Bhajans: Way of Worship
The Sanskrit word for worship is bhakti; one who worships is a bhakta; and one way of worship is to sing bhajans, i.e. devotional songs.
Bhajans are the most popular form of worship in India. They are sung by a single person or in a group; with or without music. Some bhajans are in classical ragas, the other in simple folk tunes. Bhajans can be sung in morning or evening; or may just be murmured at leisure or at work. For centuries, bhajan sessions have been not just a religious practice but also social and cultural events for the common man of India.
Traditional religious ceremonies in India are highly structured; elaborate and expensive rituals are conducted by a priest in Sanskrit. In contrast, bhajan sessions eliminate the priest; the singer addresses the Almighty himself in simple vernacular to rudimentary music of cymbals, tabla, and harmonium.
Kabir was a 15th century poet. In his time, India was ruled by Muslim rulers. There was a perpetual tension between those who converted to Islam and the vast Hindu majority. The Hindus themselves were also divided by castes, innumerable denominations and creeds. Kabir and other literary figures of his time preached the essential human brotherhood, decried the ritualistic forms of worship and championed the ideal of a classless, casteless society.
This ideal was taken up by laterday thinkers in Gujarat and was used to fashion a Ramkabir sect. The followers of this sect denounced their castes and caste names - they simply called themselves Bhaktas.
The Bhaktas celebrated births and marriages and mourned deaths austerely by simpler prayers or bhajans. These bhajan sessions eliminated the institution of the priest and the elaborate, and even wasteful rituals that come with the priest.
The Bhakta philosopy largely draws on Kabir's preachings. However, it is remarkably open to any number of other thinkers and their theories. They thus worship the formless Universal Power, Brahma, as solemnly as they sing of the various forms of Brahma, the avatars .......
- Madhu Rye
'Bhakta Bhajanavali' (1984)
Shree Ramkabir Bhakta Samaj of USA