Bhajans, the devotional singing
Amma is singing Bhajans in over 50 languages — both Indian and foreign.
Indian: Malayalam, Tamil, Kannad,Tulu, Konkani, Telugu, Marati, Hindi, Sanskrit, Gujarati, Marwadi, Punjabi, Odiya & Bengali.
Foreign: English, French, Spanish, German, Italian, Portugeese, Hebrew, Chinese, …
Every month at least two or three new bhajans are composed and tuned at Amritapuri. Most often the new bhajans are tuned by the monastic residents and sometimes we can see Amma making or suggesting a few changes in the words or slight changes in the tune. After the bhajans are rehearsed a few times, they are sung in the ashram bhajan hall by Amma and all her children.
The society of Kerala is highly intellectual, with the highest literacy rate in India. But it was lacking the beauty and charm of devotion to God. Now, Amma has stirred waves of devotion among the people of Kerala. Where once there were very few bhajan groups, you can now see a plethora of groups devoted to singing for God, comprised of all ages from the youngest children to the elderly. Not only in India, but abroad also.
In 2005 Amma sang an English bhajan for the first time. It was written and lovingly tuned by one of her Western children. He was sure that Amma would sing his composition and he had it transliterated into Malayalam so that Amma could read and sing his bhajan. Seeing his innocent desire, Amma sang his bhajan.
Over the years a vast number of original bhajans have been composed and tuned at Amritapuri. Some of Amma’s disciples and householder devotees also regularly contribute towards the enrichment of the vast collection of bhajans.
There are thousands of ashram bhajans in vogue today. Of these, over thousand songs have been recorded and are available in CD. Many bhajans have not yet been recorded.
Bhajans as a spiritual practice
Bhajans are prayers in song form: rich in meaning and full of devotional content. To sing a bhajan wholeheartedly, completely forgetting oneself, and totally identified with the emotion of longing for the vision of the Divine, is an experience akin to blissful meditation. In this modern age with distractions galore, serene meditation and contemplation are not possible for everybody, but singing bhajans is.
Amma recommends singing bhajans as a highly effective spiritual sadhana for all of us. When sung with innocence and concentration, bhajans awaken the sleeping child within us and then we feel the presence of the Divine in our hearts
Bhajans vary in their content. Some are more devotional, while others, more philosophical, bring out the nature of the Eternal Reality, the unchanging substratum supporting the ever-changing world of name and form. Herein lies the secret of the universal appeal of bhajans. All kinds of people — labourers, artists, politicians, engineers, homemakers, doctors, scientists — have shown a keen interest in singing bhajans. The joy they derive from this practice indicates the aptness of Amma’s advice.
Children, try to sing bhajans with overflowing love and devotion. Let the heart melt in prayer. Unfortunate indeed are those who think that crying to God is a weakness. As the wax melts, the flame of a candle only burns brighter. Through crying for God, one gains strength. These tears wash away the impurities of the mind. If one cries for God for five minutes, it is equal to one hour of meditation. Such crying makes the mind easily absorbed in the remembrance of God. – Amma
- “Children, sing from the depth of your hearts. Let the heart melt in prayer. The joy of singing the Lord’s name is unique. This bhajan is for us to pour out all our hearts’ accumulated dirt. Leave aside all shyness and open your heart to God.” Amma
- “God alone is eternal. Our life’s goal is to attain Him. You should not forget this. Singing the Divine Name is the best way. One should imagine that one’s Beloved Deity is standing everywhere in the room. One should pray, “O Lord, are You not seeing me? O God, please take me on Your lap. I am Your child. I have no one but You as my refuge. Do not abandon me but always dwell in my heart.” Amma
- “Devotional singing is the spontaneous music of the soul. Nobody can resist the inspirational qualities of such music penetrating one’s heart when it is sung with concentration and devotion.” — Amma
Though the people of Kerala are highly intellectual, Amma’s Malayalam-speaking children have taken up the practice of singing bhajans in great earnest. In recent years the music shops in some of the major cities in Kerala have been experiencing a shortage of harmoniums. This is because more and more of Amma’s children in the ever-growing numbers of Amritakutumbams are buying these traditional musical instruments!
But Amma Herself has been known to play a wide variety of instruments.
- “In this age more concentration is gained through kirtana (devotional singing) than through dhyana (meditation). The reason is that the present atmosphere is always filled with different kinds of sound. Because of that dhyana will be difficult. Concentration will not be gained. This can be overcome if kirtana is performed. Not only that, the atmosphere will also become pure.” – Amma
- “If we follow the path of devotion, we can enjoy the fruit of bliss from the very beginning, whereas with the other paths, it can be tasted only towards the end. Bhakti is like the jackfruit tree that bears fruit at its very base, while one may have to climb to the top to pluck fruit from other trees. ” - Amma
- “Don’t we get some relief when we confide our problems to those who are dear to us? We should feel that same love and closeness to God. We should feel that He is our very own. We need not hide anything from Him. It is in that sense that Amma says we should tell Him everything. It is good to lighten the burden in our hearts by telling God about all our sorrows. We should depend only on Him in all our difficulties. The true devotee never tells anyone else about his troubles. Our strongest relationship should be with God. If we decide to tell Him about our sorrows, it should only be for the sake of getting closer to Him.” - Amma
- “A beautiful melody emerging from a flute is to be found neither in the flute nor in the player’s fingertips. You could say it comes from the composer’s heart. Yet if you were to open up that heart and take a look, you wouldn’t find it there either. What, then, is the original source of the music? The source is beyond; the music emerges out of Brahmashakti, the Paramatman, but the ego cannot recognise this power. Only if you learn to function from the heart can you really see and feel this divine power in your life.” – Amma