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Love and Light

The Joy of Sai Bhajans (Devotional Singing)

Bhajan singing is a main sadhana activity in Sathya Sai organisation, which as we know was founded by Bhagawan Baba for the spiritual awakening of our true divine nature. Swami announced his mission of re-educating the human community in the paths of truth, peace and happiness, with the bhajan- ‘Manasa Bhajare Guru Charanam’ in the year 1940, which is sung by all with gusto even today.

“Bhajan (devotional singing) is one of the processes by which you can train the mind to expand into eternal values. Teach the mind to revel in the glory and majesty of God; wear it away from petty horizons of pleasure. Bhajan induces in you a desire for experiencing the Truth, to glimpse the Beauty that is God; to taste the Bliss that is the Self. It encourages man to dive into himself and be genuinely his real Self. Once that search is desired, the path is easy. One has only to be reminded that he is divine..." Bhagawan Baba; Sathya Sai Speaks Vol.7, 497-8

In fact, the tradition of Sai Bhajans was started many years earlier, when aged about 10 years, Sathya (Swami) formed the 'Pandhari Bhajan' group in the village of Puttaparthi. As described in the book Satyam Sivam Sundaram, ‘the group consisted of about sixteen to eighteen boys dressed uniformly in ochre clothes, each holding a flag in hand and wearing jingling anklets. They all danced to the tune of folk-songs and ballads, describing the yearning of pilgrims for Lord Panduranga's Darshan. It is noted that Swami also added some Bhagavatha songs of his own, and also songs on a pilgrimage to a new shrine of which no one had heard, and the majesty of a new Deity of whom they had not even the faintest idea, Shirdi and Sai! Moreover, it was observed that when an infection of cholera swept like a poisonous miasma over the area and wiped out entire families in the surrounding villages, Puttaparthi did not feel the blast of death. Wise men told one another that the Divine Atmosphere generated by the Bhajan group was responsible for saving their lives’. Swami says:

“Bhajan is the process of singing your prayers to God, praising His glory and compassion, and pleading that He may fill you with His Grace. Dr. Hislop has as a result of many years of research, declared that prayer has a highly curative effect on the body and mind of man. That is the result of constant Bhajan and recital of the Name. Every Unit of the Organisation is enjoined to arrange for Nagarasankeerthan (moving choirs) to go around the streets, in the early hours of the day, Bhajan every evening and morning, for this very reason”. Sathya Sai Speaks 11: 37

Today, Sai bhajans are sung in 125 countries of the world, giving millions of people joy and peace. Sai Bhajans are unique in that they glorify all the various forms of the Divine from all the various world religions, are sung in different languages, tunes and rhythms, are short and easy to follow, thus encouraging everyone in a group to join in and experience the oneness.

During the days when I was a student in Prasanthi Nilayam, I have seen on several occasions how involved Swami gets in bhajans. In fact, his daily routine revolved around Bhajans which happen twice daily. He would stop whatever he was doing, be it a meeting in relation to an important project or an Interview, and come into the Mandir and occupy His Throne. He would envelop all those assembled with His Divine Energy, tapping his fingers to keep the rhythm or swaying gently with the tune, at times smiling or gazing at us deeply, and at other times lost in a higher dimension of Absolute Bliss. But our hearts kept pace with every variation of His expression and movement, our bodies soaked in his energy, and our souls lost in union with His Bliss. Swami says:

“Bhajan should not be gone through as a painful necessity; it has to be a thrilling experience, which must leave the participants full of pure energy and elevated enthusiasm. (SSS 11-37) You should sing wholeheartedly with the desire to please God. God makes no distinction between a proficient musician and a beggar in the street. It is the devotion and sincerity that matter. Merge your soul in the Bhajans you sing. Spiritualize your Bhajan singing. Then you will experience real bliss..."

So as to make bhajans a thrilling experience for everyone, Swami places particular emphasis on discipline too, especially for the lead singers. I remember many instances when he would intervene directly to correct and advise the singers. To be a Mandir singer and to sing in his presence, one would have to be selected by Swami. Even the best of the bhajan singers had to practice sincerely before they sang in the Mandir each time. Swami would often give so much love and attention to bhajan boys, enquired about their welfare etc, but at same time reminded them regularly of their responsibilities as a lead singer.

“Sing familiar Bhajans, so that all can share in the Aanandha. Also, pay attention to the tune, the meaning, the variety, the voice, the raaga, the thaala (the tune and the beat) and other fine points of the Bhajans. If your voice is not pleasant or sweet, keep quiet; that is the best service you can do.

The Bhajans must be sweet to the ear, arousing pictures of the glory and grandeur of Godhead, in the mind of the singers and listeners; they must refer to various Names and Forms of God, so that the Bhajan Sessions might fill every one with ecstasy. Bhajan is a Saadhana for all who share in it; that is why it is prescribed, for every Unit. Do not cause discontent, discord and disharmony, insisting on singing, because you are an office-bearer, or something!” Bhagawan Baba; SSS 11-37

Many of us would have been drawn to the Sai Path through bhajans. Similarly, for many of us, bhajans are a constant source of strength in facing life’s everyday challenges. Personally, I find just humming a bhajan silently inside whilst faced with a challenging situation, even at work, somehow seems to lighten the stress a great deal. Often times, we also find that bhajans would connect us instantaneously with a particular divine memory of Swami- either a scene from Prasanthi Nilayam, or a favourite image of his, an anecdote from a book or a personal experience we might have had with him. In my case, I relive the late 80’s when Swami often gave a second ‘Darshan’ during bhajans, which was always a great bonus indeed. On his way back to the Mandir to receive the Arathi, he would walk between the rows of students and teachers seated on the Veranda and accept a letter or two, or exchange a word or two, with those fortunate ones amongst us. Now as I sit in bhajans, wherever in the world, I pray to Swami to evoke his presence by re-playing those wonderful moments of his darshan. I am grateful to Swami, and to my parents, for giving these opportunities that enable me to steer my life with steady faith and fill it with joy. Now my son, through the SSE programme, also learns to sing bhajans and enjoys them. Bhajans thus bring families together, and no wonder that Swami has prescribed this as an important part of the 9-Point Code of Conduct for members of the Sathya Sai Organisation.

In UK, over the past three years Sai Smaran bhajans have been held at a national level on a regular basis in every quarter in different parts of the country. Coordinated by the spiritual wing, with active participation from the youth, this national event brings together devotees, singers and musicians, from across the country to participate in a six-hour session of thrilling bhajans that are offered in loving gratitude to Swami. A lot of sincere effort is dedicated by the teams of coordinators, singers and musicians participating in these bhajans. They follow a rigorous discipline- holding practise sessions regionally about 6-8 weeks in advance, working diligently on the feedback received, publishing bhajan lists in advance, arriving on the day in time- as per the divine directions of our beloved Swami.

The day usually commences with short prayers, and live instrumental music, before the bhajans start. Bhajans are sung in high quality with devotion and discipline, and devotees enjoy and absorb the vibration created by the continuous devotional singing from morning to evening, creating a Prasanthi atmosphere. Purely by the immense grace of Swami, to date, 8 such sessions of Sai Smaran bhajans have been held in various locations such as Manchester, Leicester, and different parts of London. About 225 singers and 50 musicians from across the UK have participated in these bhajans and shared their joy with fellow devotees. More and more devotees, including singers and musicians, are encouraged to take part in these bhajans and carry the joyful vibrations back with them into their homes, centres, communities and workplaces. The next Sai Smaran bhajan is on the 10th of January 2015 in Watford, London. Let us take the opportunity to attend, and welcome the New Year together in prayer, seeking his blessings for the year ahead!

Those who sing Bhajans get what can be called 'double promotion' for they derive joy and distribute joy. Bhagawan Baba; SSS X, 101

Dr Rakendu Suren,
National Spiritual Coordinator