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US university sets up chair in Sikh musicology

Last updated on: June 04, 2008 22:46 IST

An endowed chair to study and teach Sikh musical traditions has been established in Hofstra University's Department of Religion, university President Stuart Rabinowitz announced on May 1.

The Sardarni Harbans Kaur Chair in Sikh Musicology, a gift from Dr Hakam Singh, a retired chemist with a lifelong interest in Sikh music, will concentrate on how Sikh music and scripture are historically intertwined.

The chair "will add to Hofstra's growing expertise on the rich traditions of Sikhism," Rabinowitz said.

"Dr Singh's generosity also enhances Hofstra's efforts to expand its Department of Religion into a nationally respected center for the secular study of our religious traditions," he said.

Dr Singh defined Sikh musicology as the combination of Sikh scripture and Indian music. "In Sikhism, music is extremely important. There are about 6,000 hymns, or shabads, in Sikh scripture and each hymn is preceded by instructions as to what raga and musical measure, or taal, it should be sung in. This shows that our founders not only had a great knowledge of Indian music, but that they knew the influence of the singing of hymns on the mind."

The California-based Dr Singh became familiar with Hofstra's growing reputation as a center of Sikh study thanks to his daughter, who lives on Long Island. The university has a Sikh professorship, and has established a Guru Nanak Interfaith Prize.

The Sardarni Kuljit Kaur Bindra Chair in Sikh Studies, now held by Dr Balbinder Singh Bhogal, was created to promote the academic study of Sikh religion, philosophy, culture and history. It also supports the appointment of a faculty member in Sikh Studies, and helps build the university library's holdings in Sikhism, among other things.

Recently, Hofstra awarded the first Guru Nanak Interfaith Prize to the Dalai Lama of Tibet. The biennial award, named for the founder of Sikhism, was endowed by the family of Sardar Ishar Singh Bindra, and recognises efforts at interfaith dialogue. The $50,000 prize will be presented to the Dalai Lama on November 18 at a ceremony in India.

The delegation will include, besides Hofstra officials, the family of Sardar Ishar Singh Bindra, which established the prize, and former Prime Minister Inder Kumar Gujral, a member of the Guru Nanak Interfaith Prize Honorary Committee. The Dalai Lama has agreed to visit Hofstra in 2009.