The journey of the Indian sangha to create beautiful Buddhist devotional songs
By Zubin Balsara
In the Indian cultural context, bhajans are a form of community devotional songs. Most Indians grow up listening to and singing bhajans in temples, during prayers, and at other social gatherings.
During Dzongsar Khyentse Rinpoche’s 2013 teachings in Deer Park, Bir, he said, “we should have a bhajan mandali that sings Buddhist songs.” Rinpoche joked about how we could broadcast Buddhist songs on loudspeakers as is done with traditional Hindu bhajans in villages all over India. Those of us gathered in Bir during those teachings agreed that we need some simple “sing along songs” to remind us of basic Buddhist practices such as taking Refuge and Bodhisattva Vows, offering the Seven Branch Prayer, and reciting Shantideva’s Verses of Confession & Offerings.
When Rinpoche visited Pune later in 2013, the World Centre for Creative Learning Foundation (WCCL), one of the organizers of the teachings) requested Ms. Namrata Mahabal to sing a few tracks from the Dharma Nada CD. We all liked her voice very much, and once again the discussion of Buddhist bhajans came up.
WCCL Foundation members were confident to undertake the project because of ready access to various artists in Pune through our work in the area of arts-based therapy. Since Rinpoche’s teachings in Pune were on Shantideva’s Bodhicharyavatara, we felt it was appropriate to put some of Shantideva’s beautiful poetry to music. Rinpoche selected some verses from the Bodhicharyavatara, and the WCCL Foundation team started creating music tracks. WCCL Foundation’s Mamta Fund contributed financing, and between 2014 and 2017, ten songs were recorded in Sanskrit, Hindi, and Pali.