Walk into any music shop and the largest shelf space is reserved for devotional and spiritual albums. Chants, bhajans, fusion are interspersed with mantras and catchy Bollywood numbers as paeans to deities. This strange devotion-din mix which begins to fly off the shelves since Ganesh festival, remains popular till the summer with neighbourhood pujas, yagnas and jagratas. Is devotional music the most sought-after in India?
“Yes,” says Praveen Kaushal, who heads the devotional music section at Saregama. “We’re a country with large numbers of religious people who love this music. If we know a Ganesha album will work in a particular season, it makes business sense to push it aggressively around that time.”
On the first day of Navratri last year, Universal released a Falguni Pathak album. Not only was her album releasing after a decade but its release was timed with the festival when demand for both this genre and Pathak as an artiste was its highest.
Pathak and her troupe Ta Thaiya made a cool Rs2 crore for regaling revellers for nine nights at the Police Parade Ground. Last year, she took home Rs 1.6 crore for belting out her foot-tappers while in 2010, she was paid Rs1.8 crore for her Navratri stint in Ankleshwar, Gujarat.
Figures compiled by Indian Music Industry (IMI), the umbrella organisation representing 142 music companies like Saregama, Universal Music and Tips among others, show that Bollywood music constitute 40% of the Rs100 crore plus industry, while devotional music constitutes 52%.
But the musical offerings are not onlyHindu. Apart from Sufi qalams and qawwalis, Christian hymns (in Malayalam, Hindi and Konkani), Jain chants, Zorastrian devotional songs (in Persian and Gujarati) there are a host of albums in honour of local deities, pirs and shrines.
Piracy, according to the IMI secretary general, is a bigger problem for the devotional genre compared to others. “Most sales happen in pilgrimage centres located in far flung places where music companies do not have adequate reach to monitor the situation. Even if police are told, their priority is maintaining peace and law and order in these sensitive places and piracy gets relegated to the background.”
Singer Anuradha Paudwal talks about how big names from the ghazals and film music industry turned their noses up at the genre once upon a time. “Today, they all want to sing Hanuman Chalisas and what have you,” she laughs. Paudwal remembers the criticism that came her way when she recorded the musical Gayatri mantra. “People said I was taking away from the sobriety of a timeless chant. Can they explain why then is it the most popular selling chant album?” she asks.
While Pathak explains that she has a problem with “the use of catchy tunes of ribald Bollywood chartbusters to create cover versions with banal lyrics that are anything but spiritual”, Ram Birasdar, manager of Fountain Music begs to differ. “Classics work but tracks like our Ganpati Bappanchi pam pam chhaan (Ganpati Bappa has the fanciest car) has received a huge response. When we can address the demand for this kind of music and take religion out of its traditional format for youngsters, why not? After all jo bikta hai, wohi dikhta hai. (What sells is what you see).”