Bhajans owe their origin to the Bhakti Movement. The word bhajan is derived from bhaj which means ‘to serve’ in Sanskrit. Bhajan is a popular form of devotional singing prevalent in north India. It is usually sung in temples in praise of good or is addressed as a plea to him. The lyrics are set to simple melodies, generally in one or more ragas. Bhajans are usually sung in groups. There is a lead singer who sings the first line or stanza and is followed by the choir. The compositions are usually based on Shanta Rasa. Sorties and episodes from the Ramayana and Mahabharata are popular themes for bhajans, as are the episodes from the lives of Lord Ram, Lord Krishna and Lord Shiva. Bhajan singing is usually accompanied by musical instruments like jhanj, manjira, daphli, dholak and chimta.
Originally bhajans were sung only in temples or at homes and their concert appearance is a comparatively recent phenomenon, traceable to the early 20th century. Meera Bai, Kabir, Surdas, Tulsidas, Guru Nanak and Narsi Mehta are some of the most significant names in bhajan singing. More recently, V.D. Paluskar and D.V. Paluskar have worked greatly towards the development of this form. Sharma Bandhu, Purushotam Jalota and Anup Jalota are a few contemporary bhajan singers.