India is a
land of diverse faiths and beliefs and is bound by a
common thread of music, which is an essential
constituent of most religious practices. In the Vedic
period (3000-1500 BC), music was solely ritualistic.
Some of the major earlier forms of Indian Classical
were all devotional in character. Gradually other forms
of devotional music like
bhajans, kirtans, shahbads
came into being.
devotional songs typical of Maharashtra.
These were popularised by
renowned saints like Gnaneshwar (13 AD), Eknath (16 AD)
and Tukaram (16-17 AD).
Bhajans owe their origin to the
Bhakti Movement. The word bhajan is derived from
which means ‘to serve’ in Sanskrit. Bhajan is a popular
form of devotional singing prevalent in north India. It
is usually sung in temples in praise of god or is
addressed as a plea to him. The lyrics are set to simple
melodies, generally in one or more
Bhajans are usually sung in groups. There is a lead
singer who sings the first line or stanza and is
followed by the choir. The compositions are usually
based on Shanta
Rasa. Stories and
episodes from the
popular themes for bhajans, as are the episodes from the
lives of Lord Rama, Lord Krishna and Lord Shiva. Bhajan
singing is usually accompanied by musical instruments
like jhanj, manjira, daphli, dholak
and chimta. Originally
bhajans were sung only in temples or at homes and their
concert appearance is a comparatively recent phenomenon,
traceable to the early 20th century.
Meera Bai, Kabir, Surdas,
Tulsidas, Guru Nanak and Narsi Mehta are some of the
most significant names in bhajan singing. More recently,
V. D. Paluskar and D. V. Paluskar have worked greatly
towards the development of this form. Sharma Bandhu,
Purushotam Jalota and Anup Jalota are a few contemporary
These are the songs sung mainly by
the East Bengal boatmen while boating on the rivers.
Kirtan is another type of folk
music usually sung by the Vaishnavas and are based on
the love stories of Krishna and Radha. It is prevalent
in Bengal. Kirtans were transformed into song and dance
congregations by Chaitanya Mahaprabhu (15-16th Century
AD), drawing inspiration from Jayadeva's
are of two types:
and Lila-Kirtana. The
first involves constant uttering of the name and singing
of the glory of God, while the second describes the
various anecdotes of the Radha-Krishna love. It is
customary not to begin a Kirtan without paying due
obeisance to Chaitanya in the form of an appropriate
event in the life of Chaitanya.
singing of Kirtans is accompanied by musical instruments
Qawwali is a devotional form of
music, prevalent among the sufis. The lyrics are in
praise of Allah, Prophet Mohammad, members of Prophet's
family or renowned Sufi saints. It is written in
Persian, Urdu and Hindi and is composed in a specific
raga. Qawwali is
usually sung in a group, with one or two lead singers.
Originally it was sung to the beat of the
daff. However, now
the Qawwali singing is accompanied by the dholak, tabla,
manjira and the harmonium. Traditionally, qawwali is
performed outside the shrines of Sufi saints on their
birth or death anniversaries. Several theories exist for
the evolution of Qawwalis in India. According to one,
qawwali evolved from
a form of vocal music similar to the
Amir Khusro (1254-1325) is believed to have incorporated
meaningful words into the
which over a period of time developed into qawwali.
According to another belief, qawwali originated in
Persia in the 10th
century AD with the emergence of the Chisti order of
Sufism. It was brought to India in the 12th
The Sabri brothers, Aziz
Nazaan, Aziz Mian, Late Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan and Late
Aziz Warisi are important names in qawwali singing in
the Indian sub-continent.
Shabads are devotional songs of the
Sikhs sung in gurdwaras on religious occasions. They are
ascribed to Sikh
and many Bhakti saint-poets. Shabad
originated as a musical composition around the 17th
century AD. Guru Nanak and his disciple Mardana are
credited with the development and popularity of
Guru Nanak traveled all over India along with his
companion Mardana, to spread the message of love. Guru
Gobind Singh, the 10th guru of the Sikhs, compiled his
teachings into the Adi Granth Sahib.
Shabads are sung to the
accompaniment of the harmonium, tabla and often the
Today, three distinct styles exist in shabad singing.
traditional shabads as mentioned in the Adi Granth
and those based on
lighter tunes. The Singh Bandhu are today the most
eminent shabad singers. D.V.Paluskar and Vinayak Rao
Patvardhan also sang shabads.
These are the devotional hymns
sung by Oduyars and others in South India.