Devotional Music of India

In the Vedic period (3000-1500 BC), music was solely ritualistic. Some of the major earlier forms of Indian Classical music like Prabandh Sangeet and Dhruvapada were all devotional in character. Gradually other forms of devotional music like bhajans, kirtans, shahbads and qawwalis came into being.


Bhajans owe their origin to the Bhakti Movement. The word bhajan is derived from bhaj 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.

  • Bhajans are usually sung in groups. There is a lead singer who sings the first line or stanza and is followed by the chorus.
  • The compositions are usually based on Shantam Rasa. 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.
  • Meera, Kabir, Surdas, Tulsidas, Guru Nanak and Narsi Mehta are some of the most significant names in bhajan singing.


  • Kirtans are 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 Geet Govinda.
  • Kirtans are of two types: Nama-Kirtana 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.
  • The singing of Kirtans is accompanied by musical instruments like mridanga and cymbals.


  • Qawwali is a devotional form of music, prevalent among the
  • 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 rāga.
  • 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.


  • Shabads are devotional songs of the Sikhs sung in gurdwaras on religious occasions. They are ascribed to Sikh gurus 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 shabad.
  • 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 are rāga-based shabads, traditional shabads as mentioned in the Adi Granth and those based on lighter tunes.

Leave a Reply