THE Namdhari sect of Sikhs moved its centre to Bhaini Sahib near Ludhiana some 100 years ago. Keeping alive the Sikh Gurus’ tradition of spiritual training through music, today it is a huge centre where not only classical musical instruction is imparted to the young, but music concerts are regularly held too.
This year, a new addition has been a nationwide vocal music contest, with 165 aspirants. Held last week, each participant sang a raga of choice for around 12 minutes; expert tabla sangat in each case was provided by Namdhari students. The final round was judged by vocalist Pt Ajoy Chakraborty.
This initiative has not only given a platform to serious aspirants from various schools of music from all over India, but has also drawn attention to the immense role that this institution has been playing in patronising Indian classical music over the decades.
The late Satguru Partap Singhji invested a lot of time and resources, ensuring talented children were given training by masters of classical music. A great classical music lover, he established the Namdhari Sangeet Vidyalaya at Bhaini Sahib. Ustad Nihal Singh, the exponent of the ‘jori’, represented the Sikh musical legacy of a bygone age, and taught for years at Bhaini Sahib. A well-known and documented fact is that when Rajan and Sajan Mishra, then unknown singers from Benaras, were despondent about their future as classical vocalists, it was Satguru Partap Singhjii who inspired them to continue, promising that they would not regret their decision. He was a close friend of practically every maestro of the time, including Ustad Vilayat Khan and Ustad Amjad Ali Khan, to name just two.
London-based Ustad Sukhvinder Singh, affectionately known as Pinky, who lived in Bhaini Sahib till he was 11 and thereafter trained under Pt Kishen Maharaj in Benaras, shares how he would play badminton with Ustad Vilayat Khan, who would stay at Bhaini Sahib for days with his family.
The Namdharis have had a tradition of both learning and performing and this is continuing even among the younger generation. Apart from stalwarts like Ustad Sukhvinder Singh, young tabla practitioners like Delhi-based Fateh Singh are continuing their training under Punjab gharana doyen Pt Yogesh Samsi, even though the latter is Mumbai-based.
Over the years, regular concerts and workshops have been held at Bhaini Sahib, which is also a patron of the oldest music festival in North India, Baba Harivallabh Sangeet Sammelan, held annually at Jalandhar in the last week of December.
For the last nine years, an annual classical music festival has been held at Bhaini Sahib. This year, its 10th edition, being held from November 25 to 27, was an eagerly awaited event in not just Punjab, but all over India. The star performers included Mumbai-based violinist Kala Ramnath (who was to perform on Day Two), Kolkata-based sarod player Tejendra Narayan Mazumdar, Jaiteerth Mevundi from Dharwar and Yogesh Samsi, all of whom perform on Sunday. The younger generation of able musicians included Delhi sitarist Mehtab Ali Niazi, accompanied by the whiz kid of tabla, Ishaan Ghosh from Mumbai. Incidentally, Ishaan is also a gifted sitarist. On Saturday, an unusual jugalbandi between Satyajit Talwalkar on the tabla and Bernard Schimpelsberger on the drums mesmerised the audience.
The winner of the vocal competition would also be given this prestigious platform to perform at, besides two local artists, Ratna Malviya on sitar and Kirpal Singh Panesar on that uniquely Punjab instrument, the taar shehnai.
Seeing the pristine white covered heads of the Namdhari audience is an unforgettable sight, a reminder that the future of classical music in Punjab is in safe hands at Bhaini Sahib.