Guru Nanak’s Ek – Anek Vision, a major three-day conference marking the 550th birth of Guru Nanak concluded on Saturday, October 12, 2019, at Hofstra University, in New York. Organized by Dr. Balbinder Singh Bhogal and Dr. Francesca Cassio under the Sardarni Kuljit Kaur Bindra Chair in Sikh Studies and Sardarni Harbans Kaur Chair in Sikh Musicology at Hofstra University, the conference was attended by over 30 scholars and artists from all over the world.
This was the eighth conference at Hofstra under the Sardarni Kuljit Kaur Bindra Chair since its inception in 2001. Bhogal welcomed everyone to the conference and laid out the aim which is to establish Gur Sikh musicological and philosophical difference – a difference that not only includes but preserves the other’s voice as its own, making its own history a shared history .
At the welcome dinner, Tejinder Singh Bindra congratulated everyone on Guruji’s 550th birth anniversary and spoke of the secularism, universal love and equality preached and practiced by Guru Nanak , equality whether it be among nations, castes , gender or wealth. He thanked Hofstra university and for selecting this wonderful topic and bringing so many renowned and distinguished scholars and artists to the conference.
Indie Singh spoke about the importance of gurmat sangeet in their family and how happy her parents would be of seeing the progress of the musicology chair.
Both the Provost Dr. Herman Berliner and Dean Ben Rifkin thanked the generous support of late Sardar Ishar Singh Bindra and family and Dr. Hakam Singh for endowing the chairs and acknowledged the great contribution of both chairs in the department of religion at Hofstra.
Hofstra is also home of Guru Nanak Interfaith Prize, endowed by Sardar Ishar Singh Bindra, where a $50,000 Prize is awarded every two years to a person or organization that bring religions close. His Holiness The Dalai Lama was the first recipient of this Prize.
Cassio summarized the conference as an important, and even, historic event – with some intellectual substance, in terms of inserting the Sikh voice in the debate about Indian music history, with the possibility of re-writing it, or at least registering our challenge to the way that history elides the Sikh voice and contribution.
Scholars from Harvard, Yale, Columbia and Michigan as well as Benares Hindu University, and Guru Nanak Dev University, from India, began a conversation for the first time engaging directly with the sonic evidence that Bhai Baldeep Singh (the Keynote speaker) presented. The initiation of this critical assessment and discussion was a major success in the field of Sikh studies and the Ethnomusicology of South Asia.
Being the focus of this conference is inclusivity, the organizers wanted to represent and celebrate not only Guru Nanak’s voice, with his pluriversal vision, but also the multi-linguistic, multi-geographic, and multi-authored compositions collected in the GGS, through the Sikh, Bhakti and Sufi voices, said a press release.
The three concerts presented during this conference, were, in fact, an integral part of the intellectual project that aims to showcase the pluriversality of Guru Nanak’s message in its sonic form, and how the memory of heterodox traditions has been retained through the songs collected in the Sikh Scriptures, and preserved by the Sikh community who sang these poems over the past 500 years.
The first concert was entirely dedicated to Guru Nanak. The prime exponent of the Gurbani kirtan parampara, Bhai Baldeep Singh sang compositions that have been transmitted within the pre-colonial Gur-Sikh traditions as original compositions of the founder of the Sikh faith.
In this recital, Bhai Baldeep Singh proposed for the first time to retrace Guru Nanak’s experience of the early (pre-colonial) Gurbani kirtan, accompanied by Daud Khan Sadozai on a rabab that is a replica of the rabab played by the Fifth Sikh Guru, Arjan.
The second evening the audience had the opportunity to listen to a rendition of the Kabir bani presented by Padma Shri Prahlad Tiapanya, in the traditional Malwi style from Madhya Pradesh. The conference ended with the qawwali singer Dhruv Sangari performing lyrical hymns of Sheikh Farid.
The concerts were designed to hear differences across these performative traditions, and as such, they were functional to the whole argument of inclusivity that the delegates discussed over two days of the conference.