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Merton Sai Centre's Guidelines for making a Bhajan program Successful
Appointment with God
1. We must regard every bhajan session as an appointment with God, (with Swami). We are never late when we have an appointment with our doctor, dentist or bank manager - so let us observe punctuality very strictly when attending bhajans. Latecomers distract and disturb devotees who are already deeply absorbed in communing with God.Bhajans should start at the appointed time, on the days fixed and should end within the scheduled time. If a bhajan has been fixed to start at 7 p.m., do not start at 6.58 p.m. or 7.05 p.m. This is one discipline we must all follow.
2. Arriving ten or fifteen minutes before the scheduled time of commencement of the bhajan session, and sitting silently or meditating, will help to quieten our minds and bodies and make us more receptive to the vibrations generated by the bhajans. Do not look at others or smile or say "hello" during bhajans, thereby disturbing their concentration.
3. Seating arrangements should allow men to sit on one side and women on the other side, in proper lines, one behind the other. Bhajan leaders and musicians must be seated in the front rows. On the occasions that we do arrive late, we must enter the bhajan hall silently, and sit at the back of the hall without disturbing anybody.
4. The Bhajan Programme should not last more than one hour for a standard bhajan or 1.5 hours for a special bhajan. Longer bhajans only make the devotees restless and uncomfortable from prolonged sitting and their concentration is likely to be affected.
5. Any devotional song, in any language, can be sung as long as all can follow. Never be ashamed to sing the name of God or to do bhajan. Be proud that you get the chance, be glad that your tongue is put to the best use.
6. Do not sway your body, like a pendulum, or clap out of tune with others. Restrict your movements to a minimum whilst sitting. Exercise self-control. Bhajan is a group saadhana. However, a great deal of responsibility obviously lies with the lead singers. We are endeavouring to create a spiritual atmosphere where we can really feel God's presence. So the lead singers should be able to sing with devotion and without ego. According to Sri Indulal Shah, the lead singers should also be observing the nine points of the Code of Conduct. If we are aware of these in our daily lives, our devotion will grow, because the constant awareness of God's presence will be reflected in our singing.
7. If we can decrease our dependency on the printed words, directing our eyes to the shrine or closing them for the inner contact, we will find it easier to immerse ourselves more fully in the divine flow of the bhajan.
8. If your voice is grating or out of tune, do not disturb the melody; but repeat the "Namavali" (the name of the Lord in the song) in your mind, that is the best service you can do.
9. The tongue is a post, Bhajan is the rope. With that rope, you can bring God Almighty near to you and tie him up. God is so kind, that HE will yield to your prayers and get bound. You have only to call on Him to be by your side, with you, leading you and guiding you.
10. During group devotional singing, divine vibrations emerge and sanctifying the whole atmosphere. The same result cannot be expected when one sings alone. Group singing promotes unity, which leads to purity and divinity. When you sing alone in your shrine, the vibrations return to you as a reaction. But in group singing, what you have is not just a reaction, but a wave of vibrations. They enter into the atmosphere and purify the polluted air. The atmosphere today is polluted by bad thoughts and feelings. When you sing the glory of God, the bad germs in the air are destroyed and the air is purified by a treatment of "antibiotics" as it were!
Bhajan Convenor's Duty
11. The Bhajan Convenor's duty is to ensure the bhajan sessions run smoothly, by ascertaining, at least 30 minutes before the commencement of the session, the names of the bhajan singers and the Bhajans that they will lead for that session - arranging them in the correct order, ensuring that the Bhajan begins and ends on time.
12. "Do not cause discontent, discord or disharmony, insisting on singing because you are an office-bearer. Unless you sing bhajans for your own joy, you cannot bring joy to others. It is only when the feeling arises in the heart that the song will appeal to the hearts of others. I am pleased only when love is the keynote, when the feeling of unity prevails, when the melody comes from cleansed, God-loving hearts."
13. Musical instruments such as the harmonium, tabla, tambourine etc. are usually played at bhajans, and help to keep the rhythm and beat. They should be used as an aid to the singers, and should never be allowed to drown the voices.
Lead Singer's Duty
14. Let those with a good voice and musical talent lead. The song must be pleasant, it should not jar the ear.
15. The lead singers should sit in the front rows and they should occupy their seats 10 or 15 minutes before the commencement of the bhajan.
16. Sing bhajans for group participation so that, in a group, all recite the Lord's name and the hall is filled with the vibration. Bhajan is the seva that brings people together. Select more familiar bhajans, so that all can join. Practise new bhajans with all bhajan singers before singing them at a bhajan session.
17. The lead singers should always know their bhajans thoroughly before attempting to lead them. It is a disservice to other devotees to neglect this aspect, as concentration is interrupted and the vibrations lessened when there are mistakes in melody or rhythm. Attendance at bhajan learning classes will benefit not only lead singers but others also.
18. The lead singers must make an effort to understand the meaning of the words. Only a small vocabulary is necessary and this will certainly assist our devotion whilst still maintaining the Sanskrit words, many of which, as Baba says, are potent manthras (sacred formulae). Correct sitting with a straight back, will allow the uninterrupted flow of energy through the spinal column. With no constriction of the lungs and larynx. The voice will also benefit.
19. Do not monopolise the time in bhajans, by singing one song for six minutes, repeating the same line often. A bhajan is sung only at two speeds - slow and fast. The bhajan leader sings one line and is followed by the other devotees who repeat the line. Each line is repeated twice, when singing it first at the slow speed, and only once when singing it the second time at a fast speed. (Exceptions: When singing shorter bhajans like 'Ganesha Sharanam' each line is sung four times, and in the case of very long bhajans like 'Prema Muditha Manase Kaho' some lines are repeated only once). The singing of each bhajan is brought to a close by repeating the first one or two lines at a very slow speed by all devotees, making sure that a bhajan should not take more than 3 to 4 minutes.
20. It is the duty of the lead singers, who sit in the front, to help all who are seated behind to feel the presence of God. Let melody and harmony surge up from your hearts and let all take delight in the love that you express through that song. As such, the lead singers MUST NOT bring their personal preferences into group bhajans. They can do that at their own homes.
21. Do not leave too much of a gap between bhajans. Continuity is important, as the mind will jump from one thought to the other (Monkey Mind) unless given a focus of concentration.
22. The 3 D's - Discipline, Devotion, and Dedication must be present at all times.
23. All bhajan singers must give full support and encouragement to the bhajan convenor, remembering the "Three D's"
Suggested Order of the Bhajans
24. A Ganesha bhajan is sung first, as Ganesha is invoked before performing any auspicious function, for He is "Vigneshwara" the one who removes obstacles.
25. A Guru bhajan is sung next, as it is God in the form of Guru who guides us to spiritual liberation - the one who removes ignorance and teaches us to destroy delusion.
26. The other bhajans , such as Rama, Krishna, Shiva, Sai, multi-faith etc are sung. It is a good practice to sing bhajans in praise of as many God forms as possible at a session. This helps us to expand our love. It is also recommended that a few English devotional songs should be included in every session.
27. A Devi (Maa) bhajan is sung before the Murugan bhajan, in honour of God as the Divine mother, whose children we all are.
28. A Murugan bhajan is sung last at this Mandir (Merton Centre), as it is customary to sing "Thirupugal , which is dedicated to Lord Murugan, last in the Puncha Purana"(Tevaaram, Thiruvaasagam, Thiruvisaipaa, Thirupallandu & Thirupugal). When Swami sings bhajans He always sings "Subramaniam" last.
Silence on Leaving
29. This should be followed by meditation or silent sitting lasting from 2 to 5 minutes - depending on how advanced the members of a particular Centre are in meditation.
30. At the end of the Bhajan people should return home carrying the elevated, uplifted and sublime mood created by the atmosphere at the bhajan. Therefore, after the bhajan people should disperse quietly, maintaining silence. Then the joy and peace derived at the bhajan will linger and abide in the heart".
GUIDELINES BASED FROM THE DISCOURSES BY SAI BABA