The harmonium, a type of musical instrument also known as baja, or vaja, is an integral part of the Sikh worship service and may be found in every gurdwara, and often in the private homes of many devout Sikhs. The harmonium is a type of portable, hand-operated pump organ popular for playing shabads, or the divine hymns of Gurbani Kirtan, in sing along style. The harmonium is played by classically trained Ragi musicians, or self taught kirtanis, usually accompanied by a tabla, and hand held kartal shakers.
The harmonium introduced to India during the 1800's when imported by the British, quickly caught on with the native population because of its versatility. Harmonium styles have gone through various stages of modification over the centuries which make them suitable for worship services conducted while sitting cross-legged on the floor, or stage.
Every standard harmonium has a body, bellows, a reed system and black and white keys. One hand operates the bellows pump to push air through metal reeds, while the other hand plays the keys to produce mellow musical notes. Bellows may open to be pumped by hand from the front on either right, or left side, the top, and even both front and back of the harmonium. Various deluxe harmoniums may also have a combinations of features which may, or may not, include knobs for stops, drones, a coupler, or a scale changer. Harmoniums are have either a fixed body and bellows system, or fold to collapse when stored or transported. The harmonium generally has 12 - 17 black minor keys, and 21 - 25 white major keys, and may weigh anywhere between 19 - 52 lbs.
Accessories include spare parts and books for learning to play the harmonium. Bina is one of several well established reputable makers of harmoniums which some less reputable manufacturers have been known to misleadingly label as their own. Great care must be taken when packaging for shipment to prevent displacement of keys. It is a good idea to insure any type of harmonium when shipping. International Custom's inspections have been known to include over turning the harmonium, or removal of harmonium keys while conducting an inspection search.
The Learn Gurbani Kirtan Punjabi with English subtitles kit created by Bhai Manmohan Singh contains a booklet, CD, and DVD. The kit teaches any age, or ability, student to easily learn words of shabads, and play kirtan tunes on the harmonium.
Harmonium and Tabla
The harmonium and tabla, along with the hand held cymbal kartal, are the most common instruments played together for kirtan programs held in both the gurdwara, and private homes.
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