Generous contribution by Harjinder Singh
Kirtan and Katha are an integral part of the Sikh Religion. Kirtan is the singing of praises to Vahiguru and Vahiguru's loved ones, it will normally involve musical instruments and Kirtan is often performed in Gurudwaras by trained singers known as Ragis. It can be compared with traditions in other religions - such as hymn singing in Christianity, singing 'Bhajans' in Hinduism and singing 'Qawals' in Islam. Having said that, Kirtan is unique in that it was prescribed as a regular and integral part of the religion. In some Gurudwaras, Kirtan is performed twice daily. In the morning, a section from the Guru Granth Sahib known as the Asa-Di-Var is sung, and at night, after the Rahiras has been read, Kirtan is performed again.
The origins of Katha can be traced back to the times of the Guru. Guru Nanak performed his first sermon after his summoning into Vahiguru's court. It was normal for Kirtan to be performed followed by the katha. The Gurus encouraged for trusted members of the sangat (congregation) of remote locations to spread the word of the Vahiguru in the form of Katha and Kirtan. During the persecution of the Sikhs, Katha and Kirtan had become very rare, but survived in it's original form till today. Kirtan and Katha are sometimes performed in parallel by a preacher who happens to be talented in Kirtan also.
In the time of the first Guru - Guru Nanak , Kirtan was performed by the Guru himself and a disciple called Bhai Mardana. Bhai Mardana was a Dum (bard), he earned his living by playing music, upon meeting the Guru however, he spent the rest of his days in the Guru's service. Bhai Mardana played the Rabab - a stringed instrument, whilst the Guru sang a shabad.
Kirtan was performed twice daily - morning and night. The Guru taught the importance of Kirtan, for it allowed all the sangat to participate actively in the worship of Vahiguru.
In most Gurudwaras, Kirtan is performed only on a Sunday, on that occasion, more than one group of Ragis may be booked into hourly slots. The Kirtan may include discourses and sermons - this is known as katha. The Ragi may translate the Gurbani or discuss historic incidents and the lives of the Gurus.
Kirtan should be composed of shabads primarily from the Guru Granth Sahib, it may also include compositions from the Dasam Granth, Bhai Gurdas' Vars and the works of Bhai Nand Lal. In any case, kirtan and katha must always have a spiritual basis. Sometimes Ragis may sing a kavita (poem) this is acceptable - again - if the poem is connected to the Sikh tenets.
Kirtan is a unique form of prayer, it brings the sangat together into prayer it can be very spiritually uplifting. Learning Kirtan can involve learning how to play the tabla, and/or learning the Rag system of classical music.
Harbans Singh, Balvinder Singh Rangila, Harjinder Singh of Siri Nagar, Professor Darshan Singh, Sant Anoop Singh and Professor Satnam Singh Sethi are some of the most well known Ragis of today, they have achieved international status as a result.