Bhajans – Singing for Him


The etymology of Bhajan has stemmed from the root word ‘Bhaj’– “to honour, adore.”  Thus, singing Bhajans is a form of active involvement of a devotee in the worship of the Divine. It is the Love, respect and adoration felt by the worshipper towards his/her own personal God. The kind of love expressed for Krishna in Meera Bhajans or the state in which Chaitanya Maha Prabhu sung for His Lord transporting every listener into His divine realm, enabling them to visualize their Lord, through the Bhajans. Singing Adoration, bhajana; in His name forcing him to listen and appear is the essence of a Bhajan.

History and Origin:

 Bhakti, as explained on the Wikipedia, is the technical term meaning ‘portion or share’. Bhajans are a way or means of showing ‘Bhakti’ or Devotion by the aspirant. Bhajans are that part of bhakti where the devotee rapturously sings praise of the Divine and expresses his/her true love, adoration, devotion to the Lord.

 Bhajans first found their mention and place in the Hindu Scriptures in the Sama Veda, the fourth Veda in the Hindu scriptures. They have been informally sung and practiced from the time Devotion or bhakti found vocal expression. They have established a distinctive place different from Sanskrit shloka and Hymns by virtue of their easy flow, simplicity and instant appeal to the common mass. A Bhajan is usually rendered in the colloquial dialect, simple tune accompanied by single musical instrument, touching the innermost chords of every devotee. The rendition is simple, straight from the heart and voices the inner feeling, love adoration of every true worshipper, encouraging the devotee to sing, imbibe and love the Lord through the Bhajans. The fixed tunes, repetition of words mesmerize the listener and help bring an inner transformation. Most Bhajans describe the God’s glories; are interlaced and beautifully woven with anecdotes and episodes from the Lord’s life.

Types of Bhajans:

A dive into the past will reveal the ubiquitous nature of Bhajans in every home and at the core of every ardent devotee’s heart. In the Haridas tradition Bhajans are more popularly known as Kirtans, the way they are addressed by musicians in Southern India. Nirguna bhakti, Vallabhapanthi, Madhura bhakti, Gorakhanathi is some still prevalent traditions of Bhajan singing. Each sect has their own distinctive styles and way of singing.

History reveals that Kirtans or Bhajans started primarily in southern India and spread to the Northern parts. The spearheads of this method of communion with god were Alvars, the Vaishnavites and Nayanars, download mobile Ben 10 game Shaivites in the late 5th century AD or the early 6th Century. The Alvars and the Nayanars eminent singers/saints lyrical, ecstatic, moving devotional compositions were eventually incorporated by the Ramanuja and Madhava philosophical systems.

This period was dominated by the Muslim rulers in the Northern part and only by the middle of the medieval period, somewhere between the 14th to the 17th century did singers/ philosophers/saints like Meera Bai, Kabir, Chaitanya MahaPrabhu, Tulsidas and Tukaram, to name a few, spearheaded the Bhakti movement in the North through their soul searing renditions and melodious compositions in the praise of the Lord. The pivotal message of these saints was to cast aside meaningless rituals and complexities of philosophy and simply immerse oneself in the true divine love for the Divine.

All the aforementioned saints attained salvation singing for Him and Him alone oblivious to all else. With their eyes closed and lost to all else, meditating on the lotus feet or form of the Lord invoking His appearance. They realized through Bhajans and attained Nirvana singing for him.

Even Islam has Sufi music, akin to our Bhajans. Sufi saints attain communion with Allah singing His praise. The central theme behind Sufism is meditation and finding the truth, similar to what Chaitanya Maha prabhu and Shankara, Madhavacharya and Ramanuja philosophy and preaching. Bhajans and Sufi music are thus, the song of the soul.

Because of the simplistic nature of the compositions all the assembled devotees would participate, lose self for a while and achieve that state of communion with the Divine singing along with the eminent saints. Bhajan Mandalis and gatherings became the best stress busters. Everyone came eagerly under one roof keeping aside their petty differences, background and cultural gaps; sat together and unhesitatingly participated in the singing. The lyrics, style, music of the Bhajans gives a feeling of being set free or in a state of bliss; something everyone one longs to experience on a more permanent basis.

Music itself is heavenly and devotional music; divine. Bhajans are thus a complete surrender, expression of love and adoration to Him, through music, the language of the heart. It is said that when Purandara Dasa was barred from visiting the temple he started singing and called out the Lord’s name, in sheer grief and forced Lord Vishnu to appear through the wall. This place is today known as Paduranga Vitthala sthala. .

Meera Bai’s love for Krishna and her utter faith in Him and expression of love and adoration in her every waking moment crystallises in her soulful compositions, and also the many times she forced Krishna to save her, and come to her aide.

All the saints of yore attained salvation through any one method or practice followed to the end with sincerity and faith and complete surrender. Ramakrishna Parmahamsa went into a state of Samadhi merging with Goddess kali singing her name. Meera bai attained Samadhi with her beloved Krishna’s chant on her lips. Till Bhajans don’t come straight from the heart they go unheard by the Lord. Such should be the power of these Bhajans, they should be sung for Him, with Him in the heart and the soul rending music must reach Him and force Him to listen, appear and change the heart of the singer. The essence of the Bhajans must change the heart of the devotee and help him/her merge, surrender to Him, through the Bhajans. Then alone can Bhajans be said to be a Bhajans, songs of the soul, sung for Him.


If HE let go

If HE let go

Ramayana is a very familiar scripture for every Hindu and we all have read it since our childhood, in the form of Amar Chitra Katha colored comic strip to the voluminous Ram Charitra Manas in Sanskrit and its English transliteration. I will narrate a small story which escaped me all these years even though I too have read The Ramayana many times before.

The whole army was building a bridge to cross the ocean, so that they could wage a war against Ravana and bring Seeta Devi back home to Lord Rama. Every single monkey and man would lift a small boulder to a huge rock and say aloud, ‘Jai Shree Ram!’ and throw the stone into the ocean. The stone would float and fall in place next to the previous stone and a bridge was gradually getting formed.

Lord Rama watched the proceedings for a while and with the thought of helping and speeding the process of completing the bridge he also picked a small pebble and threw it in to the ocean. To his dismay the stone simply sank into the depths of the ocean. He looked around furtively to check if anyone had seen and meekly picked another stone to give it another shot. He tried to throw the stone again and was received with the same result; the stone promptly disappeared into the depths of the ocean! This began to trouble him and he again looked around to see if anyone was watching.

Hanuman was watching the whole proceeding and smiling to himself seeing his Lord facing such a predicament. Lord Rama asked Hanuman, ‘Did you see what happened?’

Hanuman smiled and nodded.

Lord Rama, ‘How come? The rest of them are picking huge boulders and throwing them and they seem to float fall in place. Here I tried throwing this small pebble and it sinks, why Hanuman?’

Hanuman, ‘My Lord, We all are surviving or succeeding because you are with us. If you let go then what will be possible? Look at the army; each one is first saying your name and with that chant and faith that the rock will float, they throw it with all their might. You are there in each word, action and result too. Did you chant ‘Jai Shri Ram’ when you threw the stone? No; then how can it float My Lord, it was fated to sink!’

Because the Lord is holding our little finger and leading us we survive and prosper. If He lets go, then what fate do we have in store? I do not think any one of us can conceive such a situation.


Idol worship – good or?

Idol worship – good or?

The essence of worship or bhakti and its meaning is what I continue to see for the last 43 years all around me; my mother, when I was young, my in-laws after I got married, we were all devout people and performed Pooja everyday very religiously. SRCM, the meditation practice that I am following for the last four years, does not advocate Idol worship. In the beginning I used to be very skeptical about the SRCM philosophy, it questioned the very foundation on which Hindu religion is structured! And every Hindu performs ritualistic Pooja or rituals every day. This is what I have been sincerely doing, practicing for the last 35 odd years. It was very disconcerting to leave it all, give it the name of increased grossness and stop idol worship. I actually could not give up idol worship for almost an year after joining the Mission, call it fear of displeasing the Gods or deep rooted samskara, a diehard habit of lighting the lamp after bath, then eating food, anything, it was just too ingrained in me and I could not let go. So, I continued Idol worship and maintained my beautiful marble temple with the same love, affection and devotion.

A book I recently read, Temple the heart of worship, describes the method, the aim and the resultant effect of Idol worship very beautifully. Only if one can follow what is written in that book, holding on to that thought in our mind, with that emotion in our heart and pray to the Idol will our prayer be called a prayer and worship has the probability of bearing fruit. Every step has a significant meaning and a reason for performing that particular ritual. If we can worship exactly the way it is said in the scriptures and be able to recreate the essence every time we worship or pray, then alone can it be true idol worship.

 I quote the book, “All worship is meant to lead us to the Brahman. That is what is called Karma Yoga. The temple is a place to worship Isvara, or to perform rituals. Lord Krishna points out (Bhagvad Gita, 2-14) that Vedic rituals help a person who has a clear understanding about the ultimate goal in life, whereas those who do not have such an understanding get lost in the jungle of rituals. Therefore, the temple worship should create ‘jignyasa’ an intense desire for self – knowledge in the devotees.

We have to worship Isvara in a temple with the right attitude.  Even though there is difference in the upadhis, or titles, names, Isvara and Jiva are essentially the same; just as a stone is different from a mountain. Because of the false identification with the ‘upadhi’, the emerging individual may appear to be very insignificant vis-à-vis the universe and its creator.”

It is clear from the above that the most ancient and till date accepted, read and followed scripture, Bhagvad Gita, also says that devotion or worship has to be for self knowledge. The lord is inside, within all of us; through worship we need to delve deep inside and seek HIM there! The more we go to different temples, the more we try to see HIM in different forms on the outside, the more we are running away from HIM within. Whatever is within us, how can we possibly achieve it on the outside?

The author further writes, “The temple architecture is symbolically significant in all aspects. Space is the very first manifestation of Hiranyagarbha, the cosmic person. Every temple has four gates, representing the four directions.” This is the body of every temple, the exterior. But do the devotees flock from world over to see the architecture and go home happy with the thought that they met God? No, they wait for ‘Darshan’ a glimpse, ever so fleeting, of the lord, sitting in the heart, the sanctum sanctorum of the Temple. What is the life source of the temple? The heart, the inner most corners in the temple is where God resides!  That is what a true devotee wants to see. The author beautifully writes, “The Lord verily abides in the cave of the heart. Similarly, a figure symbolizing the Lord is installed in the cave – like Garbha Graha, the inner sanctum – sanctorum in the temple.” It is really no coincidence that even the biggest temples have a very small sanctum sanctorum. “It is just by sheer ignorance that one assumes or imagines that merit and sin accrue to Atman obtaining in the heart. Brahman can be cognized in the cave of the heart of every human being as his innermost reality.”  

To reiterate the same point, we are seeking on the outside and in a defined form what is inside and in a very subtle form. To take the analogy a little further, Even though the temple has four doors, the inner sanctum has only one door. We can take as many paths we wish to walk on the road to self realization, but to really reach HIM or merge with HIM there is only one way, through the heart with self knowledge.

I never knew that there was a reason for keeping the inner sanctum or the Lord’s abode so dark and dimly lit! The inner most corner of our Heart; the sanctum sanctorum is filled with darkness or ignorance. “The idea is that the spiritual aspirant may think of his ignorance, at least in the sacred presence of the Lord. The significance of burning the lamp round the clock is that the lamp of knowledge should ever shine in our heart.

The seers have incorporated the entire teachings of the Upanishads and the Gita in temple worship. When we visit any temple we should keep this vision in mind. Once we understand correctly the symbolism of temple worship, the temple emerges from a seat of worship to a seat of learning”

The small booklet has every single word that is thought provoking; every word has a reason and a meaning. I will also talk about the significance of an oil wick lamp, and why the now used electric lights hold no meaning. Also the meaning and essence of Prasad, the offering received after prayers in the temple.

But first let us try and ask ourselves whether we are actually worshipping the way it has been prescribed in the scriptures? If we are, then is there an increment in self- knowledge? Are we able to see the Idol sitting in front of us, within us after some time? If yes, then Idol worship is your path to self – knowledge. Does our prayer really move you to the very core of your heart? Are you changing after all these years of worship? Is the little lamp continuing to burn or is it getting snuffed and struggling to stay alive drowned with the soot of ignorance and ego? I have been visiting temples and a very diligent devotee for 35 years of my life.  Every shloka and Mantra was by heart to me. I could parrot them even in my sleep. Did I change? When I look back and assess, my honest answer is ‘no’. I never really knew or understood the essence of Idol worship. I prayed because I was supposed to and more often than not it was out of fear that I used to pray. I had never really lit the lamp of my heart. Self – knowledge was very far away. I realized that I had only grown up; I was yet to grow wise.

If we are really worshipping for years with the essence of worship, my perception is a change must be visible and the path to self knowledge must be illuminated by now. If either of these has not occurred then we are not even in the race and we really need to figure out if Idol worship is for us!  Knowing shloka and mantras may even contribute to adding to our ego, a chance to boast about our knowledge and awareness of the religious scriptures.  If no change has come till date then it is time we re-read the texts and try to understand the essence of worship once again. It is what you do, rather how you do whatever you do which is detrimental or beneficial for taking us closer to our real goal of life.