Akal Takht Jathedar Giani Harpreet Singh has asked the Shiromani Gurdwara Parbandhak Committee (SGPC) to remove the harmonium from the holiest of Sikh shrines, Harmandir Sahib, popularly known as Golden Temple, in Amritsar, as it is not part of the authentic Sikh traditions.
As per the highest temporal seat of Sikhs, the harmonium is an instrument with colonial roots and was introduced in India by the British.
It has urged that the harmoniums be replaced in three years with traditional string instruments during kirtans.
However, Sikh scholars strike differing notes. They say in modern times there is a shortage of traditional string instrument players.
Also the ‘sangat’ or devotees, who used to enjoy hymns on the tunes of harmonium will not enjoy that melody they are used to.
Also it will be almost impossible for the SGPC, considered a mini-parliament of Sikh religious affairs as it has control over Sikh religious affairs, manages gurdwaras in Punjab, Haryana, and Himachal Pradesh, to arrange players of traditional string instruments.
Every day, the ‘Gurbani kirtan’ in the Golden Temple lasts for over 20 hours. For that there is need of at least 15 hymn singers to sing about 31 ragas. Only five of them have the experience to perform on string instruments.
To overcome the shortage, Gurmat Sangeet departments in SGPC-runs colleges have recently started training in string instruments.
“It was blissful when harmonium was not in use by raagis,” says a Punjabi University professor who specialises in Gurmat Sangeet.
However, critics see banishing the harmonium a travesty. They say listen to ‘raag kirtan’ with string instruments and “you will know the difference”.
“While the instrument (harmonium) may not have originated in India, it found a second life in India. Ghazals, qawwalis, Hindustani music and Bollywood music have used the harmonium generously,” wrote a critic on Twitter.
Another critic wrote: “Interesting call for how kirtan is performed in Harmandir Sahib. Also very necessary is allowing women to perform as well. That women are being blocked from this is a travesty.”