Three types of Sikh musicians - rababis, ragis, and dhadhis - flourished during the period of the gurus. Guru Nanak started the rababi tradition by engaging Bhai Mardana as his accompanist. The Muslim singers formerly called mirasis, Nanak called "rababis", because they played on the rabab (rebec). Some notable rababis after Mardana were his son Shahjada, Balwand and Satta, Babak, son of Satta, Chatra, son of Babak, and Saddu and Baddu. Rababis used to perform kirtan regularly at Amritsar before the partition in 1947, after which the rababis migrated to Pakistan. The last of the line of rababis was Bhai Chand.
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The second type of musician - ragis - were amateur singers whom Guru Arjan encouraged to perform kirtan in order to avoid dependence on professional rababis. Some of the bards (bhatts) at the Court of Guru Arjan, whose compositions are included in the holy Sikh Scripture, became ragis and did kirtan before the congregations at different centres.
Bhai Jassa Singh Ahluwalia performed kirtan at Mata Sundri’s residence at Delhi after the death of Guru Gobind Singh in 1708. Kirtan at the Golden Temple, Amritsar, was discontinued (on account of persecution by Muslim rulers) for much of the eighteenth century. When the Sikh missals (confederacies) obtained control of Amritsar, kirtan was restarted there. Bhai Mansa Singh ragi performed kirtan there during the regime of Maharaja Ranjit Singh and Bhai Sham Singh Adanshabi did likewise for more than seventy years. Outside Amritsar Sant Attar Singh, Bhai Sujan Singh, Bhai Randhir Singh and his groups were Sikh kirtan musicians who did missionary work. A modern ragi group generally consists of three persons: one plays the tabla or jori (pair of drums), as well as a dholak and seldom participates in the singing; another plays the harmonium, while the third plays a stringed instrument, harmonium or cymbals. The leader of the group sits in the centre and the group is known by his name. Today ragi-groups are employed by the Shromani Gurdwara Parbandhak Committee to perform kirtan in relays at the Golden Temple and other historic Gurdwaras in the Punjab. Some travelling ragi-parties perform kirtan in parts of the world where there is a concentration of Sikh residents. Guru Hargobind first employed the third types of musicians, called dhadhis, early in the seventeenth century. He instructed them to sing heroic ballads (vaars) in his court to inspire the Sikhs to acts of valour and heroism. Bhai Abdulla, expert in playing the Sarangi, and Bhai Natha, player of the dhadh (a small hand-drum), were popular. These groups subsequently became very popular all over the Punjab on account of the use of folk tunes and their zealous and emotional style of singing. The singers had hardly any knowledge of Hindustani classical music but appealed to the masses. A dhadhi group consists of two or three singers, one playing on the sarangi, another playing on the dhadh, and the third, maybe the leader, discoursing on the contents of their songs. Though they are expected to sing vars of the Scripture, they usually sing their own poetic compositions on the daring exploits of Sikh warriors and martyrs. One of the famous dhadhi-jathas was that of Bhai Kishen Singh Kartor. Sohan Singh Seetal is also a well-known dhadhi.