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1 Ancient India Yajna and Sama-Gana Indian music and its employment in worship as a sonic liturgy is traceable to the earliest roots of Indian civilization. Comprising the Yajna or Vedic fire sacrifices , the Soma sacrifices, and the singing of Sama-Gana in Sanskrit, the concept of sonic liturgy in Vedic religion first developed as a uniquely Indo-Aryan tradition. With the parallel rise of early classical music and its association with drama and Puja rites, sonic liturgy became enlarged with non-Aryan elements. And as the ancient Vedic culture gradually blended more and more with indigenous features and vernacular expression, new forms of Hindu liturgical tradition emerged, leading ultimately to the concept of Seva, a fully comprehensive worship experience that nonetheless retained ties to the Vedic tradition as well as to the earliest classical music, Gandharva Sangita. The earliest Hindu musical expression was the singing of Sama-Veda hymns (Sama-Gana), rendered during Soma sacrifices, and Gandharva Sangita, performed during Puja (services to the Hindu gods) associated with early religious dramas. As these traditions developed further in conversation with the devotional input of the Bhakti movements, they were codified into new forms of sonic liturgy by schools of orthodoxy. Consisting of what has been called temple Hinduism in the medieval period, and devoted primarily to the gods Siva and Vishnu, these traditions combined Vedic chant in Sanskrit with regional musical forms and vernacular poetry. Several new forms of Seva that were established from the fifteenth to sixteenth centuries were focused on the Vaishnava deity of Krishna and became fully integrated and interactive systems of sonic liturgy that often involved all of the creative arts. In order to understand the roots of Hindu sonic liturgy, we first turn to the religion and culture of the ancient Indo-Aryans. Indo-Aryans The terms Hindu and Hinduism were unknown in ancient India, as was the idea of a unified religious system. Instead there were wider networks of language, culture , and ritual that may be defined as Arya-Dharma, the dharma or religious culture of the ancient Indo-Aryans, the South Asian branch of the broader Aryan 36 • Sonic Liturgy cultural and linguistic milieu. What we understand today as Hinduism is actually a complex blend of Indo-Aryan traditions and many indigenous elements, including those associated with the Indus Valley Civilization. The term Aryan was originally identified with peoples across the entire region from India to ancient Persia (Iran) from about 3000 b.c.e. The Aryan languages, Sanskrit and ancient Persian or Avestan, belong to the larger family known as Indo-European, comprising Greek, Latin, Celtic, Germanic, Slavic, and other languages that share many features. The ancient Persians (Iranians or Avestans) and Indians (Vedic) were the only groups who applied the term Aryan to themselves. It was not a racial or geographic classification but a cultural one. And despite the use of the Aryan appellation by various interest groups in recent times, modern scholarship tends to confirm the conservative ascription: “The Rig-Vedic and Avestan people are called Aryan because that is how they described themselves in their texts. The term should be reserved for them alone, and not used as an umbrella term for Indo-Europeans.”1 It has also become apparent that the Persian and Indian cultures shared a similar origin and remained closely bound together for many years: “The institutions, customs and ways of thought of the Vedic and Avestan people are so similar that there can be no doubt the two peoples are very closely related. Both call themselves Arya. . . . Any statement that is made about the history of the Vedic people should not only be consistent with the Vedic texts but also with the Avesta.”2 The similarity of the two cultures has been confirmed on linguistic grounds by Harvard philologist Michael Witzel: “Vedic Sanskrit is indeed so closely related to Old Iranian that both often look more like two dialects than two separate languages. . . . [In fact] the comparison of the many common features found in Vedic Indo-Aryan and Old Iranian has led to the reconstruction of a common parent, IIr, spoken (at least) c. 2000 b.c.e., by a group of people that shared a common spiritual and material culture.”3 The early religions of both “Aryans” were closely bound up with sun worship, fire rituals, the Soma cult, and solar phenomena. Since they both utilized the mysterious Soma (Haoma in Avestan) plant in rituals, the native habitat for this plant weighs in...


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