Indian devotional music has always been a pivotal part of my life, and whilst the Indian culture has an extensive range of musical genres, to me, bhajans are more than just a type of music – the history and origins behind bhajans are incredibly spiritual, making it a very powerful musical form.
The term ‘bhajan’ is used to describe a devotional song sung in unison to praise and to express devotion towards God and raise one’s consciousness. They can be sung individually or in groups, with or without musical instrument, but usually, instruments such as the dholak, manjira and jhanj are played whilst singing these devotional songs.
The word itself comes from Sanskrit origins, derived from the word bhaj which means ‘to divide, share, partake, participate, to belong to.’ It also connotes ‘an attachment or devotion to’. Bhajans originate from Hinduism, and more specifically the Bhakti movement – a medieval devotional trend developed around different Hindu Gods and Goddesses, which is often considered an influential social reformation as it allowed an alternative path to spirituality regardless of one’s caste of birth or gender.
Similarly, bhajans have roots in the ancient musical traditions of the Vedic era, particularly the Samaveda – a holy Hindu scripture. The Samaveda Samhita – the most ancient layer of text in the Hindu holy scripture is not meant to be read as a text but is like a musical score sheet that must be heard – a genre which has evolved over past decades. And whilst bhajans are widely found over India and Nepal, they are particularly popular among the Vaishnavism sub-traditions such as those driven by devotion to avatars of Hindu God Vishnu such as Krishna, Rama and Narayana.
In Jainism, it is Stavan that is a popular form of devotional music. The Jain religion rejects any Creator god, but accepts protector deities and rebirth of souls as heavenly beings and devotional singing traditions integrate these beliefs. Stavan may also involve rituals and dancing and is typically sung as folk melodies by groups of Jain women.
Furthermore, Sikhism places emphasis on devotional worship to one formless God and Bhajans make up a form of this worship. Shabad Kirthan is a more common form of communal singing and is performed by religious musicians where hymns from the Sikh scripture are sung to a particular beat.
The traditions of Bhajan have also provided a great deal of insight into the evolution of India’s classical music. In modern times, it is singers such as Anup Jalota, Anuradha Paudwal, Jagjit Singh and Lata Mangeshkar who have beautifully vocalised and expressed these Indian devotional hymns dating back hundreds of years, still uniting communities behind a common objective – to celebrate God.
If you are looking for a live Bhajan to perform at your upcoming event, click here to enquire today.