When Nita Ambani rendered an astounding dance performance at the recent Akash-Shloka wedding, we all started looking for the soul-warming song she performed on.
It was a very popular and old bhajan — Achyutam Keshavam Krishna Damodaram — a typical devotional song, but surprisingly devoid of the somberness which instantly comes to our mind when we think of ‘bhajan’.
अच्युतम केशवं कृष्ण दामोदरं, राम नारायणं जानकी वल्लभं / कौन कहता है भगवान आते नहीं, तुम मीरा के जैसे बुलाते नहीं / अच्युतम केशवं कृष्ण दामोदरं, राम नारायणं जानकी वल्लभं ||
Yes, bhajans are devotional songs, which do not conform to any set of rules, and hence, they can be recreated again and again.
And there we are — Bollywood started having started its experimential moment with bhajans quite early; the genre is not any longer constricted to Anup Jalota or Anuradha Paudwal. Various singers, including quite a few A-listers from Bollywood, have dabbled in the genre.
While our parents may certainly remember buying Anuradha Paudwal cassettes, we have YouTube, WhatsApp forwards and music download apps — all leading to an unforeseen resurgence of this bhakti wave.
So, before Nita Ambani’s performance, no one knew that the mellifluous voice belonging to Shreya Ghoshal, not a so-called ‘bhajan’ singer, was also definitely popularising the genre.
As there’s no custodian of this genre, when Karan Johar juxtaposed Raghupati Raghav Raja Ram, the traditional version, with a rap version in Kuch Kuch Hota hai, it didn’t draw much flak. Instead, it went quite well with the tension Karan Johar wanted to portray in Rahul’s desperate bid to reach Anjali (his daughter) in her summer camp.
And since then, it's been an upward trajectory for traditional bhajans.
The results of these mutual transfers, however, are mostly fervent, and sometimes just fun.
Like this bhajan of Sherawali mata beda par laga do, which imitates the tune of DJ wale Babu:
Or this one (Daras dikh la na) where one won’t miss the heady influence of Jhalak dikhla ja:
And we saved the best for last — O Meri Mata — featured on Vinay Pathak, sung in the tune of Tu mera hero from Desi Boys.
The list is endless. How can we forget, for instance, various 'Ghoomar bhajans' based on Padmaavat’s Ghoomar?
Clearly it’s all about reaching more people, mostly the younger generation. And it’s been successful. Wildly so.
When UP Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath says, “Do we go to the dais to sing bhajan? We go there to defeat our adversary and to corner them,” we don’t know what he means because bhajans have long traversed their religious/serious identity and are almost everywhere — from multi-billion rupee weddings to parties and dancefloors and yes, intense political speeches too!