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This year’s Bhai Mardana Festival featured a range of artistes from New Zealand and India performing to a full house at the Mangere Arts Centre in Auckland on August 3.

Hosted under the aegis of Auckland’s Naad Charitable Trust, performances at the event were steeped in the holy Sikh tradition of Gurmat Sangeet, a five-hundred-year-old musical tradition that is unique to the Sikh religion.

The tradition traces back to the religion’s founder Guru Nanak, who was born a Hindu and his childhood friend Bhai Mardana, a Muslim. The two inseparable friends travelled across the Indian subcontinent and the Middle East spreading Guru Nanak’s divine message, as minstrels singing and teaching.

Subsequent Gurus of Sikhism refined and greatly enriched the tradition over the centuries. This musical tradition is based on Hindustani Shastriya traditions, which shone through brightly in the many performances at Saturday’s concert.

The evening began with an ensemble of students performing on Dilrubas and violins led by teacher Daljeet Kaur to Gurpreet Singh’s accompaniment on table. This first instrumental ensemble was a treat to listen as much as to watch, with excellent lighting and some great stage décor.

The surprise package of the evening was the story of the Journey of Bhai Mardana and Guru Nanak retold by the tiny pair of Swarleen Kaur and Akalveer Singh in a most innovative narration-cum-play acting style aided by Tarminder Kaur’s narration and an informative slide show playing in the backdrop.

The whole story of Bhai Mardana and Guru Nanak couldn’t have been told in a more succinct and engaging fashion through the young but very talented artistes, who used all of their recent school vacation rehearsing for this event. Their performance was flawless and the rich applause was well deserved. Kudos to producing and script-writing team for this innovative item.

The relatively rare musical instrument Rabab was deftly wielded by Bhai Mahabeer Singh, Hazoori raagi at Darbar Sahib (Golden Temple in Amritsar) who came here for the occasion.  Auckland’s well known Manjit Singh accompanied him on Tabla. He presented his Rabab solo in raag Pooriya Kalyan and followed by a shabad sung in Raag Bairari (one of the rare raags only sung for Gurbani kirtan these days).

Rhythm School teacher Daljeet Kaur once again led students in Parhtaal singing by the in raag Dhanashree, similar to the popular Hindustani raag Bhimpalasi, accompanied by Manjit Singh and Gurpreet Singh on Tabla, playing at either end of the stage.

Harjit Singh performed Parhtaal in raag Malhar and then performed Shabad in raag Tukhari (a raag composed by Guru Nanak) and raag Bhairavi accompanied by Manjit Singh on Tabla and Mahabeer Singh on Rabab.

The evening concluded with Tabla jugalbandi by Manjit Singh and students Gurpreet Singh, Vipul Dev and Harpreet Singh on harmonium.

Bhai Mardana Music Festival 2019 presented by Naad charitable supported by Creative Communities NZ.

First appeared in The Indian Weekender of 9 August 2019