Sonic Liturgy: Ritual and Music in Hindu Tradition

Sonic Liturgy: Ritual and Music in Hindu Tradition

Sonic Liturgy: Ritual and Music in Hindu Tradition

Sonic Liturgy: Ritual and Music in Hindu Tradition


Sonic Liturgy: Ritual and Music in Hindu Tradition builds on the foundation of Guy L. Beck's earlier work, Sonic Theology: Hinduism and Sacred Sound, which described the theoretical role of sound in Hindu thought. Sonic Liturgy continues the discussion of sound into the realm of Hindu ritual and musical traditions of worship.Beginning with the chanting of the Sama-Veda alongside the fire sacrifices of the ancient Indo-Aryans and with the classical Gandharva music as outlined in the musicological texts of Bharata and Dattila, Beck establishes a historical foundation for an in-depth understanding of the role of music in the early Puja rituals and Indian theater, in the vernacular poetry of the Bhakti movements, in medieval temple worship of Siva and Vishnu in southern India, and later in the worship of Krishna in the northern Braj region. By surveying a multitude of worship traditions, and drawing upon diverse sources in both Sanskrit and vernacular languages, Beck reveals a continuous template of interwoven ritual and music in Hindu tradition that he terms "sonic liturgy," a structure of religious worship and experience that incorporates sound and music on many levels. In developing the concept and methods for understanding the phenomenon of sonic liturgy, Beck draws from liturgical studies and ritual studies, broadening the dimensions of each, as well as from recent work in the fields of Indian religion and music. As he maps the evolution of sonic liturgy in Hindu culture, Beck shows how, parallel to the development of religious ritual from ancient times to the present, there is a less understood progression of musical form, beginning with Vedic chants of two to three notes to complicated genres of devotional temple music employing ragas with up to a dozen notes. Sonic liturgy in its maturity is manifest as a complex interactive worship experience of the Vaishnava sects, presented here in Beck's final chapters.


This book is dedicated to all the musicians and ritual specialists of Hindu India who have diligently maintained their traditions with unswerving devotion over the centuries. Sonic Liturgy: Ritual and Music in Hindu Tradition may be viewed as a sequel to the previous Sonic Theology: Hinduism and Sacred Sound (1993), also published by the University of South Carolina Press. While the former deals with theories of sacred sound in Hinduism, the present work covers some of the practical aspects of sound and music. Financial support for the research conducted in 1992 and 1993 was provided by the Council for the International Exchange of Scholars (CIES) in the form of a Fulbright Research Grant and by the American Institute of Indian Studies (AUS) in the form of a Senior Research Fellowship. During the periods covered by these grants, I greatly appreciate the assistance provided by the Vrindaban Research Institute for fieldwork in the Braj area and the ITC Sangeet Research Academy in Calcutta for instruction on Indian music theory and history.

For the present work, thanks go to Professor Ed Johnson, chair of the Philosophy Department at the University of New Orleans, for providing me with a wonderful office while I taught courses at UNO from fall 2008 through fall 2009. During this time most of the actual writing took place in the peaceful solitude of the third floor of the Liberal Arts Building. In addition, the fact that the Tulane University School of Continuing Studies kept me on board during the difficult post-Katrina years will never be forgotten. Without the employment support of these two institutions, the completion of this book would not have been possible.

I sincerely extend a vote of thanks to Professor Fred Denny for graciously accommodating this text in his USC Press series, Studies in Comparative Religion. I also thank James Denton and the editors of the University of South Carolina Press for taking an interest in a work on Hindu ritual and music and for their help through the acquisitions and editorial processes.

Last, Kajal Beck, my wife, deserves much credit for her patient assistance and encouragement through all phases of the project, including in Vrindaban and Rajasthan in northern India when I was the recipient of the Fulbright and AUS grants.

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