SGGS, ‘Gaavai-ਗਾਵੈ’ is NOT ONLY about the process of singing with musical instruments.

In Essence, it’s ALL about PERCIEVING THE CREATOR’S HUKAM WITHIN — It’s all about believing, Understanding, accepting, and Internalizing (Realizing) the spirituality of the Shabad (i.e. Message, Upadesh, Advice, Instruction etc.) — and live it in daily life (ਅਮਲ-practice).

  • ਗਾਵੈ ਕੋ ਤਾਣੁ ਹੋਵੈ ਕਿਸੈ ਤਾਣੁ ॥ ਗਾਵੈ ਕੋ ਦਾਤਿ ਜਾਣੈ ਨੀਸਾਣੁ ॥ ਗਾਵੈ ਕੋ ਗੁਣ ਵਡਿਆਈਆ ਚਾਰ ॥ ਗਾਵੈ ਕੋ ਵਿਦਿਆ ਵਿਖਮੁ ਵੀਚਾਰੁ ॥ ਗਾਵੈ ਕੋ ਸਾਜਿ ਕਰੇ ਤਨੁ ਖੇਹ ॥ ਗਾਵੈ ਕੋ ਜੀਅ ਲੈ ਫਿਰਿ ਦੇਹ ॥ ਗਾਵੈ ਕੋ ਜਾਪੈ ਦਿਸੈ ਦੂਰਿ ॥ ਗਾਵੈ ਕੋ ਵੇਖੈ ਹਾਦਰਾ ਹਦੂਰਿ ॥ : Multitudes of seekers perceive the Creator’s Hukam as their force of existence / life. Multitudes conceive the Creator’s Gifts as indicators of His Hukam. Multitudes perceive the Creator’s Hukam as Virtues of His immense Beauty. Multitudes perceive Enlightenment the Creator’s Hukam; knowing Him to be beyond discourse. Multitudes perceive the Creator’s Hukam as the force behind physical creation and destruction. Multitudes perceive the Creator’s Hukam as the taking of life after given it. Multitudes perceive the Creator’s Hukam as realization that He is beyond reach. Multitudes perceive the Creator’s Hukam as realization that He is omnipresent. (sggs 1-2).

The Gurbani in SGGS makes it clear that mere singing Divine Virtues is of little use if we don’t Adopt, Inculcate, Internalize and Become The Gurbani. In other words, singing of Praises alone is of little Spiritual Worth if one’s intent within is suspect to the extent that the singing itself is to cover up inflictions etc.:

  • ਰੋਟੀਆ ਕਾਰਣਿ ਪੂਰਹਿ ਤਾਲ ॥: For the sake of bread, they perform melodiously (sggs 465).
  • ਕੋਈ ਗਾਵੈ ਰਾਗੀ ਨਾਦੀ ਬੇਦੀ ਬਹੁ ਭਾਤਿ ਕਰਿ ਨਹੀ ਹਰਿ ਹਰਿ ਭੀਜੈ ਰਾਮ ਰਾਜੇ ॥ ਜਿਨਾ ਅੰਤਰਿ ਕਪਟੁ ਵਿਕਾਰੁ ਹੈ ਤਿਨਾ ਰੋਇ ਕਿਆ ਕੀਜੈ ॥: Some sing praising Divine virtues through musical Ragas, and some blow horn, and some/reflect Vedas (i.e. religious books), and in so many other ways to try to please God. But God is not pleased by any of these. Those who are filled with fraud and corruption within – what good is their cry out (i.e. their singing/Kirtan in Ragas, blowing horn, reading scriptures etc. is all useless)? (sggs 450).
  • ਨ ਭੀਜੈ ਰਾਗੀ ਨਾਦੀ ਬੇਦਿ ॥: (God) is NOT won over (i.e. pleased etc.) with singing Ragas, blowing of couches and reading Vedas (religious books). (sggs 1237).

In a nutshell, Kirtan is Praise of the Creator through Shabad Vichaar, and then living a daily life of Divine Virtues.


  • ਆਪੁ ਸਵਾਰਹਿ ਮੈ ਮਿਲਹਿ ਮੈ ਮਿਲਿਆ ਸੁਖੁ ਹੋਇ ॥ ਫਰੀਦਾ ਜੇ ਤੂ ਮੇਰਾ ਹੋਇ ਰਹਹਿ ਸਭੁ ਜਗੁ ਤੇਰਾ ਹੋਇ ॥੯੫॥: If you REFORM yourself then you will Realize Me (i.e. God), and when you Realize Me (i.e. God), you will rejoice in Spiritual Bliss. O Farid, (reforming yourself) if you become Mine then the entire world would become yours. ||95|| (sggs 1382).

Having said that, singing may be a mean in realizing the Creator within, but not the end in itself!

Hence the Gurbani (SGGS) time and again alerts us that the Reality of the Gurbani should not be limited to only Ragas and singing of the Gurbani. To limit the Sikhi only to singing of the Gurbani is baseless and misleading people.

Therefore, we are repeatedly advised by the Gurbani that the side of human life that comes from the Gurbani’s Giyan-Wisdom should NOT BE FORGOTTEN — applying the Wisdom of the Gurbani to daily life.

However, based on the reality on the ground, the limit of Sikhi has been only music and the meaning of our Kirtan is only the singing of Gurbani. Nothing more than that.

As a result, the Wisdom of the Gurbani has flown from within most of us.

In short, if we are sincere about the GURBANI’S ADVISE AND WANT TO REALIZE THE CREATOR / HUKAM WITHIN, the SGGS provides us with the Spiritual Wisdom which:

Misinterpretation and representation of the Gurbani by the Pujaaree – Ragis…

Clearly, the Gurbani is not meant for sense-gratification — ‘Kann Ras‘ (ਕੰਨ ਰਸ), or using it as a business transactions (ਰੋਟੀਆਂ ਦਾ ਜਰੀਆ, ਧੰਧਾ), or worshipping (Poojaa) the SGGS as an idol, or keeping it wrapped up in designer’s Rumaalaa etc.

However, the self serving Pujaaree (clergy: Granthis, Parcharaks, Ragis, Dhadees etc.) and the freeloading Deraa-Vaad Baabaas (ਵੇਹਲੜ) etc. have loaded upon people’s head that (1) Kirtan is to sing the Gurbani aloud with musical instruments, and (2) singing Gurbani is the most exalted action (‘ਪਰਧਾਨਾ-Pardhaanaa‘).

As we’ll see in the pages that lie ahead the above assertions or the Pujaaree’s distorted interpretation of the Gurbani (SGGS) in this context is totally self-serving (ਧੰਧਾ, business…) and misleading!

The Message of the Shabad (SGGS) is that those who are corrupt should not be entrusted with responsibility particularly to LEAD!

Abuse of the Gurbani verses by the self-serving Pujaaree

The greedy and fearful people who never took SGGS seriously as the source of Spiritual Wisdom, to impress upon them, by using selective and partial verses the lives of many people are being diverted to the side of singing words only through instruments.

For example the self-serving Pujaaree groups always misquote the following verse: ਕਲਜੁਗ ਮਹਿ ਕੀਰਤਨੁ ਪਰਧਾਨਾ ॥: Kalyug mahi kirtan pardhaanaa.

But they seldom quote the next verse:ਗੁਰਮੁਖਿ ਜਪੀਐ ਲਾਇ ਧਿਆਨਾ ॥: Gurmukhi japeeai laai dhiaanaa.

Or worse they misquote it as well. In fact it is this verse which makes it very clear what the SGGS is really talking about.

First off, the Gurbani does not accept Brahmanical interpretation of four Yuga. For the Gurmat Wisdom of the SGGS, Yugas are the state of an individual’s mind at a given moment.

For example, Kal Yuga is the state of the mind dominated by falsehood, untruthfulness, doubt, ignorance, Haumai (false ego-sense), Bikaar (i.e. lust, anger, greed etc.).

  • ਜੇ ਕੋ ਸਤੁ ਕਰੇ ਸੋ ਛੀਜੈ ਤਪ ਘਰਿ ਤਪੁ ਨ ਹੋਈ ॥ ਜੇ ਕੋ ਨਾਉ ਲਏ ਬਦਨਾਵੀ ਕਲਿ ਕੇ ਲਖਣ ਏਈ ॥੩॥ : If someone practices Truth, he is looked down by others; if one claims to practice Tapa (i.e. penance), if one claims to practice Tapa (i.e. penance), his senses are out of control. If someone remembers Naam (i.e. live a life of Wisdom/Virtues, Truth…) then he is defamed; these are the signs of Kali Yuga (i.e. man’s corrupt state of the mind). ||3|| (sggs 902).

Also, literally, Kirtan (ਕੀਰਤਨ) means ‘Keerati-ਕੀਰਤਿ’ (ਵਡਿਆਈ, ਸੋਭਾ, ਉਸਤਤ, etc.) — TO REALIZE THE CREATOR / HUKAM WITHIN, to celebrate and live daily life accordingly (Gurmukh Mindset).

Hence, in a nutshell, the real ‘Keerati‘ or Kirtan is done by the mind, WITHIN!

  • ਗੁਨ ਕੀਰਤਿ ਨਿਧਿ ਮੋਰੀ ॥੧॥ ਰਹਾਉ ॥: To live by Virtues (in daily life) is my Treasure. ||1||Pause|| (sggs 213).
  • ਗੁਰ ਕੀ ਕੀਰਤਿ ਜਪੀਐ ਹਰਿ ਨਾਉ ॥: Understand the Divine Naam (Wisdom, Virtues…). This is doing the Guru’s ‘Keerati‘. (sggs 897).
  • ਕਲਿ ਕੀਰਤਿ ਸਬਦੁ ਪਛਾਨੁ ॥: In the Kali, the ‘Keerati-ਕੀਰਤਿ’ (ਵਡਿਆਈ, ਸੋਭਾ…) is the realization of the Shabad (Wisdom, Upadesh…). (sggs 424).

Now, combining both verses:

  • ਕਲਜੁਗ ਮਹਿ ਕੀਰਤਨੁ ਪਰਧਾਨਾ ॥ ਗੁਰਮੁਖਿ ਜਪੀਐ ਲਾਇ ਧਿਆਨਾ ॥: The most exalted is the Kirtan in this Kal Yuga (i.e. in a corrupt state of the mind). Therefore, by becoming the Gurmukh, understand (the ‘Naam Padaarath‘: Wisdom, Virtues, Truth…) with full attention (sggs 1075).

Among other verses, the self-serving Pujaaree often misquote the following verse: ਕੀਰਤਨੁ ਨਿਰਮੋਲਕ ਹੀਰਾ ॥: Kirtan nirmolak heeraa.

But, when you combine rest of the verses, the picture becomes very clear that here the Gurbani is talking about the Jewel or Diamond of Wisdom, Virtues (ਗੁਣ).

In a nutshell, the SGGS is teaching us that the ‘Bani -ਬਾਣੀ’ (i.e. Giaan or Wisdom of the Gur-Shabad) is the priceless Jewel of Wisdom, Ocean of Virtues (ਗੁਣ) and Bliss, most excellent ‘Poonjee-ਪੂੰਜੀ’ (wealth, capital, assets etc.).

  • ਕੀਰਤਨੁ ਨਿਰਮੋਲਕ ਹੀਰਾ ॥ ਆਨੰਦ ਗੁਣੀ ਗਹੀਰਾ ॥ ਅਨਹਦ ਬਾਣੀ ਪੂੰਜੀ ॥ ਸੰਤਨ ਹਥਿ ਰਾਖੀ ਕੂੰਜੀ ॥੨॥: Kirtan is like a priceless diamond. It is like an unfathomable ocean of Bliss and Virtues. The Bani is an inestimable spiritual wealth. (But) God has kept the Key to this Treasure (of Wisdom, Virtues) in the hands of holy Sangat. ||2|| (sggs 893).

The Gurbani further explains as to what this ‘Koonjee-ਕੂੰਜੀ’ (the Key) is — Guru’s Spiritual Advice, Guidance, Wisdom. Also, the SGGS MAKES IT CHRYSTAL CLEAR THAT NO ONE EXCEPT THE GURU Shabad HOLDS THIS KEY (Koonjee-ਕੂੰਜੀ):

  • ਗੁਰੁ ਕੁੰਜੀ ਪਾਹੂ ਨਿਵਲੁ ਮਨੁ ਕੋਠਾ ਤਨੁ ਛਤਿ ॥ ਨਾਨਕ ਗੁਰ ਬਿਨੁ ਮਨ ਕਾ ਤਾਕੁ ਨ ਉਘੜੈ ਅਵਰ ਨ ਕੁੰਜੀ ਹਥਿ ॥੧॥: (One’s) mind is (like a) house, the body is (like its) roof, and the attachment of Maya is lock (on this house of the mind – like the chain locked on the animal legs). The Guru (Gur-Wisdom or ਗਿਆਨ) is the key (that open this lock – this is only key that can remove the spell of Maya from the mind…). O Nanak! Without the Guru (Gur-Wisdom or ਗਿਆਨ), the door of the mind cannot be opened. No one else holds the key in hand (to open this lock) ||1|| (sggs 1237).

Following is an another verse that is often misused by the self-serving Pujaaree groups: ਭਲੋ ਭਲੋ ਰੇ ਕੀਰਤਨੀਆ: Bhalo Bhalo re Kirtaniaa.

If we read rest of this Shabad, you will find that it has NOTHING to do with singing the Gurbani with musical instrument. Instead, the central Message of the Shabad is to renouncing the pursuits of all worldly entanglements (i.e Maya – worldly temptations and their corrupting influences)!!!!!!!!

  • ਭਲੋ ਭਲੋ ਰੇ ਕੀਰਤਨੀਆ ॥ ਰਾਮ ਰਮਾ ਰਾਮਾ ਗੁਨ ਗਾਉ ॥ ਛੋਡਿ ਮਾਇਆ ਕੇ ਧੰਧ ਸੁਆਉ ॥੧॥ ਰਹਾਉ ॥ ਪੰਚ ਬਜਿਤ੍ਰ ਕਰੇ ਸੰਤੋਖਾ ਸਾਤ ਸੁਰਾ ਲੈ ਚਾਲੈ ॥ ਬਾਜਾ ਮਾਣੁ ਤਾਣੁ ਤਜਿ ਤਾਨਾ ਪਾਉ ਨ ਬੀਗਾ ਘਾਲੈ ॥ ਫੇਰੀ ਫੇਰੁ ਨ ਹੋਵੈ ਕਬ ਹੀ ਏਕੁ ਸਬਦੁ ਬੰਧਿ ਪਾਲੈ ॥੨॥ … : Blessed is that Kirtanee, who lives by the divine Wisdom and Virtues, and renounces the pursuits of all worldly or Mayaic entanglements (and lives a divine life). ||1||Pause|| He makes the five Virtues (like compassion, contentment etc.) as his musical instruments, and remaining attuned to God (i.e. living a divine life of Wisdom and Virtues), performs the worldly duties; for him it is like playing the seven musical notes. The renunciation of pride and power are like the notes he plays on his musical instrument; he always follows the path of Guru’s teachings and does not step into an evil place (that is the musical Taan or Alaap for him). Since he keeps the One Shabad (Enlightenment) embedded in his mind. (As a result his mind) does not enter the cycle of birth and death ever again. ||2|| … (sggs 885).

Sign of stubborn mindedness

There is no concept of chanting in the Gurmat or SGGS. Yet — in Stubbornness (ਮਨ ਹਠ) — many can be seen and heard robotically chanting ‘Waheguru Waheguru‘ etc.

The Gurmat Giyan or Wisdom of the SGGS strongly rejects Stubborn mindedness (Mann Hath-ਮਨ ਹਠ).

  • ਹੁਕਮੁ ਨ ਜਾਣਹਿ ਬਪੁੜੇ ਭੂਲੇ ਫਿਰਹਿ ਗਵਾਰ ॥ ਮਨਹਠਿ ਕਰਮ ਕਮਾਵਦੇ ਨਿਤ ਨਿਤ ਹੋਹਿ ਖੁਆਰੁ ॥: The wretched fools do not know Hukam; they wander around making mistakes. They perform deeds (Karamkaand etc.) stubborn mindedly, (but stuck in Bikaar) are always ruined (disgraced, ਖਜਲ ਖਵਾਰ etc.). (sggs 66).
  • ਮਨਹਠਿ ਕਰਮ ਕਰੇ ਸੋ ਛੀਜੈ ॥ ਬਹੁਤੇ ਭੇਖ ਕਰੇ ਨਹੀ ਭੀਜੈ ॥: Whosoever acts stubborn-mindedly, his (spiritual life – ਆਤਮਕ ਜੀਵਨ) is weakened. (Such person) wears a lot of religious attire, but (by doing so his mind) does not get soaked in the divine love. (sggs 1059).
  • ਮਨਿ ਪਰਤੀਤਿ ਨ ਆਈਆ ਸਹਜਿ ਨ ਲਗੋ ਭਾਉ ॥ ਸਬਦੈ ਸਾਦੁ ਨ ਪਾਇਓ ਮਨਹਠਿ ਕਿਆ ਗੁਣ ਗਾਇ ॥: O mind! You have no conviction (of Truth etc.) and you have not embraced love (for the Truth) with Sahaj (Natural State of Being, Wisdom or Giaan-Avasthaa. etc.). You do not enjoy the sublime taste of the Shabad – what (is the use of) singing Praises stubborn-mindedly? (sggs 549).

Gurbani rejects the Pujaaree’s definition of Kirtan

The Gurbani teaches us both honest work (righteous Karma, actions, duties, earning truthful living, etc.) and Bhagti are essential to realize the Creator Within. Mere singing of Kirtan will not do the trick to fool God.

The Gurbani has strong words of caution, warning, admonition (whatever we want to call it) about the kind of Kirtan that’s being promoted and propagated by the self-serving Pujaaree groups. Baabaa Nanak alerts us as follows:

  • ਗਿਆਨ ਵਿਹੂਣਾ ਗਾਵੈ ਗੀਤ ॥ ਭੁਖੇ ਮੁਲਾਂ ਘਰੇ ਮਸੀਤਿ ॥ ਮਖਟੂ ਹੋਇ ਕੈ ਕੰਨ ਪੜਾਏ ॥ ਫਕਰੁ ਕਰੇ ਹੋਰੁ ਜਾਤਿ ਗਵਾਏ ॥ ਗੁਰੁ ਪੀਰੁ ਸਦਾਏ ਮੰਗਣ ਜਾਇ ॥ ਤਾ ਕੈ ਮੂਲਿ ਨ ਲਗੀਐ ਪਾਇ ॥ ਘਾਲਿ ਖਾਇ ਕਿਛੁ ਹਥਹੁ ਦੇਇ ॥ ਨਾਨਕ ਰਾਹੁ ਪਛਾਣਹਿ ਸੇਇ ॥੧॥: Someone sings the hymns (Kirtan etc. as a source of livelihood or bread, but he lacks Giaan or wisdom (since he uses it as a source of income, his understanding could not be higher). The mosque of the starving mullahs is also for the sake of livelihood (i.e. the Mullahs have also made the act of praying in the mosque a source of livelihood or bread). There is another (third one) lazy bum (unemployed, ਹੱਡ-ਹਰਾਮ, ਵੇਹਲੜ) gets his ears pierced (to look like a Yogi). Someone else becomes a panhandler and lives life of a beggar-ਮੰਗਖਾਣਾਂ), and thus loses his social status. Someone pretends to be respected by becoming a Guru or a Pir (spiritual guide…) but is also greedy for material things (i.e. accumulates wealth by craftiness and making excuses. Don’t ever touch such person’s feet (i.e., don’t consider him a Guru or a Pir – don’t follow him). One who eats by working diligently (with honesty…) and helps the needy in the right way out of this noble work; O Nanak! Only such people have come to know the right way of life. ||1|| (sggs 1245).

However, it’s not surprising at all that we almost never hear Ragis (professional singers of the Gurbani) talk about it! If they do reflect on the true Message of the SGGS, it will be like the famous proverbial expression: ‘kicking on one’s own stomach’ (ਅਪਣੇ ਪੇਟ ਪਰ ਲੱਤ ਮਾਰਨੀ). That explains why they don’t talk about it. The Gurbani further explains:

  • ਸਚਾ ਅਲਖ ਅਭੇਉ ਹਠਿ ਨ ਪਤੀਜਈ ॥ ਇਕਿ ਗਾਵਹਿ ਰਾਗ ਪਰੀਆ ਰਾਗਿ ਨ ਭੀਜਈ ॥: The True, Unseen, Mysterious (Universal Energy) is not won over by stubbornness. Some sing according to traditional Raag, but the Lord (Rabb) is not pleased by these Raag. (sggs 1285).
  • ਗਾਵਹਿ ਗੀਤ ਨ ਚੀਨਹਿ ਆਪੁ ॥: You sing the songs, but you do not understand your own self (i.e., your Mool). (sggs 903).

We are time and again alerted by the Gurbani to keep us from sinking into Maya’s illusion or falling into the same dark pit of ignorance like countless so called Ragi, Baabaa, Giaanees, Sant, Saadhoos, Kathaakaars, professional singers who sing the Gurbani in the pretext of making money (‘ਰੋਟੀਆ ਕਾਰਣਿ ਪੂਰਹਿ ਤਾਲ’) etc.

They read and memorize Bani like a parrot, and sing it in attractive melody or Taals; however, it goes in vain because they do it in greed and selfishness. The Gurbani confirms as follows:

  • ਗੀਤ ਰਾਗ ਘਨ ਤਾਲ ਸਿ ਕੂਰੇ ॥: (Forgetting the Shabad: Vichaar, Giaan, etc., mortal indulges in) the various songs, Raag and rhythms, but these are all false efforts. (sggs 832).
  • ਅੰਦਰਹੁ ਅੰਨਾ ਬਾਹਰਹੁ ਅੰਨਾ ਕੂੜੀ ਕੂੜੀ ਗਾਵੈ ॥: A person who is blind inwardly (i.e. mentally blind) and blind outwardly (from conduct or deeds: ਕਾਲੀਆਂ ਕਰਤੂਤਾਂ), sings (or recite scriptures) deceptively or falsely (ਝੂਠੀ ਮੂਠੀ). (sggs 960).
  • ਰਾਗ ਰਾਗਨੀ ਡਿੰਭ ਹੋਇ ਬੈਠਾ ਉਨਿ ਹਰਿ ਪਹਿ ਕਿਆ ਲੀਨਾ ॥੩॥: He sits and play music, but he sits as a hypocrite (ਪਖੰਡ ਦੀ ਮੂਰਤ); what can such person obtain from the Lord? (i.e., nothing) ||3|| (sggs 654).

In general, Kirtan is sung in Haumai (false ego-sense) greed etc., and heard to gratify senses (ਕੰਨ ਰਸ).

  • ਇਕਿ ਗਾਵਤ ਰਹੇ ਮਨਿ ਸਾਦੁ ਨ ਪਾਇ ॥ ਹਉਮੈ ਵਿਚਿ ਗਾਵਹਿ ਬਿਰਥਾ ਜਾਇ ॥: Some sing on and on, but their minds do not find happiness. In egotism, they sing, but it is all wasted uselessly (sggs 158).

In a nutshell, without understanding the Gurbani and without living it in daily life, just keep singing and listening Gurbani (for sense-gratification) is not the Kirtan talked about in the Gurbani.

  • ਗਾਵਹਿ ਗੀਤੇ ਚੀਤਿ ਅਨੀਤੇ ॥ ਰਾਗ ਸੁਣਾਇ ਕਹਾਵਹਿ ਬੀਤੇ ॥ ਬਿਨੁ ਨਾਵੈ ਮਨਿ ਝੂਠੁ ਅਨੀਤੇ ॥੧॥: (Those who) sing religious songs (for others to listen), but in their consciousness is wickedness. They sing Raag (for others to) listen, and call themselves knowledgeable (expert, ਗਿਆਨੀ, etc.), but without the Naam, their minds are false and wicked. ||1|| (sggs 414).
  • ਰਾਗੈ ਨਾਦੈ ਬਾਹਰਾ ਇਨੀ ਹੁਕਮੁ ਨ ਬੂਝਿਆ ਜਾਇ ॥: Realization of God is above all the musical measures and tunes (ਰਾਗ ਨਾਦ ਦੀ ਕੈਦ ਤੋਂ ਪਰੇ), and His Hukam cannot be understood through these Raagas and Naad. (sggs 1423).

Bhai Gurdaas Jee calls it ‘swindling’ (ਠਗੀ) of gullible people by the self-serving Ragis (i.e. professional singers of the Gurbani):

  • ਤੈਸੇ ਗੁਰ ਸਬਦ ਸੁਨਾਇ ਗਾਇ ਦਿਖ ਠਗੋ ਭੇਖਧਾਰੀ ਜਾਨਿ ਮੋਹਿ ਮਾਰਿ ਨ ਬਿਡਾਰਹੀ ॥੬੧੧॥: Similarly, a cheat different from inside and outside swindle gullible Sikhs by singing to them the sacred hymns of the Guru. But those Sikhs enamored by the sweetness of Gurbani and of very generous nature, don’t even scold me despite them knowing that (Bhai Gurdas, Kabit 611).
  • ਗਾਏ ਸੁਨੇ ਆਂਖੇ ਮੀਚੈ ਪਾਈਐ ਨ ਪਰਮਪਦੁ ਗੁਰ ਉਪਦੇਸੁ ਗਹਿ ਜਉ ਲਉ ਨ ਕਮਾਈਐ ॥੪੩੯॥: Singing and listening to (Kirtan) with closed eyes, one cannot experience Parampad (i.e., profound lifestyle, Gurmukh lifestyle). As long as one does not follow the Gur-Upadesh (live by the Wisdom), it is not possible to obtain (Parampad, even if one performs the ritual or Karamkaand of singing or listening Kirtan. (Bhai Gurdaas, Kabit 439).

Hence the Kirtan as practiced by the paid clergy (Pujaaree) has become nothing more than a mundane business, and thus lost the purpose. Apparently, they have taken this word ‘Kirtan‘ out of context and put the trademark of music on it. As a result, this Spiritual practice almost has been turned into a club activity or recreational pastime as seen at the organized religious gatherings nowadays. They memorize the Gurbani like a parrot, and sing it in attractive melody or Taals; however it all goes in vain because they do it in greed and selfishness.

As evident in the society, more and more Ragis (commercial or for-hire Kirtan singers) are coming into the market place, more and more listeners are falling into their trend. Minds of both the Ragis and their listeners are becoming more restless and crooked. Consequently, the world is full of corruption, danger, duplicity, conflicts, animosity, and so on. What a paradox!

Gurbani says Shabad Vichaar is the most exalted Kirtan

According to the Gurbani, Shabad Vichaar (Reflections on the Gurbani) or churning the Gurbani (to extract Wisdom from it) is the supreme or most exalted action (‘ਊਤਮ ਕਰਣੀ’, ‘ਸਭਸੈ ਊਪਰਿ’, ‘ਸਿਖੀ ਸਿਖਿਆ’).

  • ਸਭਸੈ ਊਪਰਿ ਗੁਰ ਸਬਦੁ ਬੀਚਾਰੁ ॥ ਹੋਰ ਕਥਨੀ ਬਦਉ ਨ ਸਗਲੀ ਛਾਰੁ ॥੨॥: Reflection on the Gur-Shabad is above all (other notions, speculations, calculations…). I don’t care for anything else, for all else (i.e., other than the Wisdom of the Gur-Shabad) is just worthless. ||2|| (sggs 904).
  • ਊਤਮ ਕਰਣੀ ਸਬਦ ਬੀਚਾਰ ॥੩॥: The ultimate action is Reflections on the Shabad – Shabad Vichaar ||3|| (sggs 158).
  • ਸਿਖੀ ਸਿਖਿਆ ਗੁਰ ਵੀਚਾਰਿ ॥ ਨਦਰੀ ਕਰਮਿ ਲਘਾਏ ਪਾਰਿ ॥ : Sikhi is contemplation on Guru’s teaching (Instructions, Wisdom, Counsel, Guide, Upadesh, Giyan, Bibek) and acting on it. Being blessed by the Grace of the Guru’s teaching one then crosses the ocean of worldly temptations and their corrupting influences (Bhav Saagar). (sggs 465).
  • ਗੁਰਿ ਉਪਦੇਸਿਆ ਤਤੁ ਗਿਆਨੁ ॥੧॥ ਰਹਾਉ ॥: The Guru has instructed (Upadesh) me in this True Essence of spiritual Wisdom (Aatmic-Giaan – ਗਿਆਨ). ||1||Pause|| (sggs 1142).

So, if we truly want to respect the SGGS, then, as the Gurbani teaches we must churn Wisdom or Giaan through the Shabad-Vichaar and become the Gurmukh (the follower of the Wisdom of the Gurmat…), and live daily life accordingly.

  • ਗੁਰਮਤਿ ਮਾਨਿਆ ਕਰਣੀ ਸਾਰੁ ॥ ਗੁਰਮਤਿ ਮਾਨਿਆ ਮੋਖ ਦੁਆਰੁ ॥ ਨਾਨਕ ਗੁਰਮਤਿ ਮਾਨਿਆ ਪਰਵਾਰੈ ਸਾਧਾਰੁ ॥੮॥੧॥੩॥ : Following the Gurmat (living daily life according to the Giaan or Wisdom of the SGGS), one’s conduct (ਆਚਰਨ…) becomes excellent. Following the Gurmat, one finds a way to get rid of (Bikaar). O Nanak! Following the Gurmat, (one) becomes able to give (Naam’s) support to his entire family as well. ||8||1||3|| (sggs 832).
  • ਕਬੀਰ ਗੁਰੁ ਲਾਗਾ ਤਬ ਜਾਨੀਐ ਮਿਟੈ ਮੋਹੁ ਤਨ ਤਾਪ ॥ ਹਰਖ ਸੋਗ ਦਾਝੈ ਨਹੀ ਤਬ ਹਰਿ ਆਪਹਿ ਆਪਿ ॥੧੮੯॥: O Kabir! One is known to have been Connected with the Guru’s Giaan-Wisdom, only when his (Mayaic) attachment and physical agony are eradicated. When no pleasure or sorrow tortures one’s mind, then that is a state of mind when God seems to be pervading everywhere. ||189|| (sggs 1374).

The one who truly respects the Gurbani becomes the Gurmukh and his mind and life get transformed (ਜੀਵਨ ਪਦਵੀ). He gets absorbed into the Gurmat (‘ਗੁਰ ਕੀ ਮਤਿ’, ਗੁਰ ਕੀ ਸਿਖਿਆ, the Gurbani’s Teaching, Virtues, Wisdom, Giaan…).

  • ਗੁਰਮੁਖਿ ਕਰਣੀ ਸਬਦੁ ਵੀਚਾਰੁ ॥: One who has become the Gurmukh, his ‘Karanee-ਕਰਣੀ’ (lifestyle, conduct, practice….) is Shabad-Vichaar (Reflections on the Gur-Shabad). (sggs 841).

Having said that, Kirtan is defined in the Gurbani as Viaakhiaa (ਬਖ੍ਯ੍ਯਾਨੁ) of the Shabad, of the One Creator, of the Divine Wisdom or Virtues — explanation, interpretation, elucidation, discussion, listening and carefully reading the Gurbani, Shabad-Vichaar, always living life of Wisdom and Virtues, ਗੁਣਾ ਦੀ ਵਿਚਾਰ, ਗੁਣਾ ਦੀ ਕੀਰਤ etc.

  • ਅਨਦਿਨੁ ਕੀਰਤਨੁ ਕੇਵਲ ਬਖ੍ਯ੍ਯਾਨੁ ॥ ਗ੍ਰਿਹਸਤ ਮਹਿ ਸੋਈ ਨਿਰਬਾਨੁ ॥: In daily life, Viaakhiaa (elucidation, explanation, discussion etc.) of the deeper meanings (of the Gurbani) is the Kirtan. (A person who engages in such Vichaar of the Gurbani) remains detached (from Maya) even in the midst of household. (sggs 281).

In a nutshell, the true singing as recommended in the SGGS is to ALWAYS, continuously, day and night ( Andin-ਅਨਦਿਨੁ) live a divine life of Wisdom, Virtues (ਗੁਣ) and Hukam.

That being said, according to the Gurbani (SGGS), the meaning of Kirtan is Connecting the mind to the Creator within through the Gurbani’s Wisdom breath-to-breath (ਸਾਸ ਸਾਸ). On the contrary, the meaning and use of the word Kirtan for ONLY singing the Gurbani with musical instruments is a disrespect of Gurbani, and also weapon to break the Guru’s followers from the Gurbani Way of life.

  • ਜਾ ਕੈ ਹੀਐ ਪ੍ਰਗਟੁ ਪ੍ਰਭੁ ਹੋਆ ਅਨਦਿਨੁ ਕੀਰਤਨੁ ਰਸਨ ਰਮੋਰੀ ॥੩॥ : One whose heart is illuminated by God, always live a divine life. ||3||(sggs 208).
  • ਹਰਿ ਕੀਰਤਨੁ ਗਾਵਹੁ ਦਿਨੁ ਰਾਤੀ ਸਫਲ ਏਹਾ ਹੈ ਕਾਰੀ ਜੀਉ ॥੩॥ : Day and night take the medicine of Naam (Wisdom, Virtues), this will make the Spiritual Journey of life successful. ||3|| (sggs 108).
  • ਅਖੰਡ ਕੀਰਤਨੁ ਤਿਨਿ ਭੋਜਨੁ ਚੂਰਾ ॥ ਕਹੁ ਨਾਨਕ ਜਿਸੁ ਸਤਿਗੁਰੁ ਪੂਰਾ ॥੮॥੨॥ : The continuous Kirtan becomes delicious food for that person (who is Blessed with divine Wisdom). Says Nanak, that person has met the perfect Satguru (True Wisdom – ਸੱਚਾ ਗਿਆਨ). ||8||2||(sggs 236).
  • ਸਚੀ ਭਗਤਿ ਗੁਰ ਸਬਦ ਪਿਆਰਿ ॥: True Bhagti consists of love for the Gur-Shabad (i.e., life of the Shabad-Giaan, Wisdom, Upadesh, Virtues…). (sggs 158).
  • ਕੇਵਲ ਭਗਤਿ ਕੀਰਤਨ ਸੰਗਿ ਰਾਚੈ ॥: (A person of ‘Pure Dharma‘…) remains absorbed in Bhagti Kirtan. (sggs 274).

Now, what is Bhagti in Sikhi or Gurmat? Let’s ask the SGGS:

  • ਗੁਰ ਕੀ ਮਤਿ ਤੂੰ ਲੇਹਿ ਇਆਨੇ ॥ ਭਗਤਿ ਬਿਨਾ ਬਹੁ ਡੂਬੇ ਸਿਆਨੇ ॥: O you ignorant, take the Gurmat (internalize the Message embedded in the Gur-Shabad); without this Bhagti, even very wise (self-willed) persons have succumb to vices/Bikaar (worldly temptations and their corrupting influences – Bhav Saagar…). (sggs 288).

That said, Bhagti in Sikhi is obtaining the spiritual Knowledge of the SGGS (Giyan Bhagti or Gurmat Bhagti) and Awakening Virtues (Rabbi Gun-ਗੁਣ) within and live daily life accordingly! This is the Real Kirtan! However, we have been brain washed by the crafty Pujaaree that Kirtan is just singing with harmonium, Dholak, Tabla etc. However, that’s a mundane business (ਧੰਧਾ), NOT the Gurbani’s real Kirtan.

  • ਸਭਿ ਗੁਣ ਤੇਰੇ ਮੈ ਨਾਹੀ ਕੋਇ ॥ ਵਿਣੁ ਗੁਣ ਕੀਤੇ ਭਗਤਿ ਨ ਹੋਇ ॥: I Cleanse my mind Within (of vices) with Godly Virtues. There can be NO Bhagti (spirituality or divinity) sans the Realization of Divine Virtues. (sggs 4).
  • ਭਗਤ੍ਯ੍ਯੰ ਭਗਤਿ ਦਾਨੰ ਰਾਮ ਨਾਮ ਗੁਣ ਕੀਰਤਨਹ ॥: Bhagat are blessed with Kirtan of the Divine Naam (Giaan-Wisdom) and Virtues. (sggs 1355).

The Real Kirtan as defined in the Gurbani demands we develop the Gurmukh State of the Mind (Enlightenment)

In short, we are urged to BECOME THE GURBANI and immerse in Naam by integrating our cracked mind and Chit (conscious-Surt) into One. Then the Real Kirtan happens in the ‘Nij Ghar‘ within, naturally, spontaneously, Sahaj (Natural state of Being or Wisdom)…

  • ਗੁਰਮੁਖਿ ਰਾਗ ਸੁਆਦ ਅਨ ਤਿਆਗੇ ॥: The Gurmukh renounces other tastes (Pakhand, rituals or Karamkaand etc.) and ‘Raag‘ (mental affectations, malice, cravings, enmity, melodies etc.). (sggs 415).
  • ਕਰ ਕਰਿ ਤਾਲ ਪਖਾਵਜੁ ਨੈਨਹੁ ਮਾਥੈ ਵਜਹਿ ਰਬਾਬਾ ॥: Kar kari taal pakhaavaju… (sggs 884).
  • ਰਾਗ ਨਾਦ ਛੋਡਿ ਹਰਿ ਸੇਵੀਐ ਤਾ ਦਰਗਹ ਪਾਈਐ ਮਾਨ ॥: Renouncing the Raag and Naad, when we remember God with adoration, only then we become United with Universal Energy (God / Hukam). (sggs 849).

Apparently, the true meaning of the Kirtan has been derailed by the self-serving Pujaaree (clergy). Since the Gurbani (SGGS) addresses the human mind, the kind of Kirtan the SGGS recommends can ONLY be performed within the mind!

  • ਹਿਰਦੈ ਹਰਿ ਗੁਣ ਗਾਇ ਜੈ ਜੈ ਸਬਦੁ ਹਰਿ ॥: Within my Heart (mind, Aatmaa), I sing the Divine Praises, and (thus I) celebrate the Shabad (i.e., obtain understanding through Shabad-Vichaar and then live the Giaan or Vrtues in daily life). (sggs 790).
  • ਅੰਤਰਿ ਬਿਬੇਕੁ ਸਦਾ ਆਪੁ ਵੀਚਾਰੇ ਗੁਰ ਸਬਦੀ ਗੁਣ ਗਾਵਣਿਆ ॥੩॥: (By the Grace of the Gu-Giaan who stills his false ego-sense) awakens discerning intellect (Bibek-Budh, Giaan...) within and continually examines own-self (examines his spiritual life). Through the Gur-Shabad, he lives by the Virtues or Giaan. ||3|| (sggs 128).


  1. most revered,
    In dhun atmic samadhi, while concentrating on the sound current, vibrating above the ear, how can dim light be spotted, is this light leading the sound current towards itself and would only expose when reached, that void,,sunn,,god particle,,panch shabad, as light travels faster than sound.

  2. • ਰਾਗੈ ਨਾਦੈ ਬਾਹਰਾ ਇਨੀ ਹੁਕਮੁ ਨ ਬੂਝਿਆ ਜਾਇ ॥ (sggs 1423).
    • ਗਾਇ ਹਾਰੇ ਗੰਧ੍ਰਬ ਬਜਾਇ ਹਾਰੇ ਕਿੰਨਰ ਸਭ ਪਚ ਹਾਰੇ ਪੰਡਤ ਤਪੰਤਿ ਹਾਰੇ ਤਾਪਸੀ ॥੨੦॥੯੦॥ (Dasam Granth 52).

  3. I couldn’t agree more!!
    So true,,,Where do we stand today as a sikh for the most part… “Kann Rass”

  4. Satkar jog Gurmukh T.Singh ji
    Parmesher kare is gurbani-vichar kardeya hoyea tuhada gyan prachand gyan ho jaye te jis naal tuhada DEO(chit,anter-atma,ram-ansh,brahm) jagrit avastha vich aa jeye te oh GURDEO(satgur,puran-brahm) ban ke lotus flower di tarah ban jaye.
    Please write an article on JOT, SURAT , MAT & BUDH

  5. Thank you Gurpreet Singh Ji,
    As a beginner student, I am just learning along with you, Brother.
    As far as the flower icon goes, instead of using a picture of a body-frame (“ਕਾਚੀ ਗਗਰੀ”, “ਰਕਤ ਬੁੰਦ ਕਾ ਗਾਰਾ” …) or instead of using some strange and weird looking Avtar, I decided to use this simple flower icon. That’s all.

  6. Satkar jog Gurmukh T.Singh ji
    Whenever i see the Lotus image in your reflections on gurbani i have the glimpse of your enlightened DEO(jeev,chit,ram-ansh). Tuhada khidya hoya hirdye najar aonda hai because only and only TRUTH resides in your articles.
    jisto thoda ja chanan eh nimana das vi lai laida hia.
    Gurpreet Singh

  7. Satkar jog Gurmukh T.Singh ji
    Yes, when the Brahm(jeev,ram-ansh,chit) of a gurmukh becomes puran brahm(puran jot,khalsa) it takes bath(drinks) in NAAM (ram-ras,har-ras, anhad-naad, shabd-dhun, dhur ki bani) then at that time whatever he(gurmukh) speaks are the words (rag) actually spoken to him by NAAM, he just utters those words in the regional language. This is the Bilaval Raag(gurmukh jado bulaya bolda hai).

    Gurpreet Singh

  8. Thank you Ji.

    • ਬਿਲਾਵਲੁ ਤਬ ਹੀ ਕੀਜੀਐ ਜਬ ਮੁਖਿ ਹੋਵੈ ਨਾਮੁ ॥ ਰਾਗ ਨਾਦ ਸਬਦਿ ਸੋਹਣੇ ਜਾ ਲਾਗੈ ਸਹਜਿ ਧਿਆਨੁ ॥ (sggs 849).

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