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The Harmonium, now used in Sikh Keertan music, may surprise many as it isn't originally an Indian musical instrument.

Music has a profound impact on our emotions and sense of self. When used effectively, it has the power to deepen our individuality and spiritual growth. Sikh Keertan (devotional music) is a form of devotional singing that has traditionally adhered to a structured framework. Unique stringed instruments were carefully chosen to enhance the emotional resonance of the spiritual messages conveyed through hymns.

Use of Harmonium in Keertan 

The Harmonium, now used in Sikh Keertan music, may surprise many as it isn't originally an Indian musical instrument. Its roots trace back to Europe, where it was known as the Harmonica Organ and used in churches. When Europeans brought it to India, it underwent adaptation into the portable music box we recognize today as the Harmonium. Its portability played a crucial role in aiding Christian missionaries in reaching remote areas of India effectively. Over the span of a century following the British conquest of Punjab, traditional string instruments gradually faded into obscurity, giving way entirely to the dominance of the Harmonium.

In Indian Classical Music, it is believed that the human ear can distinguish twenty-two musical notes within an Octave. However, the Harmonium, with its limited twelve notes per Octave, falls short in capturing the full range of expression. This deficiency is why string instruments are preferred for conveying emotions in music compared to the Harmonium. It's widely acknowledged that the Harmonium is not ideal for Indian music. Traditionally, Sikh Keertan, a form of devotional singing, exclusively utilized string instruments. 

The Harmonium presents a unique advantage in its ease of learning, unlike string instruments which demand years of patient practice to master. While it wasn't ideally suited for Sikh Keertan tradition, its simplicity led to swift acceptance. However, this ease of learning became a double-edged sword, eventually contributing to the decline of the Sikh Keertan tradition over the past century.

Unlike string instruments, the Harmonium lacks the ability to evoke deep emotions in listeners. At its core, Keertan is about delivering a message through words to engage the rational mind, while also stirring emotions through appropriate musical accompaniment.

Many people and groups are reviving the forgotten art of string instruments, which is a positive development. It's reassuring to witness some individuals taking the lead in guiding this resurgence. Satnam Singh, a music teacher at the Sikh Centre in Gurudwara Silat Road, Singapore, is one such person proficient in playing various traditional string instruments.


*Based on an article by Amardeep Singh, published on 19th July 2013 in amardeepphotography.com 


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