BHAJANS   (the booklet) 
Popular devotional songs

The term bhajan refers to a religious musical genre originally sung by devotees.  Its appearance around the VIII century coincides with the emergence of the bhakti philosophy (doctrine of devotion and love).  Still very widespread in Northern India, this religious music is often performed in Hindu temples as well as at home when celebrating certain deities or for specific requests such as the arrival of the monsoon, protection against illnesses, etc.  During full moon (poornima), for example, bhajans will be performed to celebrate Vishnu (SateNarayan). 

The genre bhajan appears in numerous musical forms according to the different regions, but is always meant for singing and accompanied by at least one pair of small cymbals typical of the cult (manjirâ) and in the Thar desert, by a string instrument (tambûrâ). Elsewhere, the latter is replaced by one of a variety of drums (tabla, dolak ...). In its classical as well as popular versions, the bhajans follows a râg (a coded musical emotion).  They generally start with a greeting to the deity who is addressed.  The first few lines are repeated in the refrain throughout the song which ends with the name of the poet who has composed it.  If today the professional singers include one or other bhajan in their repertoire (Pandit Bhimshen Joshi, Shoba Gurtu, Lakshmi Shankar,…) this genre of religious and popular music whose rules are dictated by tradition and local specifications stays above all the domain of devotional expression of non-professional musicians.  Thus, to the west of Rajasthan, it is generally the communities of Meghwals or of Bhils, sometimes joined by professional musicians of other communities (Manghaniyars,....) who interpret the bhajans, called vaani in local dialect.

The interpreters and the social context
Mahesha Ram and his companions, from the Meghwal community, come from a village called Janra, situated 50 km from the small town of Jaisalmer and 25 km from the village of Khuri.  Janra, despite its isolation, is famous in the region for its old temple where the local goddess Malan, a reincarnation of the goddess Durga (the Inaccessible) is venerated every year during the festival of the month of Bhadna (in August, the 13th and 14th day after the full moon). The temple attracts numerous pilgrims who come to sacrifice up to about sixty goats. The maintenance of the temple as well as the offices is entrusted to the members of the warrior-caste, the Jaga Rajputs, and not, as one would suppose, to the priests of the caste of Brahmins.

The complexity of the social net and the service relations between these different components should prompt us to qualify certain schematic and incorrect notions about the Indian society, traditional or modern.

In the heart of the Thar desert, where traditions are still firmly rooted and isolated from the progress and evolution of modern society, the Mahesa Ram group of Janra, thus called on the occasion of the realization of this disc, is exclusively composed of members of the jati (subdivision of the varna, the caste) of the Meghwals, the community that works with leather traditionally (Chamâr : shoemakers, tanners,…). 
This community of “untouchables” at the lowest rung of the social ladder has turned over to stonework about 20 years ago.  Recently certain members even practice other professions or have jobs in the administration, which represents an undisputed rise in social improvement, as much for individuals as for the group as such.

But whatever the individual or collective social mutations in their community and the complex rules which govern them, the Meghwals, through their ancestral contract with the other communities, continue to interpret their bhajans in the spirit of religious and popular tradition.

CD tracks
  1.  Ganpat Dewâ
    The Meghwal always begin their performance by this song dedicated to the god Ganesh (Ganpat).
    This song was composed by Guru Gorakhnath.

    “Ganesh opens our heart, liberates our mind,
    The milk we offer you is impure,
    The flowers already contaminated by insects, (...)”
    Chorus: “Oh Ganesha accept our puja (offering)”

  2. Ranoji
    Many bhajan refer to the dévotive life of Queen Meera.
    This bhajan is, according to tradition, his own composition.
    After introducing themselves, the musicians sing a dream that made the Maharana of Udaipur (Ranoji), her husband, and in which they set themselves on stage.
    Meera left Ranoji to join Krishna. The King travels through the country looking for her, encountering various characters along the way, including water carriers (paniari). Finally, he finds her among the musicians, singing with them the praises of Krishna. Helpless before such devotion, he begs Meera to join her in her quest for God, in vain.
    This long bhajan, executed in an “râg gum” (râg sad, run nightly, sometimes on the occasion of death) ends with a sentence: “This is the truth.” The chorus repeats tirelessly: “Long live to the Rana!” ("Geo re Ranaji").

  3. Meera
    This bhajan composed by Queen Meera herself is sung very early morning.
    It traces the quest of the king (rana), her husband, to approach God. The chorus asks the soul of the Rana to join his wife Meera, so close to God ("Rawaliya jogi haleni Meera re desh").

  4. Ramdeoji Composed by Herji Bhati, a Rajput who became sadhu (a renoncing man) that bhajan tells the story of another Rajput, deified hero, and still popular today in all western Rajasthan: Ramdeo. He kills the demons, gives sight to the blind and helps the poor. His horse was an outstanding runner and even today, many votive horse-shaped adorn the temple of Ramdeo in Ramdevra village. The chorus repeats : “Ramdevra is the most beautiful!”
  5. Saviya Binja & Sanel
    Saviya is the generic name for extra-long epics and religious stories assimilated to the bhajan and sung by one voice. It trace the history of famous people or deities.
    The first Saviya - a short extract - addresses to Krishna: “Whatever you had done to me, or you do me, I accept it, just do not forget me.”
    The second passage refers to this separated couple, Sanel and Binja. The latter is dying, caught in the snow and ice of the Himalayas, and her husband, despite his prayers, can't save her.

  6. Sat Guru Aarti
    The author - unknown - of this bhajan praised a guru named Sat, whose powers are immense, as suggested by the chorus: "Do not be afraid to offer your head to the guru. Pray Sat Guru" (the perfect Guru).

  7. Sadaram Vaani or Sadaram's bhajan
    The gurus and their history, along with the gods, occupy an important place in the bhajan directory and in the collective memory of the communities who venerate them.
    Composed by Sadaram, the guru of the Meghwal's Jati (cast), this song incites to pray Ram (the Absolute) and evokes very different revered gurus, including the famous Kabir.
    Son of poor Muslim weavers Kabir (1440? -1518) traveled and taught his own philosophy. He affirmed his faith in both Allah and Vishnu, advocating a religious syncretism that had many followers. He refused any distinction of race or caste and creed and preached the equality of all humans. His philosophy, as expressed in his sermons and poems were gathered by one of his disciples in the “Bijak”. There are also many texts attributed to Kabir in the holy book Adi-Granth of the Sikhs. Some of his poems are still sung in the form of bhajan, others simply called as parables or proverbs by villagers sensitive to their impertinence and their popular common sense.
    During these recordings, the following story, attributed to Kabir, was told to us: "If my Guru and God are standing before me, to whom do I pay tribute first? To my Guru of course, who showed me first the way to God..."

  8. Piala Gorakh, "The message of Gorakh" This bhajan, which promotes respect for all life, tells the story of the meeting of a hunter - Sasiya - and Krishna, whom, to measure the piety of the humans, is reincarnated among them alternately in a sadhu (devotee, ascetic) or in a gazelle. After the hunter had killed five fawns of a gazelle, the villagers send a request to the sadhu so that he interferes with god (The message of Guru Gorakh) to resurrect the fawns (Krishna will do). The chorus repeats: "Sends a message, tells what happened to Krishna."  
  9. Helee
    Helee refers to a state of grace close to Nîrvanâ.
    This bhajan composed by an anonymous princess, tells the story of renunciation of a young devotee - nicknamed Helee – who, following the call of the flute of Krishna, is abandoning all his property and his family life: elephants, horses, palaces even a young child, to join the deity.
    The chorus insists on renunciation: “Helee listens to the song of the flute” (of Krisna) 

  10. Sue Joo Swami
    By this beautiful bhajan composed by Ugg Ji, the musicians invite Krishna to go to sleep and so announce to the audience their own wish: it's getting late and they're tired!

    "Kisna Khati, the carpenter, bring your charpoï (traditional wooden bed),
    Namo Chipo, the maid, has prepared your beds,
    Fula Mali, the gardener covers your bed of flower petals,
    Radha and Rukhamani (two Apsaras, celestial nymphs) freshen the air with their fans.
    Lord, your eyes close, You should sleep now" (chorus).