At the heart of Bhai Baldeep Singh’s documentary film, Sikh Kīrtan Maryādā, is a deceptively simple question about a core element of Sikh praxis: what is kīrtan? It is the question the filmmaker has devoted the better part of three decades to answering, and through his documentary, the viewer is offered a rare glimpse into the understandings of the leading Sikh musicians and intellectuals in the final decade of the twentieth century.
Throughout that fateful century of socio-cultural upheaval, the singing of kīrtana underwent a signal transformation in which traditional musical forms, instrumentation, performative norms, exegetical approaches, and pedagogical arrangements originating in the revelatory utterances of the Sikh Gurus and transmitted down the centuries by the faithful were supplanted by contemporary musical trends.
Sikh Kīrtan Maryādā captures the reflections and musical renditions of illustrious exponents and nearly forgotten maestros. Of particular note is the inclusion of footage from historically significant kīrtana performances marking the reintroduction of the joṛī, saraṅdā and tāūs, early modern instruments created in the courts of the Sikh Gurus. Bhai Baldeep Singh was responsible for hand-carving them back to life for the first time since 1947, and this film itself was an influential contribution towards a renaissance in Sikh praxis.
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