In the shadow of Guru Nanak
By Jasvir Kaur Rababan
It Really Started With Music
Guru Nanak is a crucial figure in my life. My spiritual journey begins like many, as a child growing up in a Panjabi family, going to the gurdwara for Panjabi classes, kirtan classes and gatka was my connection to Sikhi.
I knew of Guru Nanak from the Sakhian (stories) that I had heard from my dad or at Gurmat camps. At that point in my life I did not have what I would call a strong connection, it wasn’t until much later in life that this beautiful connection developed. The stories I heard sounded great, opening so much creative thought in my young mind, to hear that a young child can have such a powerful voice and create such intentional change at such a tender age was mind blowing.
I knew that Guru Nanak travelled a lot with his friend Bhai Mardana, sang kirtan and was not afraid to speak his truth regardless of the consequences, for me as a young child these components were all very appealing. I wanted to have the same power and strength but I began to realize it was not that easy.
The quest was always there and evolving in its own way through life and all of life’s experiences. It was in my late teens/early 20’s when I was truly ready to learn and explore the life and teachings of Guru Nanak Dev Ji. At a time when my academic study of Sikh Music lead me to learn and understand the difference between Sikhi & Sikhism. I would say that this was the turning point, when I truly started to admire the methods that Guru Nanak adopted to be an activist and revolutionary.
I was astounded that love can create such powerful and lasting change. We read in history about many individuals or leaders adopting force as a tool to attempt change, but here we are, hundreds of years later as products of His seeds of love. Love appears to me a much stronger, much more effective tool for change, but the path of love is a difficult one as Guru Nanak says himself:
jau tau prem khelan kaa chaau ||
If you desire to play this game of love with Me,
sir dhar talee galee meree aau ||
then step onto My Path with your head in hand.
eit maarag pair dhareejai ||
When you place your feet on this Path,
sir dheejai kaan na keejai ||20||
give Me your head, and do not pay any attention to public opinion. ||20||
I was fortunate to be introduced to the ancient practice of Sikh Music with the opportunity to learn these traditional techniques and practices from my teacher of 16 years, Yogi Professor Surinder Singh, who actively challenged my existing ideas of Sikhi and encouraged me to question and research the new ideas I was being presented.
A difficult concept to grasp was to detach from what my eyes and ears had grown accustomed to, and explore the idea that kirtan was possibly different at the time of the Guru’s to what I have grown up with. As the chapters of my life continued to evolve so did I, ever ready and excited to embrace the opportunities to grow in every new challenge. When I came to learn of the musical instruments created by the Sikh Guru’s I was astonished to learn a new side to the Guru’s. Not only did they do everything they did and give us so much, leading people out of oppression, making Kings from paupers, being the beacons of love, fairness and light, that they were. They were also Master musicians, skilled in the art of music therapy for which they created specific raags (emotionally infused musical modes) and musical instruments to carve the human
For The Love Of Rabab
When my own musical journey evolved from Dilruba to Rabab I evolved too, it was a love at first sight (in this case ‘first hold’) moment.
For the power that these instruments possess I do not believe that we have the abilty to ‘choose’ one of these sacred instruments, I feel that Guru has already assigned those relationships (sanjog) and we must wait patiently to be chosen. When the moment came and my Rabab chose me, I was immediately different, something inside me changed. It’s difficult to describe but I felt a surreal sense of belonging, I knew that this was ‘my’ instrument, this was my path and I was ready to take the next step.
My love and faith in Guru and Gurbani has kept me strong and active through many difficult moments and challenges in life, there are countless incidents that I know I could not have made it through without the love in my heart for Guru Nanak.
Through Difficult Times
In recent years, I struggled deeply with PTSD and anxiety after the murder of my brother, its not something that is easy to talk about or share but I also understand the importance of real talk and want to honor this truth.
Death and Sikhi, mental health and Sikhi, life and Sikhi, so many relevant topics here but they are all unimportant at a time of crisis when life gets real, because our current infrastructures do not equip us to deal with or survive through such tragedy and pain. This reminds me of the divide between Sikhi and Sikhism. For me Sikhism is the institutionalization of a religion and Sikhi is the liberation of minds, voices and love taken from the example of the life Guru Nanak lived.
Guru Nanak believed in reality and prepared his Sikhs for life’s truth, both the ugly and the beautiful. I see myself as I stand in an ugly truth, my mind asks me, how do I survive this, how do I make it through, what do I do?
The ‘people’ around me know not how to console me, they care not to know my truth, and they haven’t time for my reality, for this is what the institution has created.
I step away, ready to close the doors and grasp somehow at survival to not suffocate in this pain, then I remember that Nanak’s way is different, this is not His way, I pray ‘let me remember His way, let me follow His footsteps and walk in His shadow’.
As my hands reach to lift my Rabab and my voice trembles to utter his bani, my heart cries in Suhee (the raag of deep love), for the first time in months my mind is silent, my body finally able to breathe! I will not suffocate! I can breathe! As the anxiety eases and my mind slows down in this internal chaos, I feel a serene depth of gratitude to Guru Nanak for saving me! For creating something so real and relevant, something that I was blessed to experience the worth of, something so sacred and powerful, Kirtan. His technology of Raag, Gurbani and Rabab to create Kirtan, saved me from drowning in the pain of life’s reality and learning slowly how to build more mental and emotional stability than I previously had. I was blessed to get a glimpse as to how powerful His thought process was to strengthen and build from the inside (the mind), so that His Sikhs remain unshaken in the most turbulent of times.
I Am A Rababan of Guru Nanak
My name is a tribute to everything Guru Nanak has given me and blessed me with, with deepest gratitude for my journey with my Rabab, its my way of become His and owning my choices.
On a social level it’s me challenging and actively opposing the current mindset of ‘Panjabi’s’ (I wont say Sikh’s, as Sikh’s are not supposed to follow such a practice) in the 21st century who still uphold the caste system that Guru Nanak abolished.
I changed my surname legally to Rababan to embody what I believe in and who I choose to become just as Guru Nanak did. I choose to follow in His footsteps and create my own legacy as His Kaur. I am a Rababan of Guru Nanak
Guru Is Everything
I think of Guru Nanak often, every time I see or hold my Rabab (bear in mind I travel often and never without my Rabab, same as my Guru Nanak), every time I am in situations where people and their voices/opinions are being silenced, I think of Him in almost everything I do.
If I didn’t have Guru Nanak in my life, I don’t want to think where I would be, I definitely wouldn’t have the opportunity to serve the sangat with kirtan, nor share the power that kirtan has in building mental and emotional strength.
I would be lost without my Guru.
Guru Nanak means EVERYTHING to me
My Guru Nanak
Courtesy of www.sikhnet.com