The harmonium is prominent in Sikh practices of devotional music known as kirtan and yet its significance has barely been addressed in Euro-American scholarship. Following on the heels of a recent ban against using the instrument at the holiest temple of the Sikhs, Harmandir Sahib (popularly known as the Golden Temple), this article explores how the ban seeks to discard this colonial instrument and return to playing traditional string instruments (tanti saz) associated with the courts (darbar) of the Sikh Gurus. This study is the first to examine primary missionary sources from the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries with the aim of tracing the journeys of the harmonium in Punjab. We see how missionaries introduced the instrument to potential converts; how natives first began playing the instrument and brought it into local spaces of music making; and how the harmonium entered Harmandir Sahib as an accompanying instrument that reigned supreme for over a century, going so far as to displace string instruments and oral repertoires. I also analyze audio recordings to demonstrate the unique ways Sikh practitioners use the harmonium in devotional worship. In closing, this article considers the broad implications of the ban in relation to pedagogical reform and the contentious issue of why women remain unauthorized to offer kirtan at Harmandir Sahib despite their musical mastery.

Author Biography

Gurminder Kaur Bhogal is Catherine Mills Davis Professor of Music at Wellesley College.

Creative Commons License

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License.

Ex 1 Mera_Baid_Guru_Gobinda.mp3 (6552 kB)
Bibi Ashupreet Kaur and her sisters, “Mera Baid Guru Govinda.”

Ex 2 So_Kat_Jaane_Peer_Parayi.mp3 (54486 kB)
Bhai Shamsher Singh Zakhmi, “So Kat Jaane Peer Parayi.”

Ex 3 Kirtan_at_Shree_Darbar_Saheb.mp3 (62088 kB)
Bhai Nirmal Singh Khalsa, “Jog Baneya Tera Kirtan Gayee.”

Ex 4 Har_Kiratan_Sunai_Har_Kiratan_Gavai.mp3 (6417 kB)
Bhai Gagandeep Singh (Sri Ganganagar Wale), “Har Kirtan Sunai Har Kirtan Gavai.”

Ex 5 Jagat_mein_joothi_dekhi_preet.mp3 (6427 kB)
Bhai Gurcharan Singh and Bhai Avtar Singh, “Jagat Mein Jhooti Dekhi Preet.”

Ex 6 Prabh_dori_hath_tumare.mp3 (7681 kB)
Bhai Harjinder Singh Srinagar Wale, “Prabh Dori Haath Tumare.”

Ex 7 Dhan_dhann_o_ram.mp3 (3793 kB)
Bibi Jaswant Kaur, “Dhan Dhan O Ram Bin Bajai.”

Ex 8 Bhai_Anantvir_Singh_Bhai_Amolak_Singh.mp3 (27947 kB)
Bhai Anantvir Singh, “Madho Hum Aisae Tu Aisaa.”

Ex 9 Ab_Mohe_Ram_Apna_Kar_Janea.mp3 (31215 kB)
Bhai Beant Singh Bijli, “Ab Mohe Ram Apna Kar Janea.”




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