How to interprete the signs used on the music sheets
Usually the precentor sings one line and then the group repeats it. The whole bhajan is first sung at a slow or medium speed, in the course of which every line is usually repeated i.e. precentor - group - precentor - group. When we want you to proceed like this you find repeat signs at the end of a line. If a line is only to be sung once (precentor - group) at the slower speed you only find a thin double line without repeat signs at the end of a line.
After that, the bhajan is sung again at a faster speed and usually without repeating the single lines. To conclude the bhajan the last line is repeated, and then all together slowly sing the first line - sometimes also the second one.
Repeat signs with an asterisk (*, e.g. Hari Narayana Hari Narayana / line 3: ||: A || B :||) mean: A B A B. By the sign |* ... *| an interjection is marked (e.g. Daya Karo Shiva Ganga Dhari / line 4). This is usually sung during the fast repetition of the bhajan: whole line - interjection - whole line again.
When changing from full beat to upbeat a dashed line marks the strike in (e.g. Allah Ho Akabar / line 5). In the reverse case (changing from upbeat to full beat) the additional note is added at the end of the line (e.g. Allah Ho Akabar / line 6). These notations replace the usual brackets for first and second ending.
Tone pitch and transposition
All bhajans are by default noted with tonic keynote C (*C). When recommendable - considering different pitches of the singers' voice - we added (in the book only, not on the website) an alternative version at a different keynote (e.g. *F). This procedure has various reasons and advantages:
- Many bhajans are good to sing with keynote C.
- The modes (tones of a scale, raga and thaat) are more easily comparable.
- Accompaniment with tabla, sitar or harmonium gets easier. Using a scale changer harmonium you can play all bhajans in C and transpose them to any other tonal keynote by shifting the scale.
When deciding which transposed version would be appropriate, we tried to see that it covers that part of the voice spectrum not covered by the version in C. When C version is low the alternative version is higher - and vice versa. Thus we also indicate the rough bandwidth of versions you can sing. If there is apart from the version in C an alternative version in Ab this means you could sing the bhajan also in B, Bb or A.
Chords and Changes
Guitar or keyboard players will look in vain for chords and harmonisations. Bhajans are based on modal Indian music culture where the tones of the melody establish a relationship to the drone, which stays constant during the whole piece of music. The drone or tonal keynote is usually played by a tanpura, a shruti box or a harmonium. This way of performing goes back to ancient Vedic tradition.
We are aware that certain bhajans with their scale material can sometimes be harmonized beautifully for harmonium or guitar, and we don't fundamentally disapprove of that either. We consider the most important criterion when singing bhajans is that the song is uplifting and opens the heart. If an accompaniment with chords facilitates that, then why not? But we leave the creative elaboration of changes to the individual player, because there are lots of different possibilities to do so depending on the instrument, the way of playing or the skill and knowledge of the arranger.
And interesting approach to harmonization is the use of chords over a constant drone - a technique well known as Orgelpunkt (pedal-note) in the western music tradition but rarely used in the West to accompany bhajans. Like that, western and eastern traditions could be joined without infringing upon the rules of both cultures.
The bhajans of each volume are alphabetically ordered and numbered. That's why you find strange numbering here on the website, which is the result of putting all bhajans of both historically grown volumes in one alphabetical list.