Welcome to Indian Baja. Baja is a term commonly used for the Harmonium, also known as Peti in some parts of India. Harmonium is originally a western instrument. During the mid-19th century missionaries brought French-made hand-pumped Harmonium to India, as a make-do substitute for church organs. It quickly became popular here. It was portable, reliable and easy to learn. It has remained popular to the present day, and remains an important instrument in many genres of Indian music including Film music.
In 1908, when India’s first Gramophone record pressing plant was set up in Sealdah, Calcutta, common workers employed in this factory called it Bajakhana, as if it was a Gymkhana (sports arena) of sound. In this factory, Baja (harmonium) was the main instrument used in accompanying the singers. This sounded like Davakhana (medical dispensary), Chhapakhana (printing press), Barudkhana (ammunition store) and Darukhana (liquor store).
The Harmonium was widely accepted in Indian music, particularly Parsi and Marathi stage music, in the late 19th century. By the early 20th century, however, in the context of nationalist movements that sought to depict India as utterly separate from the West, the Harmonium came to be portrayed as an unwanted foreign instrument. For these reasons, it was banned from All-India Radio in 1940. The ban remained till 1971.
On the other hand many of the Harmonium’s qualities suited very well to the newly-reformed classical music of the early 20th century. It was easy for amateurs to learn, it supported group singing and large voice classes, it was loud enough to provide a drone in a concert hall. For these reasons, it had become the instrument of choice for most North Indian classical vocal genres, though it is still despised as a foreign instrument by many purists of classical music, who prefer the Sarangi as an accompanying instrument.
A popular usage is by followers of Hindu and Sikh faiths, who use it in the devotional singing of prayers, called Bhajans or Kirtans. The Harmonium also plays an integral part in Qawwali music. Almost all Qawwals use the Harmonium as their sole musical accompaniment.
Baja was also a term once used for the good old Gramophone player.