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SAMUND SINGH, BHAI

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SAMUND SINGH, BHAI (1901-1972), a leading Sikh musicologist of the twentieth century, trained in music under leading maestros of the art, Sikhs as well as Muslims, was born on 3 March 1901, at the village of Mulla Hamza, in Montgomery district, now in Pakistan. He started his training so young that for many years after he had started giving public performance, he was known as Kaka (child) Samund Singh. His father, Bhai Hazur Singh, was a ragi (musician) of repute and for accompaniment played on a string instrument called taus, so namd because of its peacock shape. For five generations, his ancestors had been performing kirtan at Gurdwara Janam Asthan at Nankana Sahib, the birthplace of Guru Nanak.

Among them Bhai Gurdit Singh had won renown as a deft tabla-player. Samund Singh`s first major performance came at the age of nine when he staged kirtan before a large gathering at a session of the Sikh Educational Conference. Soon he became the rage for Sikh divans throughout the Punjab. His training continued under his father and under other masters. He was quick at memorizing the holy word of the Gurus. Thus his range and repertoire from Gurbani were very wide.

He learnt to play on string instruments such as the taus, dilruba and tanpura besides the harmonium and tabla. He acquired mastery of most of the thirty one ragas in which Gurbani is composed. He excelled in Khayal, Thumari Ahg, Multani Ang, Dhrupad and Dhumar. He began to live and enjoy the Word he sang with exceptional ease and effect. His presence inspired veneration and his performance helped to create a devotional atmosphers.

Samund singh was given employment at Gurdwara Janam Asthan at Nankana Sahib where he performed kirtan with his two companions, Teja Singh and Harnam Singh. He resigned from the position of head ragi after a few years, but continued to live in the holy city of Nankana. He travelled to the remotest corners of the country on invitations from Sikh societies and institutions to perform kirtan. He introduced Gurbani kirtan to Hindu and Muslim lovers of music and great artists, including Bare Ghulam `All Khan. He was among the first Sikh musicians to broadcast kirtan from the Lahore station of All India Radio.

After the partition of 1947, he migrated to Amritsar and performed kirtan at the Golden Temple, later shifting to Ludhiana, He continued to command respect as the most accomplished Sikh musician. In 1970, he was given the Bhai Mardana Music Award by the Punjab Government at a state ceremony at Chandigarh. He gave on the occasion what turned out to be his last major performance. Samund Singh died at Ludhiana on 5 January 1972.

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