SINGAPORE – It is in our genes, said Ms Jaswant Kaur, 63, and Ms Harpreet Kaur, 61, when asked about the place of folk music in their Sikh culture.

The duo are a regular fixture at Sikh cultural events and weddings here, with Ms Jaswant Kaur known for her vocal prowess, and Ms Harpreet Kaur for her skills on the dholki, a two-sided drum.

Folk music is among the Sikh community’s intangible cultural heritage on show at the Indian Heritage Centre’s (IHC) latest community co-created exhibition: Sikhs In Singapore – A Story Untold.

The exhibition runs from Saturday (March 27) to Sept 30 at the IHC.

Ms Harpreet Kaur said: “My grandmother, my mother, my sisters, my children… they sing and dance.

“Even my one-year-old grandson, if I play the dholki, he dances to the rhythm.”

Song and dance has been ingrained into Sikh culture. The dholki’s beat is present at every single milestone of a Sikh’s life – from the celebration of newborns and weddings to significant cultural festivals.

As Ms Harbinder Kaur, 55, the chairman of the Singapore Khalsa Association Ladies Wing, put it: “Music is part and parcel of our culture – anything we do, music is there.”

Ms Jaswant Kaur added that as a result, passing on the cultural practice to younger generations has been a breeze.

“The pace of the songs has become faster and there is more improvisation in lyrics now, but the drumbeat and the banter that is part of the songs have remained.”

Unlike folk songs, other intangible forms of heritage like traditional crafts have been harder to pass on, especially with the prevalence of mass-produced clothing and furniture.


Ms Ajit Kaur weaves a Nalla, a drawstring worn to tighten the waist portion of traditional Punjabi pants. ST PHOTO: NG SOR LUAN

It was almost by accident that these Punjabi crafts were revived among the community here, said Ms Charanjeet Kaur, 70, a programme planner for Sunehri Saheliyan (or Golden Girlfriends), one of two eldercare programmes run by the Sikh Welfare Council.

During a basket-weaving craft lesson for the elderly, the programme participants took Ms Charanjeet Kaur by surprise when they revealed that they had been taught from the time they were as young as 15 to hand-craft items like pirris (stools), nalle (pants drawstrings) and pakkhis (hand fans). Weaving was second nature to them.


Ms Baljeet Kaur demonstrates the weaving of a traditional stool, or Pirri. ST PHOTO: NG SOR LUAN

Sunehri Saheliyan has since been tapping such seniors to conduct workshops for the traditional crafts.

Ms Baljeet Kaur, 74, who weaves nalles, is one of several Sikh women recognised as the last remaining practitioners of Punjabi handcrafts in Singapore by the National Heritage Board.

On the opportunity to showcase her skills, she said, without lifting her eyes from her weaving: “I will teach anyone. Come, I will show you now.”