Bhai Mardana was born in 1459 and lived in the same village as Guru Nanak. He was a talented Rabab player, a single stringed lute-like instrument, which accompanied the hymns that Guru Nanak would sing on his mission. One of Bhai Mardana’s poetic compositions appears in the Guru Granth Sahib. He was also a Muslim.
The Sikh Rababi tradition continued from the days of Guru Nanak until 1947 where Sikh scriptures were sung 21 hours a day, accompanied by Muslim Rababis.
In 1947 however, the purveyors of this tradition were forced to migrate to the newly formed Pakistan. Bhai Ghulam Muhammad Chand learnt the tradition of Kirtan from his father, who was one of the last Rababis to perform at the Golden Temple. Like his sons, Bhai Chand had to migrate to Lahore after the Partition. Despite having to leave Amritsar, Ghulam Muhammad still performed at Gurdwaras in Pakistan.
“Awal Allah noor upaya; Kudrat ke sab bandey; Ek noor sab sat jag upgaya; Kaun bhale kaun mandey” — It was Allah first and then his light;/ All human beings are part of his creation;/ With that one light the entire world came into being/ Is there any among them who is good and any who is evil?”
On his return to India after sixty years, he stated:
‘Yeh duniya jo ekhati hai, mujhey accha lagta hai’
When these people are together in this land, it is pleasing to me.
1947 was the the last time the Muslim Rababis played along Sikh hymns in the Golden Temple of Amritsar, but is a reminder of the shared community that was prevalent for centuries before the Partition.