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2 Classical India Puja and Gandharva Sangita As we have seen, Vedic India was dominated by a culture that promoted fire sacrifices and the melodic chanting of the Sama-Veda. Vedic literatures provided information about the means to propitiate the gods in order to gain desirable goals, as well as about how the universe functioned. The mode of access to the Vedic gods was through the combination of the chanted text and fire and not through images or other iconic manifestations. Yet the Vedic gods were frequently depicted in language as spiritual beings with names, form, and activity. Indeed, rather than depicted in terms of impersonal principles as in the Upanishads, the gods portrayed in Vedic descriptions were generally anthropomorphic and personal . The historical details regarding the transition from literary description to concrete images or icons have been widely debated. New research suggests that this transition took place by means of ceremonies known as Puja which were originally tied to sacred drama and indigenous rites that surfaced visibly in the classical period from 400 b.c.e. to 300 c.e. The narratives of the Vedic gods and their heroic exploits became the substance of Indian mythology and ritual reenactment in the post-Vedic period. Chief among the early means by which these narratives were reenacted was through sacred drama. The sacred dramas or Natyas began with special ceremonies of veneration and worship called Puja in the earliest texts. Early Indian music called Gandharva Sangita was also closely associated with these Pujas and sacred dramatic performances, as evidenced in Bharata’s Natya-Sastra and Dattila ’s Dattilam, the two earliest texts on drama and music believed to have been composed between the fourth and second centuries b.c.e. The tradition of Puja did not directly derive from Vedic models, however, but was linked to indigenous practices involving the ritual offering of selected items such as flowers, water, and food, not as oblations into a fire but as objects placed at the foot or base of an icon or symbol of the divine being. These practices, along with rites for temple construction and icon worship, were later described and codified in medieval texts called Agamas which, though postdating the Vedas, likely reflect pre-Vedic and non-Vedic dimensions of ancient India. The proliferation of Agamic traditions classical india • 65 also facilitated the ascendancy of the gods Siva and Vishnu as the most prominent deities in the Hindu pantheon. Gandharva Sangita, or simply Gandharva, was the sacred music associated with the early Pujas and sacred dramas during the classical period. It was the principal style of music performed in Hindu festivals, courtly ceremonies, and rituals in honor of the emerging great gods and goddesses such as Siva, Vishnu, Brahma, Ganesha, and Devi. In the ancient epics of the Mahabharata and Ramayana, as well as in the mythical histories called Puranas, there are descriptions of temple musicians and dancers who performed Gandharva Sangita for the pleasure of these deities. Puja While the Yajna was central during Vedic times, the ceremonial rites of Puja became widespread in the post-Vedic or classical period, coming to the foreground as the quintessential Hindu ritual. Gandharva Sangita, in combination with early Puja, indeed helped to create a new form of sonic liturgy that offered striking distinctions from Yajna and the culture of Sama-Gana and fire sacrifice. To appreciate more fully the differences between the Vedic realm of fire sacrifice and the emergent Puja ritualism involving images, it is essential to compare these two forms of liturgical worship, beginning with some basic definitions and descriptions of Puja. Appearing initially in the scenic rites of sacred dramas and more fully developed within the textual tradition of the Agamas, Puja or Deva Puja was a form of religious ritual that Hindus began to perform on a variety of occasions to petition or show respect to their chosen gods or goddesses. Puja may be defined as any act of showing reverence to a god, a spirit, or another aspect of the divine through invocations, prayers, offerings, songs, and rituals. An essential part of Puja for the Hindu devotee is making a personal connection with the divine. Most often the contact is facilitated through an object: an element of nature, a sculpture, a vessel , or a painting. During Puja an image or other symbol of the god serves as a means of gaining access to the divine. The icon is not the deity itself; rather it is believed to be...


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