Capital: New Delhi
Official Languages: Hindi, English, Sanskrit, and 20 regional languages
Current Population: 1.38 billion
National Anthem: "Jana-gana-mana" (Thou Art the Ruler of the Minds of All People)
Largest Cities: Mumbai, Delhi, Bengaluru, Hyderabad, Ahmedabad
Bhajan (from Sanskrit: bhajana) is the generic term identifying popular Hindu religious songs associated with bhakti, an approach to union with God. The bhajan literature is extensive, comprising many thousands of songs in many languages, including Sanskrit. Bhajan also denotes a genre of religious ritual exercised in all parts of India. The rites are usually congregational, ranging in number of participants from three or four to many thousands. The Sanskrit words bhajana and bhakti are both derived from the root word bhaj (‘to share’ or ‘to give of’) and are connected with an approach to God in which the relationship of the worshipper to the deity is based on attitudes of love.
The musical elements in bhajan are intended to convey the all-important words. The rhythms used are comparatively uncomplicated, usually employing a tāla (time cycle) consisting of four beats. Melodies, especially those sung congregationally, are simple, direct, and generally lack the complexities found in classical music. Bhajan songs are composed in rāgas that are limited to a few identifiable characteristics and are therefore easily recognized by the general public. Bhajan songs generally include either refrain-type or jāpa forms; the number of lines in refrains and stanzas and the numbers of repetitions of refrains vary with each performance.
Musical instruments are used to accompany most bhajan songs and rituals. Although drums and cymbals are most common, any instruments may be employed by worshippers. Pairs of brass cymbals (tāl, tāḷam), generally ranging from 2 to 15 cm in diameter and varying greatly in shape and gauge, are struck together by singing devotees. Wooden or metal clappers (kartāl) of varying size with jingles or tiny bells mounted on them are also played by worshippers. The harmonium, a keyboard instrument originally brought to India by Christian missionaries, is a highly valued instrument. The tambūrā (a long-necked fretless lute) and śruti -box (either an electronic drone or a small harmonium with a limited number of reeds) are also widely used drone instruments.
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