Custom dimensions 200x200 px (2)

Bhai Ghulam Muhammad ‘Chand’

One of the last Rababis to perform at the Golden Temple, Amritsar

The Rababi Tradition

The three types of Sikh musicians – rababisragis, and dhadhis continued to flourish during the period of the Gurus. Guru Nanak started the rababi tradition by engaging Bhai Mardana as his accompanist-musician. Formerly the Muslim singers were called mirasis, but Guru Nanak gave them a new name – rababis, because they played on the rabab (rebec) and adopted the Sikh way of life in food, dress and manners. Some of the notable rababis after Mardana were his son ShahjadaBalwand and Satta, Babak – son of Satta, Chatra – the son of Babak, and Saddu and Baddu – the rababis used to perform kirtan regularly at Amritsar before the Partition in 1947. The last of the line of rababis was Bhai Chand whose kirtan the author had the privilege of listening to, before 1947. After the Partition of Punjab, the rababis migrated to Pakistan, the line of rababis is almost dying out without Sikh patronage. Although the rababi tradition itself is extinct, efforts have been made by the likes of Bhai Baldeep Singh and Sikhs by tracing surviving students of Rababis such as Bhai Chand, Bhai Taba, Bhai Lal, and the pakhawaj player, Bhai Nasira.

From: Sikhi Wiki – Encyclopedia of the Sikhs


Life of Bhai Ghulam Muhammad ‘Chand’

Bhai Ghulam Muhammad Chand was born in 1927 in the village of Raja Sansi, near Amritsar in current day India. He was among three brothers who learned the tradition of Kirtan from their father Bhai Chand, also known as Bhai Sunder Giani. Bhai Ghulam Muhammad Chand learned music from his father and uncle, who were of the Rababi musical tradition that stems from the work of Bhai Mardana, a muslim musician and companion of Guru Nanak in his travels.

As a youth, Bhai Ghulam Muhammad Chand travelled across Punjab and Peshawar with his father and uncle to sing at gurdwaras and for Sikh nobles. He also accompanied them in performances of Kirtan at the Golden Temple located in Amritsar and was part of the last Rababis to perform Kirtan at the Golden Temple. The practice of Muslims doing Kirtan at the Golden Temple has been abolished since partition of the sub-continent in 1947.

After the partition in 1947, Bhai Ghulam Muhammad Chand moved to Lahore. There he accompanied Qawwali singers, recited Naats and sang Punjabi Sufi classics till he was discovered and toured India and the United Kingdom to perform Kirtan.

  • He received the Bhai Mardana award by the Punjabi University, Patiala in 2005.
  • He also received the Golden Temple Life Achievement Award in the UK in 2011.
  • Bhai Chand taught Kirtan and classical singing in Lahore. He died on April 29, 2015.

Supporting Material

Irfan Aslam, a journalist with the DAWN daily newspaper of Pakistan, reported on the passing of Bhai Ghulam Muhammad Chand and his lineage though an article titled ‘Bhai Ghulam Muhammad Chand: lost gem of Rababi kirtan singing’ dated 05 May, 2015:

“Bhai Ghulam Muhammad Chand, one of last masters of Rababi singing tradition of Bhai Mardana, the Muslim companion of Baba Guru Nanak, passed away here in Lahore on April 29. Bhai Mardana was the first Rababi (from musical instrument Rabab) and he had got the title from Baba Nanak.

Bhai Chand was born in 1927 in village Raja Sansai, Amritsar, and spent his childhood there, learning music and travelling along his father Bhai Sunder Giani and uncle Bhai Chaand across Punjab and Peshawar to sing kirtan at gurdwaras and for Sikh nobles. His father and uncle were the last Rababis who performed at the Golden Temple before their migration to Lahore in 1947.

Their lineage is traced to Bhai Sadha and Bhai Madha who sang during the lifetime of last two Sikh gurus, Guru Tegh Bahadur and Gudu Gobind Singh.

“After the partition, Bhai Chand had a difficult life here in Lahore and he lived in anonymity, accompanying qawwali singers or reciting Naats or singing Punjabi Sufi classics,” says Nadeem, his son-in-law and a violinist who used to perform in his Sangat.

“In 2005, Shumita, an Indian, heard Bhai Chand singing in the Baithak of Najm Hosain Syed at the Jail Road where he used to often perform. She took Bhai Chand to India where he was received with open arms,” he says, adding that he was given the Bhai Mardana Award by the Punjabi University, Patiala, that year while he got the Golden Temple Life Achievement Award in 2011 in the UK.

Besides getting recognition and awards from India, Bhai Chand received a heartbreak too when he was not allowed to sing at the Golden Temple in 2005 where he used to sing kirtan in the company of his father and uncle.

“He was not allowed to sing there because he was not a Sikh. They put the condition before him to complete five articles of faith of Sikhism to get permission to perform which was not acceptable to him because his family had been singing kirtan since the time of Baba Nanak in their own way, keeping Muslim faith,” says Nadeem.

Bhai Chand trained many of his students in Lahore in kirtan as well as classical singing.

“I got training in kirtan and classical ragas from Baba Ji for four to five years and had a special relationship with him,” says Maham Suhail, a disciple of Bhai Chand.

“He was the last gem of the Rababi Raagis and his rendition of kirtan was so different and unique from other Sikh Shabad kirtan singers as he was carrying the tradition of Bhai Mardana,” she says, adding that Bhai Chand remembered everything that he listened from other masters, including his father and uncle.

“I accompanied Baba Ji in many performances. The last time we performed together was at the All Pakistan Music Conference in Lahore last year,” Maham says.

Nadeem says Bhai Chand was the last custodian of the Rababi tradition though his sons, Naeem (Tabla player) and Moeen (vocalist), would try to keep the tradition intact.

Dr Navtej Purewal, deputy director at the South Asia Institute of the University of London who has done research on Rababis, says most of Rababi Raagis in India had converted to Sikhism after the Partition and they no more remained Rababi as a Rababi kirtan singer must be a Muslim. However, she adds, we cannot call Bhai Chand the last Rababi because his nephew, Amjad, has learnt the art and hopefully he would continue the tradition. She says Bhai Chand’s family was stopped from singing only at Golden Temple though they continued singing kirtans at gurdwaras and it was wrong on the part of some Sikhs to object to the Rababis’ singing at the Golden Temple because Rababis (Muslims) had the blessings of Baba Nanak who had Bhai Mardana as his companion.

She says most of recordings of Bhai Chand’s kirtans are available on the Internet.

Bhai Chand suffered from fever while he had kidney and lung issues too. With all the diseases, his health condition deteriorated and he breathed his last at Mayo Hospital. He was laid to rest at Mian Munshi Graveyard in Bilal Ganj area. Bhai Chand is survived by three daughters and two sons.

His famous compositions included Awal Allah Noor Upaya and Har Ka Bloey Naa.

Published in Dawn, May 7th, 2015”

Discussion on the lineage of Bhai Ghulam Muhammad Chand may also be found through a case study conducted by TAROSA (Teaching Across the Religions of South Asia) titled The Life of a Rababi – Bhai Ghulam Muhammad Chand (1927 – 2015):

“The Life of a Rababi – Bhai Ghulam Muhammad Chand (1927 – 2015)

Bhai Ghulam Muhammad Chand outside former gurdwara Ram Garh in Lahore (2009)

Bhai Ghulam Muhammad Chand was one of three sons who, along with his brothers Bhai Sham and Bhai Bakshi, learned the tradition of kirtan from their father Bhai Chand (also known as Bhai Sunder Giani) who was one of the last Rababis to perform kirtan at the Golden Temple before partition. He passed away in 1949, only two years after the partition.

Bhai Chand senior (Bhai Sundar Giani) one of the last Rababis to perform at the Golden Temple before the partition of 1947.

Bhai Chand traced his Rababi lineage to Bhai Sadha and Bhai Madha, who sang during the lifetimes of the last two Sikh Gurus: Guru Tegh Bahadur and Guru Gobind Singh. Bhai Ghulam Muhammad Chand was born in Raja Sansi, near Amritsar and spent most of his childhood near Amritsar at Chheharta Sahib, in Lahore, and other gurdwaras across the region where his father was positioned.

Bhai Chand senior (Sunder Giani), like his forefathers, was known as an accomplished musician and set up a kirtan academy in the 1920s attached to the gurdwara Ram Garh in Lahore where he taught classical music and kirtan to aspiring musicians and esteemed residents of Lahore. Ironically, the premises of the kirtan academy were occupied by Muslim evacuees in 1947 arriving in Lahore and has subsequently become a school.

Before his death in 2015, Bhai Chand lived in Lahore, Pakistan, where his family have resided since they left Amritsar in 1947. An article on the Rababi tradition provides an interview with Bhai Chand in depicting the changes that have taken place since the the 1920s when Rababis began to be viewed as outsiders within their own tradition (Purewal 2011):

“I remember my paternal uncle and father telling of those (golden) days when we had the security of getting work and receiving audiences and sponsors who wanted to hear us sing in the old style. . . then, no one asked if you were singing in the correct raag (musical notation system). . . people enjoyed listening to us, knowing we were descendants of an old tradition which wasn’t someone else’s tradition, but their own as well as ours. (Interview with Bhai Chand, February 2009, Lahore)”

The sense of location and ownership of the tradition is blurred in this quote in a way which does not privilege religious categories. ‘Ours’ and ‘us’ are used. Reflecting on restrictions of the performance of kirtan in gurdwaras during a visit to India in 2005 and being refused the opportunity to perform at the Golden Temple:

“Who bothered to ask whether we were gursikh (baptized, practicing Sikhs) in those days? Were my ancestors gursikhs? Did they wear the dastaar (turban) and show the signs of being a Sikh? No. But that never stopped them for having a passion for their music and their work… Those people [The Shiromani Gurdwara Prabandhak Committee (SGPC) who manages Gurdwaras in Punjab] have a short vision. …” (Interview with Bhai Chand, November 2008, Lahore).

Bhai Chand points to the Shiromani Gurdwara Prabandhak Committee as a key driving force behind the closing down of religious boundaries by erecting a narrowing definition of Sikh identity in its insistence of only baptized Sikhs being able to perform kirtan.

The iconic status of Bhai Mardana and the case study of Bhai Ghulam Muhammed Chand highlighted here have much sentimental appeal. This appeal shows a longing by many to recover this lost history from dominant histories of difference and estrangement between Sikh and Muslim. Bhai Ghulam Muhammed Chand’s momentous 2004 performance at Punjabi University in Patiala created an emotional atmosphere which can be witnessed in this clip. His historic visit to the UK in 2011 also saw many further emotional performances to eagerly awaiting listeners, wanting to feel part of this marginalised history. The popularity of these visits reminds us that, although such histories are marginalised, tradition does live on, passed orally through the lineages of families stemming from the numerous Rababi families who still survive across Punjab. While some Rababis converted to Sikhism in 1947 at the time of partition in order to maintain their livelihood, others reside in Pakistan where their knowledge has been preserved as a family tradition of resounding pride in a previous era of devotional performance. The Rababi tradition of kirtan thus provides a unique archive of memory, oral history and musical compositions passed down through the generations, providing a window into how one seemingly minor, accompanying tradition sheds light on the making of major religious traditions.

Please visit the References and further reading page to find out where to find out more about this case.”

The references and further reading referred to in the case study links to the following information:

Candler, Edmund (1910) The Mantle of the East. Thomas Nelson and Sons: London.

Fenech, Louis E. (2008) The Darbar of the Sikh Gurus: The Court of God in the World of Men. New Delhi: Oxford University Press.

Gottschalk, Peter (2000) Beyond Hindu and Muslim: Multiple Identity in Narratives from Village India, Oxford University Press.

Kalra, Virinder S. (2014) Sacred and Secular Music: A Postcolonial Approach, Bloomsbury Press: London.

Mandair, Arvind-pal S. (2009) Religion and the Specter of the West: Sikhism, India, Postcoloniality and the Politics of Translation, New York: Columbia University Press.

Murphy, Anne (2012) The Materiality of the Past: History and Representation in Sikh Tradition, Oxford University Press.

Nijhawan, Michael (2006) Dhadi Darbar: Religion, Violence and the Performance of Sikh History, Oxford University Press.

Oberoi, Harjot. (1994) The Construction of Religious Boundaries: Culture, Identity and Diversity in the Sikh Tradition. New York: Oxford University Press.

Purewal, Navtej (2011) “Sikh/Muslim Bhai-Bhai? Towards a Social History of the Rababi Tradition of Shabad Kirtan”, Sikh Formations, Vol. 7, No. 3, pp. 365-382.

Purewal, Navtej and Virinder Kalra (2014) “Adaptation and Incorporation in Ritual Practices at the Golden Temple, Amritsar at the Golden Temple,” Journal of Ritual Studies.

Suthren Hirst, Jacqueline and John Zavos (2011) Religious Traditions in Modern South Asia, London: Routledge

This case study forms part of the larger study categorized by TAROSA as Muslim Minstrels of Sikh Sacred Hymns which may be referred to for additional information and references relied on. TAROSA was formed as a group “in the wake of a one day workshop held in Manchester in January 2011 on the issue ‘Teaching Religions of South Asian Origin’, organised by the Subject Centre for Philosophical and Religious Studies Learning and Teaching Support Network (PRS LTSN) in the UK”. As per the TAROSA website The TAROSA co-ordinating team are listed below:

Jacqueline Suthren Hirst (University of Manchester)

Opinderjit Kaur Takhar (University of Wolverhampton)

David Webster (University of Gloucestershire)

John Zavos (University of Manchester)

Bhai Ghulam Muhammad ‘Chand’ Online

A short self-introductory interview of Bhai Ghulam Muhammad Chand as posted by Virinder Singh on YouTube may be found here.

Another interview of Bhai Ghulam Muhammad Chand, dated 17 January 2012 and presented by the Sant Sucha Singh Archives of Music, is available on YouTube in two parts on the following links:


Recordings of his performances are also available on YouTube. Links are provided below:


Sound recordings of a small informal concert hosted by Bina Jawwad and Jawwad S. Khawaja, at their residence located at 24E/1 Gulberg III, Lahore, sometime before 08 April, 2006, in which Bhai Chand was accompanied by his son Moeen Ahmad and nephew Amjad on vocals and Riaz Ahmed on Tabla, were produced by Farjad Nabi and are available here :

Avhoh Sajna

Avval Allah

Bhinni RehneRiye

Raag: Gorakh Kalyan (composition as sung by Bhai Ghulam Muhammad ‘Chand’)

Aya Mera Banra

Regional Folk – Raag Unknown


Gur Charni

Raag: Khambavati (composition as sung by Bhai Ghulam Muhammad ‘Chand’)


Raag: Bageshri (composition as sung by Bhai Ghulam Muhammad ‘Chand’)




Raag: Hameer (composition as sung by Bhai Ghulam Muhammad ‘Chand’)


Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipiscing elit. Ut elit tellus, luctus nec ullamcorper mattis, pulvinar dapibus leo.