You’ve been introduced to the ministry of Aradhna through the stories of two band members in this issue of EthnoDoxology. The group has recorded two CDs, each with eleven songs. The production quality is very professional, and the second CD includes some overdubs done in India. Most of the melodies fit in the musical tradition of devotional bhajans. For the accompaniment, some songs keep it sweet ‘n’ slow while others incorporate rock ‘n’ roll. Some harmonic progressions on guitar are rather jazzy. All lyrics are printed in Hindi and English in the CD booklets. Here are notes on some of my favorite songs and on the band’s website:
Tracks 1 and 2 are gentle devotional songs with violin. I often teach Track 3 in classes (with help of the recording and score) since it is one of the easiest ones for Westerners to learn.1 It has a medium-rock feel, propelled by a drumset that gives it almost a happy-go-lucky feeling.
Track 4 calls us to meditate on the name of Jesus: holy, victorious, blessed, sweet, and lovely. The version on the recording is slow, as befits the meditative theme of the lyrics; some performing ensembles of Christian ethnomusicologists prefer it speeded up slightly. There is a version in English that fits quite well with the original melody; contact the editor for those lyrics. This song is also comparatively easy for Westerners to learn, especially using the English lyrics.
Track 6 has hot electric guitar fills, 60s-style organ, a strong beat and a joyful fiddle solo. The song depicts a disciple in the storm-tossed boat imploring Jesus to safely “take me to the other side.” Another verse allegorizes the story. As the singer’s boat is being tossed by the waves of sin, again the singer implores, “Oh Lord, take me to the other side” (of this life, across death to eternal life). This is one of my favorite songs, making me feel like dancing while driving in a convertible along the sun-drenched California beach with high waves splashing.2 This song would be a #1 radio hit if radio programmers had more sense than a periwinkle.
It’s followed by a song using the melody of a traditional Nepali folk song. The lyrics are piercing:
You carry evil around with you everywhere you go.
Where do you think you can take it?
It’s a narrow way to the hill of the cross,
but it is the way to freedom.
A fascinating and memorable melody from Nepal is the basis for Track 3, with lyrics geared towards the local religious worldview:
Desires and illusions pursue me relentlessly,
All my mortality is in vain.
But he hung on a cross with a crown of thorns,
and died to give me salvation.
A storm of sound made of nasal Indian singing and heavy-metal guitars rips open Track 5 like a scimitar. Interestingly, an all-acoustic version of the same song closes out the CD, so you can enjoy the song whether you’re a headbanger or a folkie.
My heart just melts with the beautiful melody of Track 6, which opens with acoustic guitar and sunny vocal lines joined by the jangly guitar sound reminiscent of the Byrds plus sitar.
Sing His name, Chant His name,
The beautiful name, Jesus’ name…
How can you worship, oh my soul,
unless you have surrendered?
You have come to Jesus’ shelter;
Cast off your own strength and power.
Fall in love with Christ, Give your life to Him.
The fact that Chris has spent nearly 20 years in this part of the world shows in his understanding of lyrics geared toward Hindus. For example, here are the opening lyrics of Track 7:
I am guilty from birth,
steeped from head to foot in sin.
Yet you are my Redeemer, Reliever of Burdens.
Please save me.
I went in search of evil but found none
Until I searched my own heart,
and found no one as evil as myself.
A bhajan from Nepal is featured on Track 9, which has periods of calm interspersed with thunderous drums and guitars. It also features a shenai (woodwind) solo, a vocal melody that takes some distinctly “dark” turns,” and “progressive” guitar chords. This piece is quite innovative and is probably a knockout in live performance. The lyrics match the power, intensity and urgency of the music:
The nation is calling, ‘Come save us!’
Souls lay dying, thousands upon thousands,
in the ocean of darkness.
A beautiful version of John 3:16 follows, with the melody highlighted with violin and bansuri (bamboo) flute. The attitude of devotional meditation is carried on through to the end of the CD, as Song 5 is repeated in an all-acoustic version.
The band’s website, www.aradhnamusic.com, has Hale’s entire MA thesis on bhajans available for free download!3 If reading the entire thesis seems too daunting for an afternoon, highlighted sections have helpfully been excerpted and posted as shorter sections on the site, which you can look at one by one. They start with “The History of Bhajan and Bhakti,” and conclude with sections on “The Difference Between Bhajan and Kirtan” and “Demonstration of a Hindu Bhajan Performance.”
In between are six sections that explicitly relate bhajans to Christian use. Some of these sections provide contextual background, while others are eyewitness accounts of how bhajans are used in Christian services. One also learns how the Christian satsang service functions in India, so that you can compare it to how it functions “next door” in Pakistan.4 If you want to know details about one form of indigenous hymnody in India, reading these thesis sections on the website is highly recommended.5 As well as the large amount of text at the website, samples of live bhajans recorded from cities and villages can be downloaded (some are cued to the textual excerpts). Information on Aradhna (and an older band) and their recordings is clearly marked at the site. And if that were not enough, lead sheets for 11 Christian bhajans are posted on the website… most of them in two keys!
This band’s website easily wins my vote as the “best-designed and most-helpful website that deals with a particular form of contextualized Christian music.”6 Tons of text (short and long versions) that deal with the wider use of bhajans and their use in Christian worship, information on the band and recordings, song samples from the field and song scores that can be downloaded—what more could you want? It’s like “hog heaven” for someone like me who wants to wallow in the glories of indigenous Christian music from around the world, and to rejoice in God’s goodness through rhythms and ragas.
Aradhna is at the intersection of worship in Eastern and Western styles, of music ancient and modern. Here are ways you can take part:
Sit like a lotus during the quiet songs and let your heart sing the lyrics like a nightingale:
You are the Merciful All-Knowing One,
Ocean of Love, Christ my Lord,
Sustainer of the Universe, Destroyer of Evil,
Lord of Creation, Christ my Lord.
Dance to the songs with a rock beat and whirl like a wildflower blown by Heaven’s wind:
Now I leave the path of darkness, my goal is heaven
This world holds no peace for me
I am going to my Heavenly Father
He is my peace, my way of salvation
I must fall in love with him.
Come bathe in the sacred river of healing song that flows from the heart of the Eternal One, washing us clean so we can fully rejoice as forgiven children:
Cleanse my wounded soul
For I left my devotion to you
And became a priest of sin
Jesus, I bring you all within me.
Make the moments of your life a shrine fit for the Holy One to indwell without ceasing:
Keep the lamp burning,
so the Lord’s name will remain;
Remain in the temple, remain in my heart.
Be drenched by a monsoon of joy that washes away every frailty and fear:
In every step I take, You are there
You are in all things
Who cannot know your glory?
Be enlightened by the One who gave birth to the sun, moon, and all the stars:
Love is your key
It is through your love that
You have captured our hearts
May your light shine forever.
Consider yourself invited! Come experience the music and worship of Aradhna.
[English translation of lyrics above are found in various songs on the two recordings by Aradhna, used with permission of Aradhna Music. Songs on each CD are by various composers, see CD booklets for details.]
1 We usually learn just the first verse and chorus without variations to keep it simple.
2 Query: can one get arrested for DDUI? (Driving and Dancing Under the Influence of a great song)
3 It’s compressed with WinZip.
4 For a detailed description of Hindu and Christian satsangs in Pakistan, see EM News 9/2:6-8. To read about a similar use of satsangs and bhajans in India, see www.aradhnamusic.com.
5 Hale's entire thesis will be included on the “GCoMM Proceedings” CD to be available later this year.
6 I’m starting such a contest right now; send in any other nominations.
--reviewed by Paul Neeley
Published in Vol.2, No.1 of