Rabbi Shergill’s Sikh Call: Pagri Sambhal Jatta

Guest Blogged by Mewa Singh.

A bit late, but every bit warranted.

Let me begin. I am a HUGE Rabbi Shergill fan. I went to a Dharmendra/Sunny Deol “concert” two years ago (why they are called ‘concerts’ I have no clue) and Rabbi Shergill was performing. I think I was the ONLY rabbi.jpgRabbi Shergill fan in the audience and in certain parts of California that isn’t too surprising. Although my friends and family made fun of me, they were kind compared to the rest of the audience. The audience yelled their ever-so-kind “Eh ki bakwas hai? Bhangra Ga!” (What is this crap? Sing Bhangra!) and began to boo him off the stage in the middle of his ‘Chhalla’ performance. Although I love my hometown, sometimes we are stupid.

Rabbi’s first self-titled album played in my car for months straight. Despite the ridicule of all of my friends, I was mesmerized by his brilliance. In my own version of ‘elitism,’ I just thought they couldn’t “understand” Rabbi. How brilliant was this contemporary music artist not only recreating but reinterpreting classic poetic metrics and musical composition forms with current political and social content. While his “Bulla Ke Jana” garnered critical attention and success, for me his “Jugni” with its political content, “Totia Manmotia” for its social charge and reinterpretation of a whimsical Mughal-period popular dialogue between parrots, and the thrilling rendering of his Shiv Kumar Batalvi in “Ishtihar” sent tingles down one’s spine. Sepia Mutiny’s Amardeep criticized Rabbi’s earlier supposed “Sufi/Sikh spiritualist” image, however, such a reading could only be made by one that had never listened past “Bulla Ke Jana.”

Although three years in the making, Rabbi returns with a new album Avengi Ja Nahin (the website includes song samples, videos, and even lyrics). The album has 9 tracks and I have yet to listen to all of them. The cover song “Avengi Ja Nahin” is a nice love song. The other song to gain much attention is his “Biqlis” that provides a voice to the many voices lost during the anti-Muslim government-sponsored pogroms in Gujarat in 2002. The song is stirring, being both patriotic but critical.

Punjabis can argue whether Gurdas Mann’s classic Chhalla from the movie Laung Da Lishkara is the best or Rabbi’s new rendering. For my vote, I just want to add that Rabbi is on the world stage singing Punjabi (in his Jugni invoking that the solution to today’s problems was to invoke the Guru’s name), while during the 1980s and early 1990s Gurdas Mann went to Bombay and record plenty of Hindi content.

However, especially important for a Sikh audience would be a discussion on his song “Pagri Sambhaal Jatta.”

YouTube Preview Image

Interestingly, in one of Jodha’s first posts recalling the “Top 5 Sikh Successes of 2007,” he wrote:

As discussed previously, the ‘Sikh turn’ is occurring. The psychological tragedy of the post-1993 Sikh community is beginning to wane and we may be witnessing the dawn of a new era. It may not be in the Khalsa symbolic form that many hope, but a religio-ethnic movement is occurring. The youth are not disinterested and disconnected; they are engaged and can be mobilized. The pull of the pagri is not dead in Punjab either as we see many Bihari migrants joining the Qaum’s ranks. This is a good sign. A new generation will soon have its own version of ‘pagri sambhal jatta.’ [Emphasis added] [link]

Could Rabbi have read Jodha’s post?  Well I doubt it, but still I do not think Rabbi’s version of Ramdhari Singh Dinkar’s classic poem will be that clarion call, atleast because it does not have a catchy tune (am I smoking crack or does the beginning sound a little like REM’s Everybody Hurts?).  Still the song warrants a discussion.  Even Jagmohan Singh Tony, one of Punjab’s leading thinkers, has written an open-letter to Rabbi praising his music. 

The original poem was written Ramdhari Singh Dinkar during the early years of the 20th century. Taken up by the Punjabi patriots seeking to overthrow the British yoke, they called out

Pagri sambhaal o jatta; pagri sambhaal oye
Loot Leya Maal Tera, Haal Behal Oye,
Oh Faslaan nu khagaye keerhe, tan te nahin lere lirhe
Bhukaan ne khhoob nachorehe, ronde ne bal oh Pagri
Bande ne tee leader, raje te khan bahadur
Tenu le khaavan khafir, vichh de ne jaal oh- Pagri
Hind hal tera Mandir, usda pujari tu
Challega kadon tak, apni khumari tu
Larhne te marne di, kar le tayari tu – Pagrhi
Seene te khaave teer, Ranjha tu desh hai heer
Sambhal ke chal tu vir–Pagri
Tussi kyoon dabde veero, uski pukar oh
Ho-ke ikathe veero, maro lalkaar oh
Tarhi do hattharh bajje, chhatiyan nun tarh oh
Pagri sambhaal jatta, pagri sambhaal oh.

Many casteists believe that the call to the ‘jatts’ has something to do with caste. The movement was widespread amongst the entire peasantry. The limitation of the term ‘jatta’ from ‘farmers’ in general, to specify one caste is only movement within the last seventy years. Prior, the term had far more widespread usage.

In Rabbi’s re-rendering of the classic poem, he adds a litany of Sikh historical heroes. Calling for Sikhs of today to remember those that have laid a path before them, Rabbi is engaging in a historical exercise that is similar to our Ardas, except our Ardas does not specify particular names apart from those of the Gurus. Rabbi’s lyrics can be found here.

Rabbi calls for his listeners, a new generation of Sikhs:

Bina Guru ko na vali jatta/ No one but the Guru is your master peasant; Kasna paina tainu lakk aapna/ You’ll have to tighten up your waste-strap (where the sword once went); Lanbhion aa ke kisey nahion sambhnan/ No stranger is coming to your rescue

The last line is brilliant. Too many times I hear Sikhs wishing for a “great Sikh leader” to magically appear or they are waiting for the SGPC, or Parkash Badal, or some other person to come and ‘save’ our community. However, our community’s liberation will not come at the hand of another. No one will come to “save” us from the heavens. It will be our work, our seva, our strength, our determination, our unity, and the Guru’s kirpa that will transform our community.

After remembering on some of the Sikh greats from centuries past, Rabbi recites the powerful words of Guru Nanak:

Jau tau prem khelan ka chau/ If you wanna play the game of love; Sir dhar tali gali meri aau/ First put your head on your palm; It marag paer dharijaey / If you set foot on this path/ Sir deejai kaan na keejay/ Don’t evade self sacrifice”

However, he cannot help but ask:

Asan keeta jo aakhia si Guru/ We did what the Guru asked; Par ajj kittey phassiay jo kadey hoia si shuru/ But today where have we become stuck which once we started?

Finally, in his conclusion he makes an ominous description of our current state:

Tere hath ki aaya jatta/ What did you lay your hands on peasant; Tavarikhan da ghatta/ The dust of history; Be-ittefaqian de turhi/ The chaff of disunity; Aa vekh uddadi pai u/ See how it flies

Some idiots in the Indian media have seen this song as ‘communalist‘ because they read Sikh history as a fight against Muslims.  (I am assuming they would want all Sikh history banned as well?) However, only those with a communal interpretation of Sikh history could make such an asinine statement. Sikhs are to fight against tyranny and injustice whether committed by Afghan invaders, a chauvinistic Indian state, or even themselves.

Rabbi’s song is a powerful statement and clarion call. Rabbi is following in the footsteps of others of his generation, including Tigerstyle, that have pushed for Sikhs to remember their past and prepare for their future.  Other thoughts and comments?


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95 Responses to “Rabbi Shergill’s Sikh Call: Pagri Sambhal Jatta”

  1. Bhaisaheb Amardeep Ji, Like you I too am an admirer of Gurdas Mann. The man has a clean heart. I love him. I love his performances. I love his sincerity, his verve and, above all, his desire to touch people’s hearts which he does so convincingly. He is obviously not as besura as any old bathroom singer. He carries off his singing quite convincingly. But his sur gyan and pakarh of sur is not quite as masterly as that of Shaukat Ali or Master Salim or even Sukhvinder. We are judging sur at this level of excellence and not at the level of street smart singing. I hope this answers your anxiety about a person you admire so much and rightly so.

    Yes ! All three of them are classically trained while he is not. So one cant expect him to know the classical stuff. What i mean to say is that calling him “besura” is harsh, in fact. We can say he is not classically trained.

    BTW NFAK’s father’s name is Fateh Ali

    Thanks for the correction. Just mixed the stuff in the head.

  2. Panini Pothoharvi says:

    Didn't realize you too were a Delhiite!

  3. Was it for me ?

    Not sure if it has to do anything with the topic or you saying otherwise ?

    BTW don't basically belong to Delhi, just doing the job here.

  4. Panini Pothoharvi says:

    Didn’t realize you too were a Delhiite!

  5. Was it for me ?

    Not sure if it has to do anything with the topic or you saying otherwise ?

    BTW don’t basically belong to Delhi, just doing the job here.

  6. Panini Pothoharvi says:

    That was in a lighter vein! Well Rabbi is a Delhiite as well! Not me! I keep traveling all over! As they say, Ramta Jogi!

  7. Panini Pothoharvi says:

    That was in a lighter vein! Well Rabbi is a Delhiite as well! Not me! I keep traveling all over! As they say, Ramta Jogi!

  8. Haha…

    good hai…tur fir ke mela wekho…

  9. Haha…

    good hai…tur fir ke mela wekho…

  10. sonaljhuj says:

    loved your write-up. Rabbi is really something else. his work surely surpasses most in the fact that it is meaningful and contemporary.

  11. sonaljhuj says:

    loved your write-up. Rabbi is really something else. his work surely surpasses most in the fact that it is meaningful and contemporary.

  12. anami singh says:

    i would like to know who wrote this shabad jau tau prem khelan ka chau

  13. anami singh says:

    i would like to know who wrote this shabad jau tau prem khelan ka chau

  14. Singh says:

    Guru Nanak Dev Ji wrote the shabad. It is part of "Salok Varan Te Vadik" – the 20th pauree (stanza).

  15. Singh says:

    Guru Nanak Dev Ji wrote the shabad. It is part of “Salok Varan Te Vadik” – the 20th pauree (stanza).

  16. Navjeet Singh Sandhu says:

    Well I'm also a big Rabbi fan….I'm addicted to his music. It's not only how he sings it but also what he sings. Every song has something to say, something to give and something to make you realize of the great religion "SIKHISM". I bet this man is going to revolutionize the Punjabi singing. The difference between him and others is that you have to keep you ears alive to listen Rabbi otherwise which is a option.

    IMPORTANT TO NOTE: He's the only punjabi singer who sings with well kept (uncut) beard. He has kept the identity of a Sikh. So the only singer who represents the "Sikh" community others merely represents the punjabi community. This matters a lot.

    Anyhow great time ahead for him. Good Luck .

  17. Navjeet Singh Sandhu says:

    Well I’m also a big Rabbi fan….I’m addicted to his music. It’s not only how he sings it but also what he sings. Every song has something to say, something to give and something to make you realize of the great religion “SIKHISM”. I bet this man is going to revolutionize the Punjabi singing. The difference between him and others is that you have to keep you ears alive to listen Rabbi otherwise which is a option.

    IMPORTANT TO NOTE:
    He’s the only punjabi singer who sings with well kept (uncut) beard. He has kept the identity of a Sikh. So the only singer who represents the “Sikh” community others merely represents the punjabi community. This matters a lot.

    Anyhow great time ahead for him. Good Luck .

  18. Gurkirpal Singh says:

    I just read the article and the posts. It was a revealing read. The knowledgeable person not from the Panjab has sat in judgement over a balladeer from the the region his songs evoke. Judge not and enjoy the visual imagery that he conjures (sit with a person who knows). Your surs and whatever have had the luxury of thousands of years to develop and flourish, as you and others of your ilk have self-deluded yourselves into thinking that you can wreak “searing and cutting” critiques of arts developed in the crucible of the land that is the Panjab. We like it this way, we are erudite enough to see more than one facet and appreciate it. And Mr Pothotharvi, of you cannot enjoy Gurdaas Mann or Rabbi, just too bad.

  19. Gurkirpal Singh says:

    I just read the article and the posts. It was a revealing read. The knowledgeable person not from the Panjab has sat in judgement over a balladeer from the the region his songs evoke. Judge not and enjoy the visual imagery that he conjures (sit with a person who knows). Your surs and whatever have had the luxury of thousands of years to develop and flourish, as you and others of your ilk have self-deluded yourselves into thinking that you can wreak "searing and cutting" critiques of arts developed in the crucible of the land that is the Panjab. We like it this way, we are erudite enough to see more than one facet and appreciate it. And Mr Pothotharvi, of you cannot enjoy Gurdaas Mann or Rabbi, just too bad.

  20. Afzal says:

    dude.. i can sooo relate to you. I am huge rabbi fan and my friends dont really like it..

    i know he doesnt like to sing anything but punjabi but.. he should sing more hindi songs.. his Bilqis was awesome..

    thanks for the post.. for non-punjabi folks translation makes it even better

  21. Afzal says:

    dude.. i can sooo relate to you. I am huge rabbi fan and my friends dont really like it..

    i know he doesnt like to sing anything but punjabi but.. he should sing more hindi songs.. his Bilqis was awesome..

    thanks for the post.. for non-punjabi folks translation makes it even better

  22. I agree with Panini that Gurdas Mann is actually a besura, and would like to add that his attempt to adopt a Sufi idiom fails since he does not go beyond using the Sufi idiom as a tool to defend the Indian secular agenda, a support structure for Indian nationalism that feeds itself with denial of any difference to the languages, expressions, and experiences of the peoples who have been in the region for centuries. Gurdas Mann’s stage performances, crude plagiarism of the Sufi genres, are focused on celebrating nihilism that lies in the very fabric of “secular” Indian nationalism. He seems to be in total ignorance about the role Sufi mysticism plays in shaping the idiom of Sufi literature, where aesthetic does not rely upon symbols or metaphors, but reflects through the language itself. Pakistani Sufi singers, even if they do not fully live the Sufi path, are, at least, not alien to it. Their singing provides the audience with the atmosphere where effort is the last thing one would need in order to connect to the Sufi experiences.

    I also agree with Panini on his reservations about Rabbi Shergill. Rabbi Shergill’s singing is a significant shift that questions the general idea of music in Punjab during past decade and a half. There is nothing wrong in Rabbi’s ambition to locate the Sufi music in a new context; however, it needs to stay connected with the tradition. The whole process can not be that mechanical that you can pick a genre and simply locate it in a new context. The new context needs to travel and coalesce with the tradition.

    I would like to differ with Panini where he draws conclusions based on his reliance upon the myth of the secular. His secular agenda, on the one hand, supports the narratives that exist as mere fragments of imperialist discourse; on the other hand, it fails to grant any space to the difference that lies in the variety in expressions, which is not even optional for the respective peoples with those voices. His denial for any room to raise Sikh concerns, based on a religion/secular binary, which, interestingly, lacks proper engagement with both the religious and the secular, needs to be understood in context of the colonial paradigm.

    I would be looking forward to discuss the premises functional behind the chauvinism in the name of the secular.

  23. I agree with Panini that Gurdas Mann is actually a besura, and would like to add that his attempt to adopt a Sufi idiom fails since he does not go beyond using the Sufi idiom as a tool to defend the Indian secular agenda, a support structure for Indian nationalism that feeds itself with denial of any difference to the languages, expressions, and experiences of the peoples who have been in the region for centuries. Gurdas Mann’s stage performances, crude plagiarism of the Sufi genres, are focused on celebrating nihilism that lies in the very fabric of “secular” Indian nationalism. He seems to be in total ignorance about the role Sufi mysticism plays in shaping the idiom of Sufi literature, where aesthetic does not rely upon symbols or metaphors, but reflects through the language itself. Pakistani Sufi singers, even if they do not fully live the Sufi path, are, at least, not alien to it. Their singing provides the audience with the atmosphere where effort is the last thing one would need in order to connect to the Sufi experiences.
    I also agree with Panini on his reservations about Rabbi Shergill. Rabbi Shergill’s singing is a significant shift that questions the general idea of music in Punjab during past decade and a half. There is nothing wrong in Rabbi’s ambition to locate the Sufi music in a new context; however, it needs to stay connected with the tradition. The whole process can not be that mechanical that you can pick a genre and simply locate it in a new context. The new context needs to travel and coalesce with the tradition.
    I would like to differ with Panini where he draws conclusions based on his reliance upon the myth of the secular. His secular agenda, on the one hand, supports the narratives that exist as mere fragments of imperialist discourse; on the other hand, it fails to grant any space to the difference that lies in the variety in expressions, which is not even optional for the respective peoples with those voices. His denial for any room to raise Sikh concerns, based on a religion/secular binary, which, interestingly, lacks proper engagement with both the religious and the secular, needs to be understood in context of the colonial paradigm.
    I would be looking forward to discuss the premises functional behind the chauvinism in the name of the secular.

  24. tinku says:

    mr. panini pot…whatever……….

    GET A LIFE!!!

  25. tinku says:

    mr. panini pot…whatever……….

    GET A LIFE!!!

  26. Parminder says:

    Panini you have proved that you do have vast knowledge about the history and hold good points to criticize Rabbi's songs but I would just like to mention that some people enjoy inspirational songs such as Pagri Sambahal Jatta. They find something good from that song and apply it to thier life but some people will criticize no matter what the true message is. They will scrape minor details and represent them to make a meaningless point.

  27. Parminder says:

    Panini you have proved that you do have vast knowledge about the history and hold good points to criticize Rabbi's songs but I would just like to mention that some people enjoy inspirational songs such as Pagri Sambahal Jatta. They find something good from that song and apply it to thier life but some people will criticize no matter what the true message is. They will scrape minor details and represent them to make a meaningless point.

  28. Khalsa Singh says:

    What's shown in the song is the true history, muslim history has been brutal and they started their killing spree ever since Islam came into existence that's how under sword they kept converting people into their so called great religion Islam. Brutal conversion started from Saudi to Palestine, Egypt, Libya, Tunisia, Algeria, Morroco then they crossed Meditarranean Ocean into Spain, converted almost 80% spaniards into Islam then they were proceeding towards France. It was Crusaders who stopped Muslims march towards Europe, muslims were forced back towards Morrocco, converted Spaniards back to Christians. After muslims were defeated in Spain then they started their march towards Turkey, Greece, Albania and towards Eastern side of Asia, forcefull converting people in Iraq, Iran, Afghanistan, Pakistan and India. Sikhs were the one who stopped further conversion of Hindus to Islam and they were the one who preserved India's culture, religious beliefs, languages but Indian history is all biased, they don't recognize much and are scared of writing truth.

  29. Kapil says:

    I loved your blog! And I love playing Rabbi in my Car all the time!

    Coming from a Defence Background and a Sikh Family, I always dream of doing something for my Nation and Community. This song inspires me.

    Very well written blog!

    Regards,

    Kapil

  30. Blighty Singh says:

    "Coming from a Defence Background and a Sikh Family, I always dream of doing something for my Nation and Community. This song inspires me."
    ^ Your Guru, says your religion…Khalsa…is your nation. A pandit…pandit Nehru….says ignore what your guru says and consider India as your nation. You've clearly chosen the pandit over the Guru. Good luck with that.

  31. New York Man says:

    I am neither Punjabi nor could understand Punjabi. When first time i heard the song bulleh ki janna maen kaun, really i enjoyed. Who ever wrote this song should have purified soul. Rabbi sang it by heart n no doubt any one can enjoy this song.

  32. Manmeet Singh says:

    @Panini Pothoharvi, if it is communal to remember the sacrifices our ancestors made to stand against islamic invasion, plunder and misrule, then I'm communal.

    And if you don't respect their sacrifices, you don't give a crap about people who've laid their lives for your freedom.. so who cares what you think..

  33. attwadi says:

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  34. attwadi says:

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