THE Namdhari sect of Sikhs moved its center to the Bhaini Sahib near Ludhiana about 100 years ago. Keeping alive the Sikh Gurus tradition of spiritual training through music, today it is a large center where not only classical music instruction is given to the youth, but music concerts are also regularly held.
This year, as a novelty, it has been a national vocal music contest, with 165 applicants. Held last week, each contestant sang a raga of her choice for about 12 minutes; Namdhari students provided expert sangat table in each case. The final round was judged by vocalist Pt Ajoy Chakraborty.
This initiative has not only provided a platform for serious aspirants from various music schools across India but has also drawn attention to the immense role this institution has played in patronizing Indian classical music for decades.
The late Satguru Partap Singhji invested a lot of time and resources in ensuring that talented children were trained as classical music teachers. A great lover of classical music, he established the Namdhari Sangeet Vidyalaya at Bhaini Sahib. Ustad Nihal Singh, the exponent of ‘jori’, represented the Sikh musical legacy of a bygone age and taught for years at the 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 them that they would not regret their decision. He was close friends with virtually all the masters of the day, including Ustad Vilayat Khan and Ustad Amjad Ali Khan, to name just two.
London-based Ustad Sukhvinder Singh, affectionately known as Pinky, who lived at Bhaini Sahib until he was 11 years old and then trained with Pt Kishen Maharaj in Benaras, shares how he played badminton with Ustad Vilayat Khan, who stayed at Bhaini Sahib for days. with his family.
The Namdharis have had a tradition of both learning and acting and this continues even among the younger generation. As well as stalwarts like Ustad Sukhvinder Singh, young tabla players like Delhi-based Fateh Singh continue their training under Punjab gharana dean Pt Yogesh Samsi, although the latter is based in Mumbai.
Over the years, regular concerts and workshops have been held at Bhaini Sahib, who is also a patron of North India’s oldest music festival, Baba Harivallabh Sangeet Sammelan, held annually in Jalandhar in the last week of december.
For the past nine years, an annual classical music festival has been held at the Bhaini Sahib. This year, its 10th edition, which was held from 25-27 November, was a highly anticipated event not only in Punjab, but across India. Star performers included Mumbai-based violinist Kala Ramnath (who would perform on day two), Kolkata-based sarodist Tejendra Narayan Mazumdar, Dharwar’s Jaiteerth Mevundi and Yogesh Samsi, who performed on Sunday. The younger generation of trained musicians included Delhi sitarist Mehtab Ali Niazi, accompanied by tabla wunderkind Ishaan Ghosh from Mumbai. By the way, Ishaan is also a gifted sitarist. On Saturday, an unusual jugalbandi between Satyajit Talwalkar on tabla and Bernard Schimpelsberger on drums captivated the audience.
The winner of the vocal competition would also receive this prestigious platform to perform, in addition to two local artists, Ratna Malviya on sitar and Kirpal Singh Panesar on that unique instrument from Punjab, the taar shehnai.
Seeing the pristine white draped heads of the Namdhari audience is an unforgettable sight, a reminder that the future of classical music in Punjab is in good hands at the Bhaini Sahib.