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Last week, a friend told me that there was a classical kirtaniya from Delhi visiting the bay area, and that he will be singing at the San Jose Gurudwara. I had not heard of him … Bhai Nitendar Singh. Bhai sahib had some time in the east coast earlier this year and lately he had been singing at the San Jose Gurudwara. Although I couldn’t go to the Gurudwara that day, I was somewhat excited because my friend told me he could get a recording of the kirtan.

I have always felt that Kirtan programs are like box of chocolates — you get a lot of treats, but sometimes you are blown away by a surprise. So, being ever hopeful, I pestered my friend to send me the audio recording of the performance. I got it earlier today. And I was blown away by one of the shabads.

There were five shabads in the recording sent to me. The first one was an asavari shabad in sulfakta. It was a nice composition and I would probably go back to it after I had finished listening to the rest of the program. However, that was not to be.

I started playing the second shabad. It was ‘Dheerao Dekh Tumhare Rangaa.’ Bhai Nitendar claimed that this could possibly be a Samund Singh composition.

Dheero Dekh Tumare Ranga in Bilawal set to Ek Taal

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I heard this reet, and I could not stop listening to it.

This is beautiful as bilawal gets. All the elements of the raag are present — the Ga Ma Re Sa, the Re Ga Ma Pa, the Dha Ni Sa Dha Pa. Still this is not stale at all, it is as fresh as when it was perhaps first sung — in the middle of the last century. And as someone who has been setting new compositions to fit the rules of a traditional raag, creating a fresh composition that adheres to the quality of the raag is exceptionally difficult. On top of the freshness, the composition has an amazing use of the poetry — the weight of the composition lies squarely on the rhyming elements. This masterpiece is the work of a master.

I must’ve heard it 4 or 5 times when my phone rang. It was Friday night and everyone in the family wanted to go out have Pizza. I had opted out of the shopping activities for the evening, but dinner was on.

I dragged myself out and went to a new Pizza place in San Ramon. We must have spent around 2 hours at this Pizza/sports bar, and the pizza was very good. A strong base, colorful toppings, and savory … just like a finely buttered bilawal reet. Freshness abound! The shabad did not stop playing in my head. I couldn’t wait to come back and hit the play button to listen to it several times again.

One possible critique for this composition is the addition of “Mai Vaari” to the rahao line. “Mai Vaari” does not occur in the shabad. Perhaps this was an attempt on the composers part to highlight the first-person appeal of the shabad, which is often misinterpreted. For the purists, who want to adhere to gurbani ‘as is’, there is an easy way to fix that — just dont sing the “Mai Vaari” and elongate “Dheero.”

This is not the first time I was bowled over by Bhai Samund Singh’s Bilawal. This is the second. One of his compostions for Tere Gun Gavaan had gripped me similarly a few years ago. That was my introduction to Bhai Samund Singh. He sang this shabad in a second bilawal reet as well: Tere Gun Gavan; and even that is not the popular bilawal teen taal that is heard across gurudwaras in the world today. Bhai Samund Singh had a liking for freshness, and a liking for Bilawal. I am more confident than by Bhai Nitendar Singh, that the masterful composition came from Bhai Samund Singh.

Alaaps and sargams, which are more dependent on the performer and not the composer, were nearly not as exceptional as the composition. So I really want to listen to this shabad being sung by Bhai Samund Singh, who, like his other recordings, will likely have poured hours of love into it. I looked but I couldn’t find any recordings of Bhai Samund Singh singing this shabad. I will keep my search going and if I can’t find it, I might spend a couple years honing it myself. Unless I can find a rendition by Bhai Samund Singh, this shabad is a leading contender for my favorite recordings of 2008 which I plan to publish in January 2009.

PS:
The other shabads from that morning:

Har ka Bilohna Biloh in Asavari, Sulfakta

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Rasna Japti Tuhi Tuhi in Shudha Sarang in Teen Taal

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Man Charnarbind Upaas (?) in Gujri in Roopak.

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Raajan Kai Raaja in Gunkali set in Ek Taal

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