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Raga Ratan: A spiritual journey through photos, a visual rendition of 31 ragas

Ludhiana-based Sandhu, 61, who taught himself photography soon after he set up a colour printing lab in the early 1980s, says it was in 2004 that he first thought of bringing Sikh scriptures to life through photographs.

punjab Updated: Mar 28, 2018 10:05 IST
Manraj Grewal Sharma
Lensman Tej Pratap Singh Sandhu with his book at his residence in Ludhiana on Tuesday.
Lensman Tej Pratap Singh Sandhu with his book at his residence in Ludhiana on Tuesday. (Gurpreet Singh/HT)

It’s a visual rendition of the 31 ragas (musical measures) enshrined in the Sikh holy book, Guru Granth Sahib, through photographs of the Golden Temple from dusk to dawn through the blistering summer, humid monsoon, golden autumn and numbing winters, from 31 different vantage points.

Tej Pratap Singh Sandhu, the man behind the lens, calls the coffee table book titled “Raga Ratan – Pearls of Celestial Symphony”, a labour of love that took four years in the making. Ludhiana-based Sandhu, 61, who taught himself photography soon after he set up a colour printing lab in the early 1980s, says it was in 2004 that he first thought of bringing scriptures to life through photographs. The result was a book on seasons in which he captured one location for 12 months and correlated it to “Bara Maha Majh” (Song of 12 months in Majh raga), a composition by Guru Arjan Dev.

A visual delight, the book brought him to the notice of Sikh scholars. Spurred by its success, Sandhu turned his attention to the 31 ragas. “There’s a raga corresponding to every season and time of the day,” says Sandhu, whose book in Gurmukhi was published by Punjabi University, Patiala, in 2005.

The ragas

Raga Vadhans is recited during the second quarter of the day while Raga Bairari is sung at twilight and Raga Nat Naraian during the second quarter of the night. Similarly, Raga Sorathi is associated with the winters, and Raga Basanti with spring. Ragas are also inspired by places. Raga Majh, for instance, was developed from popular folk tunes of the Majha region in Punjab.

The book lists for posterity the 31 vantage points from which Sandhu captured the temple.

Impressed with Sandhu’s work, the university tasked Dr Anurag Singh, a scholar on comparative studies in religion, to translate the book into English. An eminent author, Singh says it was a spiritual journey. “It took me five years and innumerable revisions but the outcome is very rewarding,” says Singh, who made many startling discoveries during his research.

“I found that harmonium is not the right instrument for gurmat sangeet. Also, we don’t follow the rules of music specified in the holy book,” says Singh, telling you how there is a raga, ghar (initial note) and dhwani for every hymn.

A difficult shoot

Shooting the photos wasn’t easy. Sandhu would camp in Amritsar for a couple of days to get the right frame. “The hotel where I used to stay became a second home,” he laughs, recounting how he took over 100 photos of Raga Prabhati (dawn) before getting the right shot. “You would think it’s easy to capture dawn at the Golden Temple, but I just couldn’t get the right frame. Then one day, suddenly I found the perfect location on top of the residence of then Akal Takht jathedar Joginder Singh Vedanti.”

The book lists for posterity the 31 vantage points from which Sandhu captured the temple. Vice-chancellor of Punjabi University Dr Jaspal Singh calls it a first-of-its-kind work in English on gurmat sangeet. “Instead of the Ragmala paintings, Sandhu found inspiration in the Golden Temple.”

The university has enshrined the 31 photographs in a gallery in the department of gurmat sangeet. Meanwhile, Anurag Singh hopes the book feeds not just the eyes but the soul as well.