What is the difference between Kirtan and Bhajan?

topic posted Mon, June 12, 2006 - 11:50 AM by  .:MR:.
thought this might be a good topic for discussion.
posted by:
  • it has been brought up here b4 but its always an interesting question :)

    bhajana, from the sanskrit bhaj (to worship) is like singing hymns, and usually done by one person, whereas kirtana is call and response, the kirtaniya calls and the sanga responds. it is also usually very lively. upbeat and fast tempo.

    hope this helps a little :)
    • as I understand it, it's partly the difference between north and south India -- in South India they seem to call all kinds of sacred song 'bhajan' and in North India, 'kirtan' -- at least, I've run into this a few times and it makes me wonder.

      what I learned about the difference is that kirtan is singing the divine exploits, the doings, of the deities and holy figures, while bhajan is singing just their NAMES.

      (when we sing bhajans in South India, they're all call and response -- and they're referred to as 'bhajans'... interesting.)

      • i lived in south india and we made the distinction between kirtanas and bhajanas. and quite often in north india they will use the term bhajana instead of kirtana, depending on where one is. vrndavana, haridwar, dwarka, mayapura, puri etc. and another interesting point is that in kirtana people usually stand and dance, whereas in bhajana people will be sitting.

        for us, kirtana is not singing the divine exploits (that would be more of a bhajana) it (kirtana) is singing just their names. anyway, thats just how we were taught while growing up.
        • >for us, kirtana is not singing the divine exploits (that would be more of a bhajana) it (kirtana) is singing just their names. anyway, thats just how we were taught while growing up.

          that's what I've learned, too.

          what's weird, though, is that at the first ashram I studied at, we would sing traditional kirtans, but without the call and response -- we'd just all sing every line twice. wasn't till later that I realized this isn't usually the way it's done... and I think it's likely b/c the folks at this ashram thought the participants would be struggling with the sanskrit words. but really, they can be learned... and after a few rounds of the song, everybody's more or less on track...

          there's something really powerful about call and response of kirtan in devotional music. I love it. I prefer it to bhajans, actually.
          • yes, learning the sankskrit is possible for all.

            It reminds me that in jewish tradition there is singing around the Shabbat table and everyone is encouraged to fake it, humming or singing nay nay nay to the melody until they get the lyrics for as long as they feel comfortable with.
            • that's the best part!

              when I first started singing (whatever we call them!) bhajans or kirtan in India, the responders didn't have any written words in front of them to follow. we just tried -- more or less successfully! probably, actually, less, now that I think of it! -- to follow along as best we could. I felt pretty lucky if I could get one out of ten words right.

              but then we got spiffy, started printing lyric sheets so everyone could sing along whether they knew the sanskrit or not -- and it was a lot more fun, just knowing that all of us could participate without having to fake 90% of the words.... <grinning>

              but I do notice, now, as a bhajan singer myself, that even total beginners, who've never been to kirtan before, and have no relationship with Sanskrit, are getting it really fast. really fast. it's amazing.

              I think the consciousness in America has been so touched by the veteran bhajan and kirtan singers, those guys who've been doing it on this soil for decades now, that it's not so foreign, not so much of a struggle for people, as it once was. those vibrations, those holy words, have permeated our atmosphere and are -- it seems to me -- more readily available to everyone.

              that's inspiring.