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Introduction The online description of the graduate program in liturgical studies at the Graduate Theological Union in Berkeley, California, contained the following statement in August 2010: “The goal of this program is to promote the study and understanding of Christian worship as it is lived and expressed through the churches’ various traditions and cultures. It assumes that worship is at the heart of the theological enterprise, since it is both the primary context of the churches’ encounter with the mystery of the Triune God and a primary actualization of the ecclesial body. Study in this area requires an interdisciplinary approach to liturgical studies that integrates the historical, theological, and social-scientific study of Christian ritual practice” ( At first glance this statement suggests that “liturgical studies” is essentially a Christian concern. In fact this notion is found throughout the curricula of many theological schools and seminaries. But despite this seemingly closed perspective, there are multiple indications of the widening of the liturgical lens within Christianity , as is evident in the number of non-Christian entries found in The New Westminster Dictionary of Liturgy and Worship (2002), edited by Paul Bradshaw. There are entries regarding Jewish worship, Islamic worship, Hindu worship, Buddhist worship, Sikh worship, and Shinto worship. In each case the presence of music and chant is briefly woven into the description of the ritual and liturgical dimensions of each tradition. Outside the Christian fold scholars in the phenomenology of religion and music have also been struggling to break the ironclad hold of sectarianism on otherwise neutral terms and categories such as liturgy, ritual, and sacred music. These expressions, and others, are now increasingly employed by Christian as well as religious studies scholars as comparative categories, understood not to be the “possession” of certain religious groups. Hence despite some programmatic setbacks, the field of liturgical studies, along with ritual studies , has the potential of developing into a rewarding comparative discipline and one that also provides new elements of method and theory with regard to Hindu tradition. Recent scholarship in musicology has broadened the scope of music and religious worship by explaining the various ways in which music and song play central 2 • Sonic Liturgy roles in all known religions: “In some religions sound itself is a cosmological starting point. As such, it represents the essence of the universe and to be in harmony with the universe means to hear accurately its sound. . . . Further, sound may be the medium of revelation by which the gods have chosen to make themselves known. Further still, sound may be the believer’s means of communication to the gods and/or preparing oneself for such communication. The content of this preparation and communication is combined with the music to become songs, that is, music with an articulated goal. Music has been used cosmologically, liturgically , and devotionally in all the world’s religions.”1 One of the tasks in the study of religion and music is to recognize and document common denominators among varying forms of religious music. For example , a parallel feature shared by religious practitioners is the conservative attitude with which they approach their music as it relates to ritual and liturgy. In most religions throughout the world, there are strict rules regarding the performance of music and chant in ritual contexts. Traditional psalms, chants, hymns, and liturgical songs are generally predetermined and contain little scope for alteration beyond fixed parameters: Latin Gregorian chants, Calvinist psalmody, Lutheran chorales, gospel hymns, church litanies, and prayers in the Christian tradition; Qur’an recitation and Majlis in Islam; Chinese ceremonial songs and chants in Confucian or Taoist contexts; Buddhist chants throughout Asia; musical forms of ancient Egypt as described by Plato; Vedic invocations and hymns, Gandharva music, Sanskrit mantras and Stotras, scriptural recitations, Kirtana and Kriti in South India, Bhajans, Bhakti Sangit, Haveli Sangit, Samaj Gayan, and Padavali Kirtan in North India, and Shabad Kirtan in Sikhism. A widely held assumption is that these traditional musical forms are performed in connection with one God, specific deities, sacred ancestors, or spirits. They are handed down from the hoary past and effectively produce expected results only if performed precisely according to canonical standards. Among the various forms of “conservative” music used in religious worship around the world, this book focuses on the exploration of ritual and music in the Hindu tradition. For this purpose the author has advanced the category of sonic liturgy as a flexible template with which to examine the co...


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