DreamDTH Explains: A guide to devotional, music and youth channels in India
None of the devotional channels are from major national broadcasters. Most big networks have also been exiting the music/youth space, with some exceptions recently like Vijay Takkar and Bindass.
Over the course of 2022 our ‘DreamDTH Explains’ series of articles have thrown light on some of the most important genres of Indian TV channels: Hindi GECs, Hindi movie and news channels, English GECs, movie and news channels and a mega-article on sports broadcasting. As we enter 2023, we explore several other smaller genres as well as regional languages that make up a broader and more complete and colourful picture of Indian broadcasting. This article covers devotional (religious/spiritual) as well as music and youth channels, which do not command a high viewership but are important for serving their respective niches across multiple languages and age groups. This will be followed by an article on multilingual channels (kids’, lifestyle and infotainment) before moving on to regional languages and finally an analysis of the merger between Zee and Sony.
Note that devotional channels (which are typically popular among senior citizens, though their messages are for everyone) are entirely operated by small broadcasters, and none of the major networks are present ever since Zee Jagran ceased broadcasting in 2015. Music channels, on the other hand — which have historically been favoured more by the younger generation, in addition to dedicated youth channels — used to be an important segment for national broadcasters in the past. However, thanks to the shift towards streaming services including YouTube, which has led to falling ratings and profits, big networks have steadily been pulling out of this segment — despite Disney Star countering the trend with Vijay Takkar a few months ago, as well as unexpectedly saving Bindass from the axe.
Unlike with past articles, where we have so far mentioned only the national (i.e., Hindi and English) channels for each genre, for this and the next article we also include regional channels wherever applicable. For devotional channels this is important since Hindi channels are almost always dedicated towards Hinduism, sometimes Jainism, whereas Christianity is better covered by South Indian — particularly Malayalam — channels. For music channels, there are several broadcasters such as 9X Media, Media Worldwide and Sri Adhikari Brothers which have a diverse music portfolio across a number of languages, so it is only proper that some regional music channels be mentioned here, though of course they will be covered in greater detail in dedicated regional-language articles.
Devotional (spiritual) channels
It may be noted that most Hindi devotional channels are for Hinduism, with a few like Jinvani and Paras being for Jainism, and a couple for other religions. South Indian languages, on the other hand, have an equal mix of both Hindu and Christian channels, with the latter especially favoured in Kerala. Channels for Islam and Sikhism are most populous in their respective majority languages: Urdu and Punjabi, respectively. Other religions like Buddhism*, Judaism and Zororastrianism do not have any dedicated Indian satellite channels, but are nevertheless served through the Internet and otherwise. Moreover, none of the satellite devotional channels currently have HD feeds, though they may nevertheless exist in their online live-streams.
Note also that most Indian religious channels are Hindi, Urdu, Punjabi or South Indian (Telugu, Tamil, Kannada, Malayalam) aside from some global Christian channels like GOD TV that broadcast in English. Many other non-South Indian religious languages — such as Bengali, Marathi* and Assamese — do not have any devotional channels. In Gujarati, Lakshya TV is the only devotional channel; meanwhile, Odia has Prarthana TV, with the Sidharth network also launching Sidharth Bhakti and Jay Jagannath more recently.
*Previously there was a channel named Lord Buddha TV that was part-Marathi, part-Hindi, and was dedicated to not only Buddha but also Dr. Babasaheb Ambedkar. However, in 2020 it was renamed as Sharnam TV, which is no different from any other Hindi Hindu channel.
Hindi channels: mostly Hinduism and Jainism
Some Hindi Hindu channels have been around for decades, particularly Sanskar and Aastha, two of the oldest ones, which were launched in 2000; Aastha also has the Aastha Bhajan channel. The MH One network, which runs the eponymous Punjabi music channel MH One and the Haryana news channel MH One News, launched MH One Shraddha in 2007. These are the older and more well-known channels, while many others have been launched over the years. As mentioned, Zee was the only major broadcaster with a devotional channel — Zee Jagran — which closed down in January 2015, with all others being from small companies, many of whom do not operate more than one channel. A possible exception is Darshan 24, which is owned by BAG Films & Media that operates the Hindi national news channel News 24 and the Bollywood entertainment channel E24.
Some other Hindi Hindu channels include the following, many of whose logos are seen below. Several of them are added by and removed from DTH platforms on a regular basis, as they are required only for the payment of carriage fees, which is also the case for many small Hindi news channels which have near-zero name recognition.
- Awakening (run by Brahmakumaris)
- Bhakti Sagar
- Disha TV
- Peace of Mind (run by Brahmakumaris)
- Sarv Dharam Sangam
There are also several channels for Jainism: Jinvani, Paras TV, Arihant TV and more recently Aadinath TV, which espouse the teachings of Mahavira. Additionally, there are a couple of Hindi devotional channels for other religions, like Prarthana Bhawan, a trilingual Christian channel airing in Punjabi, Hindi and English, and Shubhsandesh TV, the Hindi version of Telugu Christian channel Subhavaartha TV.
Other Hindu channels in South India and elsewhere
Many South Indian channels are dedicated to Hinduism as well, in Tamil, Telugu and Kannada, but not so much Malayalam, which is heavily biased towards Christianity. They are as follows:
- Telugu: Perhaps the most well-known South Indian Hindu channel is the Sri Venkateswara Bhakti Channel, better known as SVBC, which is run by the Tirupati Tirumala Devasthanams (TTD) trust that operates the world-famous temples of Tirupati. Originally launched in Telugu, it has since expanded into other languages, namely Tamil (SVBC 2), Kannada (SVBC 3) and Hindi (SVBC 4).
- Besides, other Telugu Hindu channels include Bhakthi TV (a sister channel of NTV Telugu, one of the largest Telugu news channels), CVR Spiritual OM (one of several CVR channels), Hindu Dharmam (part of Shreya Broadcasting Pvt. Ltd., the owner of the TV5 Telugu and TV5 Kannada news channels) and Gyana Yogi Telugu, which has an unrelated Malayalam namesake.
- Tamil: Some Tamil Hindu channels include Sai TV, Jothi TV (which is owned by the Polimer network; previously known as Sahana TV, a Tamil music channel) and SVBC 2, the Tamil feed of SVBC. In addition, the Kannada-language Sri Sankara TV has a Tamil feed.
- Kannada: The most well-known Kannada devotional channel is Sri Sankara TV, which also has a dedicated Tamil feed. In addition, Sri Basava TV was launched a few years ago.
- Malayalam: The only Malayalam Hindu channel is Gyana Yogi Malayalam, which has no relation to its Telugu namesake. It is definitely surprising that there are so few non-Christian devotional channels in Malayalam, with the only other one being Darshana TV, an Islamic channel.
Aside from these South Indian languages, there is another state which has a handful of Hindu devotional channels due to its important status as a religious tourist hub: Odisha, home to the Puri Jagannath temple. This is as important a pilgrimage destination as the Venkateswara temple in Tirupati, and as such there are several Odia Hindu channels as well.
- Odia: The oldest (and, until 2021, the only) Odia devotional channel is Prarthana TV, which is run by Ortel Communications that also operates Tarang TV, the largest Odia entertainment channel, and OTV or Odisha TV, the largest Odia news channel. In May 2021, however, the Sidharth network started operations with three channels, among them Sidharth Bhakti, and a year later it also launched Jay Jagannath in June 2022. Despite being owned by the same network, there is not too much overlap between the two, as Jay Jagannath is dedicated to Maudamani Mahaprabhu Sri Jagannath with live temple coverage, whereas Sidharth Bhakti is a generic Hindu devotional channel like Prarthana TV.
- Gujarati: This is the only other non-South Indian language to have a spiritual channel, Lakshya TV, which is a rarity in a language that otherwise has hardly any non-news channels. The only other Gujarati non-news channels are Colors Gujarati and Colors Gujarati Cinema by Reliance-owned Viacom18, and Doordarshan’s DD Girnar, with no channel in other genres like music.
As mentioned, there are no devotional channels in Bengali, Marathi, Assamese and Bhojpuri.
Christianity: Malayalam predominates, besides other languages
Even though Hinduism is the largest religion in Kerala, as with most other Indian states — aside from a sizeable Muslim population — it is only Christianity, the third-largest religion in the state, which accounts for most Malayalam-language religious channels. Many other languages also have channels for this important minority religion of India, which is the largest after Hinduism and Islam.
- Malayalam: Given the sizeable Christian population in Kerala, it is only fair that it be served by a number of Christian channels, many of which have been running for over a decade. These include Shalom TV, Harvest TV, Power Vision and Goodness TV. Previously there was also Athmeeya Yathra or AY TV, but its licence was cancelled.
- Telugu: This, too, has plenty of Christian channels, with the oldest being Subhavaartha TV, which also has subsidiary channels in other languages, namely Nambikkai TV (Tamil), Goodnews TV (English) and Shubhsandesh TV (Hindi). Other Telugu Christian channels include Calvary TV, Swara Sagar (previously known as Divyavani) and Aradana TV.
- Tamil: Even Tamil has a number of Christian channels, like Angel TV, Nambikkai TV (owned by Subhavaartha TV), Aseervatham TV and Madha TV. Note, however, that Kannada — the fourth South Indian language — does not have any Christian channels.
- Hindi: A Hindi Christian channel is Shubhsandesh TV, which is owned by Subhavaartha TV, as mentioned above, with another one being Prarthana Bhawan, a trilingual (Punjabi/Hindi/English) channel.
- English: The global channel GOD TV is one of the longest-running Christian channels in India, and is available all over the world. Previously, other global Christian channels such as Daystar were also available in India. Interestingly, DTH operator Tata Play considers GOD TV to be a Malayalam channel in its programme guide and channel packaging, which is understandable given the huge representation of Christianity in Kerala. Also, Goodnews TV, an English channel owned by Subhavaartha TV — not to be confused with Goodness TV, a Malayalam channel — was launched in June 2017.
Islam: mainly Urdu channels, also in other languages
Most Islamic channels broadcasting in India are Urdu channels: Urdu is not only one of the largest languages in Muslim-predominant Kashmir, but is also spoken by a sizeable population in some other cities like Hyderabad and Lucknow. Channel Win (not to be confused with Win TV, a Tamil general entertainment channel) is a long-established Urdu Islamic channel, with another one being Mercy TV, which was previously a Telugu Islamic channel called Rujumargam TV. In addition, Tehzeeb TV is typically added by Sun Direct on channel 786 — a holy number for Muslims — for the sacred month of Ramadan, and removed after Eid. Non-Urdu Islamic channels are few in number, an example being Darshana TV, a Malayalam channel.
Sikhism: the religion of Punjab
Another important minority religion is Sikhism, which is concentrated in the northern state of Punjab, and has its own dedicated channels that broadcast live proceedings from Amritsar’s Golden Temple, among other shows. Though not dedicated to Sikhism 24/7, Chardikla Time TV has been on air for years, and splits its programming between Gurbani (teachings from the Guru Granth Sahib) and news coverage. PTC Network, the largest Punjabi-language broadcaster, has also aired Gurbani programmes on its flagship entertainment channel, PTC Punjabi, throughout its existence. Several other Punjabi channels, like MH One and PTC Chak De — both music channels popular among the youth — also show Gurbani proceedings at certain times of the day.
There are now a handful of 24/7 Sikh satellite channels like Fateh TV and Garv Punjab Gurbani, but these are not available on DTH platforms. In February 2019 PTC launched PTC Simran, a dedicated Sikh channel, along with two other channels: PTC Punjabi Gold and PTC Music. These have all been added by DTH operators over the years. Both PTC Simran and PTC Punjabi Gold even have an HD feed, but only on the Fastway cable platform, which like the PTC channels is owned by the politically powerful Badal family. Fastway also has other HD channels dedicated to Sikhism, like Dukhniwaran HD, Patiala Live HD and Fateh TV HD, but, like PTC Simran HD, these are not satellite channels.
As mentioned, several devotional channels across genres may very well be available in HD in live-streams, on IPTV services (like JioTV) and on cable platforms like Fastway — which is supposed to be the standard in this day and age — but none of them are seen on DTH operators, which is an aberration compared to other genres which have at least a couple of HD channels if not several.
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