Music speaks to the human psyche, emotions, and inner self in a way that transcends the spoken word. Throughout the world, a strong tradition of praising together through the medium of devotional music and collective prayers has served as a powerful form of worship and an invigorating spiritual experience. Throughout all spiritual traditions, devotional music is a common thread and singing proves to be an essential element of these experiences. Christians, Muslims, and Buddhists all share in the songs of their teachings to enhance the communal experience. In the twentieth century, devotional music gained popularity in mainstream America. Styles like gospel music sang references to, and reverence for, Christianity; blues music offered contemporary chants and soulful style; and modern devotional music paved the way for yoga in the west.
Rooted in the fourth Veda of the Hindu scriptures, bhajans are steeped in Indian tradition, the groundwork for which came from the hymns in Sama Veda. Sung in groups of devotees with one lead vocalist, the repetition of words and phrases, symphonic rhythm, and a conversational nature allows singers to get lost in an enchanting and mesmeric experience. The subject of bhajans range from saints’ preaches, stories of the lives of Gods, and explanations of God’s glories, contributing to the sacred subject of the songs. As those joining in the devotional music close their eyes and allow the lyrics, rhythms, sounds, and repetition to wash over them, blocking out visual stimulants ensures concentration. As the mind enters a state of relaxation, a sense of permanence develops, known as shashwat, or freedom from a state of flux, essentially a state of everlasting continuity.
The kirtan is one example of the bhajans devotional music, with different varieties offering their own version of bhajans and unique styles of singing. Some varieties include Ashtachhap, Gorakhanathi, Madhura-bhakti, Nirguni, and Vallabhapanthi. Each bhajan shares its own glimpse into the past while tying in a taste of modern traditions and culture. Today, bhajan composers have tried to marry classical Indian music with the long-standing traditional songs, offering the perfect harmony of classic and contemporary.
Bhajan mandalis, or gatherings where bhajans are sung, have dated back to Indian villages in the beginning of the Bhakti era. These gatherings serve as social equalizers, as all come together to share in the songs, eliminating any differences or disputes within the community. Whether serving as an individual respite from the buzz of the outside world, or as a leveling experience to unite, rather than divide, a devoted community, the music of bahjans shares the sentiments of sacred and ancient traditions.