Academic journal article Yearbook for Traditional Music

The Significance of Tantric Sects for Drum Practice in the Central Himalayas

Academic journal article Yearbook for Traditional Music

The Significance of Tantric Sects for Drum Practice in the Central Himalayas

Article excerpt

Gorakhnath is a tantric figure revered by a number of Hindu Shaivite sects. These sects exist particularly in Nepal, but are also found elsewhere in, or near, the Himalayas in parts of northern India and Bengal. In addition, others in the Himalayas see Gorakhnath as particularly influential for their religious lives. For instance, Maskarinec (1995:7) mentions that shamans in Nepal regard Gorakhnath as the "highest" spiritual authority. The suffix -nath literally means "lord" or "master," and thus is used in many contexts. Most broadly this suffix is used in association with the names of specific temples and their principal deities, such as Kedarnath, Tungnath, or Bodinath, highlighting the reverence people hold for these places of worship and their deities. In addition many people more generally refer to "Naths" as those who follow the teachings of Gorakhnath. They are also referred to as Gorakhpanth-meaning the sect(s) (panth) of Gorakhnath.

Little is really known about Gorakhnath as an actual historical figure. He appears to have lived about a thousand years ago and his teachings as well as those of his guru, Matsyendranath, have shaped an esoteric philosophical tradition that is carried on today by Gorakhpanthis. Kanphata Yogis are the most well known sect of ascetics who revere Gorakhnath as their founder and primary guru. As Bharati (1982:873) suggests, the sect is not only a tantric (Shaivite and Sakta) order but also has connections with the Vajrayana Buddhist tradition. Kanphata Yogis consider Gorakhnath to be a deity and worship him in many temples throughout Nepal. In his deified form, Gorakhnath is most commonly associated with Siva. Consequently, Kanphata Yogis are frequently found in locations near Siva temples. For instance, Sharma (1973:252) describes their existence in western Nepal and mentions how they are married and live a householder life while acting as priests in shrines dedicated to Bhairavnath-another form of Siva.

Tantrics, in general, and Naths, in particular, disregard restrictions of caste hierarchy as practised by the general Hindu population. Anyone may choose to become a follower of Gorakhnath, and once initiated, like other renunciates, may ignore the moral and social codes of the "world." As with other Naths, it is difficult to elucidate a particular doctrine of the Kanphata Yogis since their practices are fairly esoteric and somewhat individualistic. However, they are clearly a tantric sect with philosophies associated with Saiva-Sakta traditions. Consequently, many of their practices would undoubtedly conform to Hopkins's more general description for Tantrism:

[There is] ... the common Tantric emphasis on internalization of images, identification with the deity and divine powers, use of Tantric mantras, and reliance on sectarian or Tantric teachers rather than orthodox Brahmanas [texts] for religious instruction. (Hopkins 1971:115)

This paper examines a number of connections that exist between Shaivite religious practices and drumming in the Himalayas. These connections appear to support a hypothesis in which the historical development of a number of present-day ritualistic drum traditions in the Central Himalayas might have had a common Shaivite heritage. Direct evidence for this hypothesis does not exist. However, there are a number of present-day drum practices, stories, and secondary sources that reveal the likelihood of some kind of connection in the past. In particular, the nath-sampradaya (a term most frequently used to refer to the "doctrine" of the Naths, particularly the Kanphata Yogis) appears to support this hypothesis. The esoteric practices of Naths, the Shaivite emphasis of their texts, their disregard for caste restrictions, and their connection with Siva shrines seem to indicate an interest in drumming that reflects broader Vedantic and Shaivite approaches to the metaphysics of sound. Consequently, philosophies and practices of Tantrics such as the Naths appear to have had an influence on the drumming of low-caste drummers in many parts of the Himalayas. …

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