In this dark age of Kali Yuga, the Kirtan of the Lord’s praises is most sublime and exhalted.

With the grace of Waheguru, the love held by Australian Sikh youth for their invaluable heritage of Gurmat Sangeet is so strong that not even a global pandemic could get in the way.

In a tradition that is now into its 19th year, the youth of Sydney prepare their shabad recital and instrumental performances with great enthusiasm and love, and come together each year for two intense days of inspiring and supporting one another in the spirit of healthy competition. 

This annual event, which consists of both solo and group (jatha) divisions across a range of age groups and categories, is an important part of our community’s endeavour to keep the flame of Gurmat Sangeet alive in the hearts and minds of our newest generations.

Despite the troubling and unprecedented situation created by the outbreak of a global pandemic, there was no question of allowing the tradition to fall by the wayside this year. Parents, gurudwara management and volunteers collaborated to create and maintain a safe environment for the participants, judges and audience, and, despite the turnout remaining as large as ever with 181 participants, strict sanitisation and social distancing protocols remained consistently in effect throughout.

One of the hallmarks of this event is that participants are encouraged to sing shabads in the prescribed or nirdharit raag as stipulated in Guru Granth Sahib ji. This year was no different and the participants continue to grow in their learning of this complex and beautiful musical and spiritual tradition. Awards were presented to the first, second and third place-getters according to age and event categories, and all participants were presented certificates and awards to mark their achievement in learning and participating. 

This eagerly awaited competition is held in memory of the renowed Keertania Bhai Hira Singh ji (1871 – 1926), one of the great near-contemporary leaders of our community who played a pivotal role in the revival of the Sikh religion in the tumultuous days of the early twentieth century.

Through Gurbani Kirtan, Bhai Sahib promoted the mission of Guru Nanak Dev ji in places as far-flung as Barmah, Baluchistan and Sind, inspiring many households and individuals to re-join the Sikh community after the political and economic circumstances of the time had caused their families to temporarily abandon their faith.

His contribution to the field of education is equally important, as recorded by Bhai Veer Singh ji in the “Khalsa Samachar” publication of 1951 (on the occasion of the 25th anniversary of Bhai Hira Singh ji’s passing). The kirtan offerings (bheta) collected by Bhai Sahib would be leveraged to establish numerous Khalsa schools, orphanages and other institutions for children and the underprivileged, giving rise to a connected ecosystem of learning and an organised means of economic and social advancement for the rapidly developing Sikh community across the north of India. One of many examples of this legacy is the Farooka Khalsa High School in Ambala Cantonment, which was originally established in the Farooka village in what is now Pakistan, entirely from Bhai Hira Singh ji’s kirtan bheta. This institution continues to operate as a safe haven and home of learning for children to this day.

It is in the light of this narrative of selfless service to the community and lifelong dedication to the tradition of Gurmat Sangeet that this annual event is held. It is hard to resist the idea that Bhai Hira Singh ji would be greatly proud of today’s youth, and of their zeal and devotion to keeping the flame of Gurmat Sangeet alive in the face of modern challenges and social pressures.

The competition organisers are grateful to the management of Sri Guru Singh Sabha, Revesby, to the many tireless teachers, judges and volunteers, and especially to the enthusiastic young participants and their parents who make this competition a success, year after year.

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~Amarjit Singh Chawla

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