What is the Sikh attitude to music?

Music is an interesting thing. It has an effect on us. It also has a tendency to stay in our minds. If you listen to something, it will stick in your mind. If you listen to Gurbani Shabads, you will notice they will go through your mind automatically. Same goes with manmukh (contrary to the Guru’s teachings) songs. They too will stick in your head.

People can call Gursikhs fanatics or extremists, but a Sikh who is serious about their jeevan (spirituality) should avoid listening to songs by manmukhs. These clearly can’t have a good effect on us. As someone grows spiritually they themselves will avoid such things and not like them.

Bhai Nand Lal Ji records Guru Gobind Singh Ji’s prescribed code of conduct as:

ਤਿ੍ਯਾ ਰਾਗ ਸੁਨਿਹ ਚਿਤ ਲਾਇ ॥ ਸੁਨਹੁ ਲਾਲ ਸੋ ਜਮਪੁਰਿ ਜਾਇ ॥੧੭॥
“Those who listen to dirty lyrics and lustful tunes with attention, listen Nand Laal Ji, they will be punished by the angel of death.”
(Rehatnama Bhai Nand Laal Singh Ji)

Gurbani says:

ਰਾਗੁ ਬਿਲਾਵਲੁ ਮਹਲਾ ੫ ਚਉਪਦੇ ਦੁਪਦੇ ਘਰੁ ੬
ੴ ਸਤਿਗੁਰ ਪ੍ਰਸਾਦਿ ॥
ਮੇਰੇ ਮੋਹਨ ਸ੍ਰਵਨੀ ਇਹ ਨ ਸੁਨਾਏ ॥
ਸਾਕਤ ਗੀਤ ਨਾਦ ਧੁਨਿ ਗਾਵਤ ਬੋਲਤ ਬੋਲ ਅਜਾਏ ॥੧॥ ਰਹਾਉ ॥

ਸੇਵਤ ਸੇਵਿ ਸੇਵਿ ਸਾਧ ਸੇਵਉ ਸਦਾ ਕਰਉ ਕਿਰਤਾਏ ॥
ਅਭੈ ਦਾਨੁ ਪਾਵਉ ਪੁਰਖ ਦਾਤੇ ਮਿਲਿ ਸੰਗਤਿ ਹਰਿ ਗੁਣ ਗਾਏ ॥੧॥
ਰਸਨਾ ਅਗਹ ਅਗਹ ਗੁਨ ਰਾਤੀ ਨੈਨ ਦਰਸ ਰੰਗੁ ਲਾਏ ॥
ਹੋਹੁ ਕ੍ਰਿਪਾਲ ਦੀਨ ਦੁਖ ਭੰਜਨ ਮੋਹਿ ਚਰਣ ਰਿਦੈ ਵਸਾਏ ॥੨॥
ਸਭਹੂ ਤਲੈ ਤਲੈ ਸਭ ਊਪਰਿ ਏਹ ਦ੍ਰਿਸਟਿ ਦ੍ਰਿਸਟਾਏ ॥
ਅਭਿਮਾਨੁ ਖੋਇ ਖੋਇ ਖੋਇ ਖੋਈ ਹਉ ਮੋ ਕਉ ਸਤਿਗੁਰ ਮੰਤ੍ਰੁ ਦ੍ਰਿੜਾਏ ॥੩॥
ਅਤੁਲੁ ਅਤੁਲੁ ਅਤੁਲੁ ਨਹ ਤੁਲੀਐ ਭਗਤਿ ਵਛਲੁ ਕਿਰਪਾਏ ॥
ਜੋ ਜੋ ਸਰਣਿ ਪਰਿਓ ਗੁਰ ਨਾਨਕ ਅਭੈ ਦਾਨੁ ਸੁਖ ਪਾਏ ॥੪॥੧॥੮੧॥
“Raag Bilaaval, Fifth Mehl, Chau-Padas And Du-Padas, Sixth House: One Universal Creator God. By The Grace Of The True Guru: O my fascinating Lord, let me not listen to the faithless cynic, singing his songs and tunes, and chanting his useless words. ||1||Pause|| I serve, serve, serve, serve the Holy Saints; forever and ever, I do this. The Primal Lord, the Great Giver, has blessed me with the gift of fearlessness. Joining the Company of the Holy, I sing the Glorious Praises of the Lord. ||1|| My tongue is imbued with the Praises of the inaccessible and unfathomable Lord, and my eyes are drenched with the Blessed Vision of His Darshan. Be Merciful to me, O Destroyer of the pains of the meek, that I may enshrine Your Lotus Feet within my heart. ||2|| Beneath all, and above all; this is the vision I saw. I have destroyed, destroyed, destroyed my pride, since the True Guru implanted His Mantra within me. ||3|| Immeasurable, immeasurable, immeasurable is the Merciful Lord; he cannot be weighed. He is the Lover of His devotees. Whoever enters the Sanctuary of Guru Nanak, is blessed with the gifts of fearlessness and peace. ||4||||1||81|| “
(Ang 820)

Sikh Raagis (musicians) singing Sacred Hymns from Sri Guru Granth Sahib Ji.

Sikh Raagis (musicians) performing Keertan (devotional singing)

Following Rehat (disciplined living) leads us to experiencing and enjoying the benefits of Gurbani. Gurbani clearly states “Geeth” (ਗੀਤ), “Naad” (ਨਾਦ), and “Dhun” (ਧੁਨਿ). This incorporates all lyrics, all beats, all tunes of the faithless. If one is singing about the love of women, their caste, their wealth etc they are singing nonsense of faithless cynicism or what leads away from higher consciousness living in accordance to the Guru’s teachings. The Guru is clear in saying:

ਆਵਹੁ ਸਿਖ ਸਤਿਗੁਰੂ ਕੇ ਪਿਆਰਿਹੋ ਗਾਵਹੁ ਸਚੀ ਬਾਣੀ ॥
“Come, O beloved Sikhs of the True Guru, and sing the True Word of His Bani.”
(Ang 920)

The key to all singing should be the love Waheguru and Guru Sahib, and Naam and Bani is what leads us to the Divine. According to one’s spiritual ambitions and aspirations one chooses to live the way of the Guru. Someone who is focused on spiritually elevating their lives and wishes to live fully immersed in living in the Will of the Guru will express joy and pleasure through singing, listening and delving in the divine-bliss of Gurbani. On the other hand, those who wish to pick and choose aspects of Sikhi or do no aspire to achieve high spiritual consciousness will label Sikhs who do not dance or listen to music as fanatics.

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4 Responses to “What is the Sikh attitude to music?”

  1. Guruchanan Kaur says:

    Sat Siri Akal!
    I’m learning about this path but I always have this confusion with music. I’m a musician I play classical western music and it is my life. Is there any breaking of rehat for being a musician?. Of course I also keep mi mind in Guru Sahib while I’m playinng and I try to play gurbani and learn about kirtan. Thank you

  2. admin says:

    There is nothing objectionable about learning or teaching classical music. The objection is when it promotes social evils and corrupts our minds, for example lyrics and performing in appropriate places.

  3. s.k says:

    can we be singers though?
    i have this strong passion of music and love singing and i really want to grow up into the career of music…so could i be a singer and not go against the rules of sikhi.
    thanks

  4. Admin says:

    Sing Gurbani or songs that benefit humanity and raise awareness of socio-political issues. Singing songs about sex, alcohol, partying, flirting or glorifying other non-Sikh practices is contrary to the Guru’s teachings.

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