The wonderful tradition of Haveli Sangeet is a unique feature associated with the Pushti Margiya temples. Unfortunately, over time, this great legacy has witnessed a gradual decline, with people not only losing interest in it but also lacking serious practitioners. Also of note is that we do not find much research being done on this topic and whatever references one can explore, neither have shared the various shades, viz. historical, literary, and social aspects of this music tradition comprehensively. Although most of the papers or the books discuss elaborately about the music related details of it they miss the history of medieval Bharat and its effect on the evolution of Haveli Sangeet. This paper endeavors to establish a connection with the history of hardship and struggle, as well as the glorious rise of Bhakti and the tradition of temple music in Vaishnavism in North India. In this way, this paper explores various nuances of this fascinating tradition based on the interviews of some of its practitioners. It sheds light on how this tradition has played a pivotal role in retaining the purity of ancient Indian temple music, which I hope will certainly help in the revival of the Haveli Sangeet Parampara.
References of Bhakti in Ancient Texts
Bhakti is an emotional and intense relationship of a devotee with the divine. It is a mean through which bhaktas develop a connect with their personal deities by performing those purification practices which help them gradually become one with the Ultimate. Since ancient times, in Bhartiya adhyatmic parampara, it has held a very significant place because of being treated as the easiest of all ways to attain moksha. Most of our sacred texts have profusely spoken about bhakti and its importance in realizing the Supreme. The idea of bhakti has even influenced the sacred texts of highest knowledge, the Upanishadas, as the Shvetashvatara Upanishad pronounces,
यस्यदेवेपरा भक्तिः यथादेवेतथागुरौ।
तस्यैतेकथिताह्यर्थाःप्रकाशन्तेमहात्मनः॥ 6.22 ॥
(He who has highest Bhakti towards Devatas
and so for his Guru, to him who is high-minded,
these teachings will be illuminating).
The Mundaka Upanishad talks about Bhakti in an implied manner;
(This Self (Brahman) cannot be attained by the study of the Vedas, nor by meditation nor through much hearing. He is to be attained only by one whom the Self chooses. To such a person, the Self reveals Its true nature.)
Ramanujacharya, the great philosopher and guru, explains this above-mentioned verse and says, merely by shravana, manana and nididhyasana one cannot attain moksha. It is to be achieved by him only on whom Ishwar showers his grace. According to him, the person on whom Bhagawan chooses to shower his grace is that one who is dearest to him (प्रियतमएवहिवरानियोभवति).
Similarly in the Bhagwat Gita also, we find abundant references of bhakti yoga being an integral path towards attaining moksha. In the Ninth chapter of Srimad Bhagwat Gita, Lord Krishna exalts the superiority of Bhakti in the following manner,
साधुरेवसमन्तव्य: सम्यग्व्यवसितोहिस: ||9.30 ॥
(Even if the vilest sinners worship Me with exclusive devotion, they are to be considered righteous because they have made the proper resolve).
As jnana and karma, bhakti too is being connoted as yogic, yet much easier mean to reach to the Ultimate. The emotion of Bhakti is further expounded in a deeply profound way by ShandilyaBhakti sutras and the NaradaBhakti sutras and these texts are a sublime expression of an unblended love of a devotee towards the Lord. The NaradaBhakti sutras in a similar vein talks about the two stages of bhakti – apara and para. The apara stage is the early stage and the mature stage of subjective experience has been designated as the para bhakti.
In the ShandilyaBhakti Sutra, bhakti is defined as ‘सापरानुक्तिरिश्वरे’, which means wholesome devotion towards the Supreme. It also says, ‘अतएवफलानान्त्यम,’ the result of bhakti is divine effulgence. In this way, unalloyed and unwavering devotion has been stated, a mean to enjoy the everlasting bliss of unison with the Lord.
Temple Desecration in Medieval Period and Rise of Bhakti Movement in Northern India
In the medieval period, due to vicious Islamic campaigns, the cultural ethos of Bharat, especially Northern India was badly affected. Numerous Vaishnava temples were desecrated and the rich heritage of ancient India was vehemently destroyed. It was the unswerving spirit of Bhakti which helped people get some relief even in those times of distress. In such atmosphere of deep disappointment many dharmic devotees came forward and acted as the beacon of light for the disheartened Hindu community. The biased policies of the then Muslim rulers and their unbridled persecution campaigns compelled the Hindu population either to convert or die. Such an appalling state stood as a mammoth challenge before the devotees. They realized that in order to keep a check on Hindus deviating from the path of dharma and falling prey to the coercions and harassments, it is direly needed to spread the word of Bhakti which appeared to be an easier method in comparison to jnana. This thought very soon got a strong foothold and emerged as the silver lining. Enormous offshoots of the bhakti marg, primarily in Vaishnavism, came into existence. Some worshipped the Saguna Swaroop of the Ultimate, some worshipped the Nirguna Swaroop but the final aim remained the same, to surrender oneself to the Lord.
Origin of the Pushti Marg
(Figure 1: Credit: Akash K – Mahaprabhu Vallabhacharya ji)
In alignment with the Saguna form of Ishwar Bhakti, originated the Pushti Marg in the 16th Century based on the Bhakti of Lord Krishna as Sri Nathji. Mahaprabhu Vallabhacharya ji was its proponent, who founded this sect of Vaishnavism in the Braj region. In the Shrikrsnashrayah, a part of Sodashgranth he speaks about his age in this manner,
“The Mlecchs have surrounded all the holy places with the result that they have become infected with evil. Besides, the holy people are full of sorrow. At such a time Krishna alone is my way.”
The tumult of this period inspired him to interpret bhakti in a completely new dimension. He experienced that in those times it would be difficult for people to practise even the simpler rituals of devotion, so, he experimented with a new form of bhakti naming it Pushti, the way towards attaining the foremost grace of Ishta, Lord Krishna through devotion and selfless service. He states, ‘कृष्ण एव गतिर्मम’.The primary purpose of Pushtimarg is to experience the love and bliss of Lord Krishna and realize Krishna nature within oneself, without any duality.
Mahaprabhu Vallabhacharya ji interpreted Vedant and expounded his philosophy of Shuddhadvaitavaad. His philosophy became a profound but easier mean of achieving the final goal of liberation in which parabrahman was the supreme entity and jiva was the part, so jiva should keep on making effort in the direction of maintaining relationship with the brahman by completely surrendering to Him. Acharya Vallabh made it accessible through the path of bhakti explained in the Pushti Marg in which rag, bhog and shringer were employed sincerely to please Lord.
In the Bhagwat Puran, nine forms of Bhakti have been discussed to propitiate Lord,
श्रवणंकीर्तनंविष्णो: स्मरणंपादसेवनम् ।अर्चनंवन्दनंदास्यंसख्यमात्मनिवेदनम्॥
Among these kirtan holds a prominent place. Kirtan is a musical form of narration or shared recitation. Musical recitation of hymns, mantras and the praise of deities have roots in the Vedas. Kirtan tradition began with the South Indian Alvars (Vaishnavism) and Nayanars (Shaivism) around the 6th century, which spread to central, northern, western and eastern India, particularly after the 12th century. This genre of expressing devotees’ deep love towards their Lord was mainly used in Vaishnavism and popularised by its numerous saints viz., Namdev, Tukaram, Dhyaneshwar, Chaitanya Mahaprabhu, Shankardev, Vallabhacharya etc. Henceforth, Pushtimargiya temples of Vallabha Sect too became the major centres of this kind of kirtan bhakti.
Figure 2: Credit: Wikipedia – Vallabhacharya discovers Sri Nathji, at Govardhan)
In the Vikram Samvat 1556 When Vallabhacharya ji was staying at some village in Govardhanji in Braj, he received information of the appearance of the divine Bhagwat swaroopa from the cave of Giriraj mountain. Immediately he reached there and gave it the name Shrinath ji. A rough shelter was erected over the swaroop, thereby initiating the tradition of the service of the Lord in the temples in the form of a small child. Afterwards, service in the form of kirtan began by appointing Kumbhan Das ji, his foremost disciple as the kirtaniya of Sri Nath ji. In the course of time, this kirtan tradition was called haveli sangeet as during the medieval time, the term haveli was also applied to the temples of the Pushtimarg in Gujarat and Rajasthan. In the beginning, the architecture of the temples as desired by Vallabhacharya ji, was designed in the form of majestic havelis. Later, during the reign of Aurangzeb, out of fear of destruction, though this practice of building huge temple havelis stopped yet the name of these temples remained the same. The deities had to be kept hidden in the smaller houses of the devotees yet the rituals of their worship continued fervently. This perseverance resulted in an unhindered flow of bhakti and its praxis among the bhaktas till today in its original form only.
Ashta Chap and Kirtan Tradition in Pushti Marg
Tradition of sewa started by Vallabhacharya ji continued during the time of his son Vitthalnath ji also. At this point, being a great poet and musician, Vitthalnath ji thought of giving a systematic form to it. As a result, he created a group of eight devout devotees consisting of four ardent sevaks of his father (Shri Kumbhan Das ji, Shri Sur das, Shri Parmanand Das, Shri Krishna Das) and four of himself (Shri Govind Swami, Shri Chhit Swami, Shri Chaturbhuj Das, Shri Nand Das). These were the brilliant poets as well as singers. Vitthalnath ji named it, Ashta Chap. The poetries written and then sung by these Ashta Chap poets (the eight reprints of the Lord) were the zenith of devotion towards their Ishta, Bhagwan Krishna. Since then, the style of singing in sync with the rag tradition of serving the Lord, promoted by this Ashta Chap has been continuing till now in the Pushtimarg. Dr. Deen Dayal Gupta in his book “AshtaChap and Vallabh Sampradaya” subscribes to this view and writes,
“Vitthalnath ji selected four best devoted poets of his father and four of himself and formally organised Ashta Chap. These were the AshtaSakhas and their AshtaSakhaanVarta is quite popular. These were the poets and musicians of the high calibre.”
The medieval period witnessed the river of Indian music being divided into two streams. One was the Darbari music being patronised by the Mughal rulers and another one was the Devalaya sangeet or the Kirtan tradition. Both forms of music evolved into completely different dimensions because the sheer purpose of singing was altogether divergent. The court music had the sole aim of impressing the emperors whereas, the Bhakti music was meant for eulogising the Ishta-dev. The music sung in praise of the Mughal emperors lost the sophistication of Indian spiritual thought and deviated from its original objective of creating music that uplifts the atman. In such a scenario, the temple music of Pushtimarg had a quintessential role in preserving the sanctitude of bhakti music by retaining the purity of the ragas. All efforts of the Ashta Chap poets were directed towards keeping the perennial spirit of bhakti alive in its pureness through their kirtan. The kirtankars showed superior resilience to then forces of distortion and saved music from any sort of undue corruption.
The first kirtankar of Ashta Chap, Kumbhan das ji was a popular singer of his times, that is why Vallabhacharya ji directed him to offer his kirtan as a worship before the Lord. Haveli sangeet has a corpus of his padas, which are sung regularly, the most popular one is,
These padas are said to be the creation by these poets while Lord appeared before them overwhelmed by the emotion of their profound bhakti.
Krishna Das is also a popular poet of Ashta Chap. He was also a wonderful kirtaniya. The Varta literature (instruction manuals for bringing about an attitudinal orientation so an important literature of the sampradaya), admires him for his exceptional devotional creations in the following words,
“सोयाप्रकारकीर्तनकृष्णदासजीनेगाये …….तासोंगुसाईंजीकहेजोकृष्णदासरासादिककीर्तनऐसेअद्भुतकियेसोकोईदूसरेसौनहोय !
His contribution to the treasure of haveli sangeet by writing numerous padas full of exceptional devotion is remarkable.
(Figure 3: Credit: Pinterest – Surdas’ Melodies Enchant Even Krishna’s Soul)
The other well-known and the most esteemed Ashta Chap poet of Haveli Sangeet is Surdas ji. The Varta literature has enough evidences that he was also an ace poet and an amazing singer. He was blind by birth but this limitation did not become a barrier in his path of manifesting his reverence towards Sri Krishna by composing impressive padas of devotion. In one of the prasangs of the Varta literature, it is mentioned that once Girdhari ji, son of Vitthalnath ji played a trick upon Surdas ji and so after bathing the swaroopa of Lord, he put no clothing and asked Surdas ji to sing and to his surprise Surdas ji sang exactly as the Lord looked at that time. Everyone now came to know that Krishna lived in his heart and he views Lord with his inner vision. His language was simple yet full of multi layered meanings which delighted even the ordinary audience. His compositions are quite popular, the most important of these is his pada of Asre sung after Shayan Jhanki in Raag Vihaag.
सूरकहाकहे, विविधआंधरो, बिनामोलकोचेरो॥
Parmananddas ji was also an important kirtaniya of the group of Ashta Chap. Similarly, the other four poets of Ashta Chap too have immensely contributed in enriching the wealth of devotional padas in haveli sangeet. It is said that all of them had divine experiences and in that state instantly padas came out from their mouth in the form of devotional songs.
There is an anecdote from the life of Chaturbhujdas ji, Shri Chaturbhujdas Ji used to see all the Leelas – the divine pastimes of the Lord everywhere. Shrinathji had bestowed such blessings on him.
One day Kumbhandas Ji was having a vision of the Leela of the Lord in which, the Lord was sleeping, so he started singing these verses –
(Look there, the lamp is burning behind the curtains and the Lord is sleeping).
Shri Kumbhandas Ji sang only this much to be continued then by Chaturbhujdas Ji as –
On hearing this, Kumbhandas Ji understood that Chaturbhujdas Ji has got complete divine experience by the grace of Shri Gusain Ji. Shri Kumbhandas Ji was very pleased to see this grace.
So, the mystical poetries of the poets of Ashta Chap complimented the Sewa tradition of Pushtimarg and gave new dimension to the Ashtayam pooja, a nitya sewa, eight Services/Jhanki, viz. mangala, shringar, gwal, rajbhog, uthapan, bhog, sandhya, shayan offered each day to Lord Krishna and He is being served with shringar, bhog and raag. In a nutshell, the service offered in the honour of Lord is carried out in an orderly manner, the daily routine of service to deity is performed with minute accuracy. Each member of Ashta Chap was assigned the duty of a particular part of the daily worship. A brief overview of this Nitya Sewa is as follows:
Raag: Raag also means the aesthetic emotions in the bhakta which leads him to attain the bhakti and attain Lord Shri Krishna. For this, hymns, musical instruments, and dance “nritya” are used to serve Lord. Kirtanas are sung before the Lord in various ragas, with instruments and in various taals. Different ragas are sung during different times of the day, and according to season.
Bhog: In this, bhakta prepares with his different bhavas, the food to offer to Bhagawan. This is not a mere food but offering his/her prem, love, towards him.
Shringar: After the offering of pure bhava through “bhog”, bhakta now wants to go further to even adorn the Lord with different bhavas in the form of ornaments, clothes etc. This is called Shringar.
In all these three types of service, raag is the foremost because raag has a place while offering bhog and while adorning the Bhagwan. Affirming this Vallabhacharya ji in his text ‘NirodhLakshan’ writes,
Until Lord bestows his blessings on all of us, naam samkirtan is the only mean to feel the divine bliss. Being a Vaishnava Saint, he had witnessed the chanting of Sanskrit verses as a mean of worship in the Vaishnava temples, hence he as per the same ritual replaced Sanskrit verses with the Braj dialect compositions in the Pushtimargiya Vaishnav Havelis, e.g., shlok recited in the morning in the Vishnu Temple:
उत्तिष्ठोत्तिष्ठ गोविन्द उत्तिष्ठ गरुडध्वज ।
उत्तिष्ठ कमलाकान्त त्रैलोक्यं मङ्गलं कुरु ॥
Padsung in the Pushtimargiya Havelis
While feeding Lord in the Vishnu temple:
अन्नंचतुर्विधमस्वादु, रसेषडभी: समन्वितम!
The pad recited in the Pushtimarg Havelis.
(Figure 4: Credit: Wikipedia – Depiction of poet Jayadeva bowing to Vishnu seated in lotus position)
This remarkable devotional music tradition associated with pushti marg has most of its padas composed in the Braj bhasha. Besides these compositions, the kirtankaars also sing ashtapadis from Jayadev’s Geet Govind e.g.
While singing the bhava of the kirtaniya is also an important aspect of the display of love towards the Lord the verses composed by the poets are full of vatsalya, sakhya, shringar, sanyog, viyog, veer ras, adbhut-rasa, raudra-rasa, vairagya ke pad, Saundarya bodh etc. The ragas of the kirtans in the Pushtimargiya Temples are typically based on the classical theme of Bhartiya music hence evidently demonstrating the age-old tradition of close association of music with temples. There is a complete format of the kirtan sewa in these temples which have been divided into two cycles, viz. daily kirtan and the annual kirtan. Daily kirtan is simple where each time of the day has a different musical “sewa” and the annual kirtan is conducted as per the festivals occurring in a year e.g., the four seasons have four different types of music “sewa” (offering). Specific raga is sung as per the time of the day. Great care is taken to ensure that the lyrics used are appropriate for the occasion and the time theory of the ragas is strictly maintained. Hence, Rag Dev-Gandhar is sung in the morning and particularly on Janmashtami, the most sacred festival in Pushtimarg. The other ragas used for singing in the sampradaya are Rag Ramkali, Rag Bhairav, Rag Vibhas, Rag Nat, Rag Gauri etc.
The usual talas employed while singing hymns are ara (आड़ा), chautaal (चौताल), dhammar (धमार), teen tala (तीन ताल) etc. From the time Lord Krishna awakes, till he sleeps at night, he was serenaded in a classical format, meticulously maintained over the centuries. The DhrupadDhammar style of singing dominates the Pushtimargiya temples yet it has its own seminal attributes. In the Varta literature, the ‘Shad Ritu Varta’ by Chaturbhuj Das ji mentions almost thirty-six instruments used while kirtans in the Havelis viz. Veena, Pinak, Sarangi, Tanpura, Jantra, Bansuri, Dundubhi, Chang, Bheri etc.
The central seats of Pushti Marg founded by Shri Vitthalnath ji (popularly called as Gusain ji) viz. Mathura, Vrindavan, Nathdwara, Kankroli, Kamvan have been enjoying the prosperous tradition of bhakti along with the rich legacy of music. Shri Gusaiji set up nine main forms of the Bhagawan to be worshipped by his disciples. These are commonly called “Nidhis” of the Lord. Nidhi means an ocean / limitless. The Nidhi swaroopas are indeed the ocean of grace.
(Table 1: Courtesy: www.pushti-marg.net)
Reign of Aurangzeb and Relocation of Shrinath ji and other Deities of Pushti Marg
(Figure 5: Credit: Wikipedia – Shrinathji of Nathdwara)
The reign of Aurangzeb marks one of the darkest periods in the cultural history of Bharat. His religious bigotry played havoc with the multitudes of Vaishnav temples, specifically in the Braj region. In 1669, he issued a general order for the demolition of Hindu schools and temples, and in 1670, specifically ordered the destruction of the Keshavadeva temple. So due to the fear of destruction, various swaroopas/ deities of Pustimarg too had to be shifted to other places. They eventually, fled from Krishna Bhoomi finding haven in the Havelis in Rajasthan and Gujarat. The Vigraha of Shrinathji in the same period was rescued from Vrindavan and relocated at Nathdwara in Rajasthan. Similarly, other Vigrahas also were reinstalled in some or the other smaller houses and their pujaris tried to keep the customs of worshiping these deities intact with the musical rituals there too.
The whole account of the migration of Shrinath ji, the foremost icon of the Vallabha Sampradaya after Aurangzeb’s order of 1669 regarding the demolition of temples, was mentioned in the Shrinathji ki Prakatya Varta composed in Brij Bhasha by Goswami Hariray, great grandson of Vitthalnath ji. The image was initially shifted from Govardhan to Agra and secretly worshipped in the house of a devotee. Another image of Navnit Priya from Gokul was also concealed there. Then both deities left for Kota and from Kota to Kishangarh. From Kishangarh they travelled to Chaupasani, Jodhpur. The priests asked Rana Raj Singh of Mewar for permission to settle in Mewar. Rana permitted and when the deity reached the spot at village Sihad or Sinhad, the wheels of the bullock cart in which the deity was being transported sank axle-deep in mud and could not be moved any farther. The accompanying priests realised that the particular place was the Lord’s chosen spot and accordingly, a temple was built there under the protection of Maharana Raj Singh of Mewar. Shrinathji Temple is also known as ‘Haveli of Shrinathji.’ The flight of Shrinath ji from Braj to Nathdwara took two years, four lunar months and seven days. The story is of utmost devotion and resistance to not giving up before the deadly iconoclasm. The saga that brings goosebumps, how our deity was concealed, moving from place to place, and finally reaching to the safer destination and how the local people and the priests performed all the nityakarma pooja even in their state of obscurity.
Hence, we observe that this tradition of haveli sangeet although five centuries old, yet it is the most authentic and unadulterated style of Bhakti music of Vaishnavism. The credit of it goes to the serious practitioners of this art who challenged every attempt of interference with its purity. The one evidence worthy of quoting here is that 500 years back, the Ashta Chap poets used to sing kirtan while standing and all its major seats follow the same tradition. The kirtaniyas sing in the same manner till today, which reflects their deep respect and reverence for their age-old practices. It thus provides a vivid lesson to all of us to save our civilization just like our ancestors, who ensured the continuity of culture by sacrificing everything.
Regrettably this form of devotional music is on the verge of decline. In this age of rap or pop music, very few people are inclined towards it, the youngsters are in oblivion of this heritage. It shares the same sorry situation as is the case of all our ancient treasures. The need of the hour is to fight a battle to bring its fading strains back to life. I hope this paper fulfils its intent of being an effort in the direction of exploring and articulating the role of kirtan tradition in preserving and expanding Vaishnavism in the medieval times in North India. It is also an endeavour to highlight the need for reviving this stagnating tradition by reinvigorating the interest of people in this extraordinary culture of worshiping and reverence.
- The Rich Heritage of Dhrupad, Sangeet in Pushti Marg on vallabhkankroli.org
- PushtimargiyaMandiron ki Sangeet Parampara: Haveli Sangeet; Prof. Satyabhan Sharma
- The Flight of Deities and Rebirth of temples: Episodes from Indian History; Meenakshi Jain
- indiatoday.in, Aug 9 2004
- Haveli Sangeet in Service of the Divine: The Hindu; 11.5.2018
- Haveli Sangeet A Journey to the roots of Hindustani Classical Music; Alokparna Das.
Feature Image Credit: Akash K
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