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 B.C.), music was
solely ritualistic. Some of the major earlier forms
of the Indian Classical music like ‘Prabandh Sangeet’
were all devotional in character. Gradually other
forms of devotional music like ‘bhajans’, ‘kirtans’,
came into being.[i]
Bhajans owe their
origin to the Bhakti Movement. Bhajan is a popular
form of devotional singing prevalent in north India,
which is sung in temples in the praise of god. The
lyrics are set to simple melodies, generally in one
ragas. Bhajans are usually
sung in groups. Stories and episodes from the ‘Ramayana’
and ‘Mahabharata’ are
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’,
Originally bhajans were sung only in temples or at
homes and their concert appearance is a
comparatively recent phenomenon, traceable to the
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 bhajan singers.
are devotional songs of the Sikhs sung in gurdwaras
on religious occasions. They are ascribed to the
and many Bhakti saint-poets.
Shabad originated as a musical composition around
century A.D. Guru Nanak and his disciple Mardana are
credited with the development and popularity of
Shabads are sung to the accompaniment of the
harmonium, tabla and often the ‘dholak’
and ‘chimta’. Today,
three distinct styles exist in shabad singing. They
traditional shabads as mentioned in the Adi Granth and those based
on lighter tunes. The Singh Bandhu - Tejpal Singh,
Surinder Singh and Bhai Santa Singh are among
leading shabad singers.
Vinayak Rao Patvardhan also sang shabads.
Besides the shabads, there are twenty two ‘vars’
or ballads, which are mentioned in the Guru Granth
The Var comprises of a
number of stanzas called ‘pauris’, sung by performing
groups of three or four ‘dhadis’
each to the accompaniment of ‘dhaddhs’ (small two-faced drums)
and a sarangi.
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
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 ‘qaul’, a form of
vocal music similar to the ‘tarana’. Amir
Khusro (1254-1325 A.D.) is believed to have
incorporated meaningful words into the ‘qaul’,
which over a period of time developed into qawwali.
According to another belief, qawwali originated in
Persia in the 10th
century A.D. with the emergence of the Chisti order
of Sufism. It was brought to India in the 12th
Habib Painter, Jani
Babu, 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
Kirtan is an ancient folk tradition of musical
meditation dating back to the 15th
century Bhakti Movement. Kirtans were transformed
into song and dance congregations by Chaitanya
century A.D.), drawing inspiration from Jayadeva's ‘Geet
Kirtans are of two
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. The singing of Kirtans is accompanied by
musical instruments like mridangam
and cymbals. Kirtan
singing is popular in West Bengal.
Vishnujana Maharaj, Aindra Prabhu, Lokanatha Swami,
Sivarama Swami and Aditi Dukhaha prabhu are some of
the leading exponents of Kirtan singing.
These are devotional songs typical of Maharashtra
sung in praise of Lord Krishna, who is also referred
in this state.
These were popularised
by renowned saints like Gnaneshwar (13th
century A.D.), Eknath (16th
century A.D.) and Tukaram (16-17th
century A.D.). Kadayanallur Rajagopal Bhagavathar,
Kalyani Margabanthu, O.S. Sundar Bhagavathar and
Kadalur Gopi Bhagavathar are some of the
contemporary ‘abhang’ singers.
These are the songs sung mainly by the East Bengal
boatmen while boating on the rivers.
These are the
devotional hymns sung by Oduyars and others in South