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Department of Music

Music and Religion in South Asia

Course Code:
155800086
Unit value:
0.5
Year of study:
Year 2 or Year 3
Taught in:
Term 1
Why is music an important element in South Asian religion? Why are the nature and purpose of music often described there in religious, spiritual or cosmological terms? What does music do to ensure the efficacy of ritual or devotion, and what are the roles of the individuals and groups – professional or voluntary – who provide it? The course will seek to understand how musical and religious experience inform each other in India and the South Asian region, with reference especially to Hinduism, but also to Islamic, Buddhist, Sikh and other religious traditions. Topics may include: concepts of sacred sound; the musician as intermediary between human and divine realms; auspiciousness and impurity; gender roles; music for and as ritual; transmission and initiation; music as expression of devotion (bhakti) and power (tantra); music of ascetics and mendicants; sacred narrative, dance and drama; participatory versus presentational forms; and musical articulations of sacred time and space. Case studies may include Ādivāsi groups, Vedic religion and chant, the Bauls of Bengal, Buddhist caryā dance, temple singing traditions of India and Nepal, Sufi music, classical musicians, the songs of Tyāgarāja in South India, dhrupad in North India etc.

Objectives and learning outcomes of the course

At the end of this course, a student should be able to demonstrate…

  • A knowledge and understanding of the relationship between music and some of the major religious traditions of South Asia.
  • How religious and musical concepts, practices and experiences inform each other.
  • An ability to bring evidence and critical thought to bear on the analysis of this relationship.

Workload

Two hours Lecture per week

Scope and syllabus

Geographical scope: India and the South Asian region.
Religious traditions: Any of the religious traditions practised in South Asia, especially Hinduism, but also including a selection from Islam (Sufi), Buddhism (Tantric), Judaism, Sikhism, Christianity, and Ādivāsī, Baul etc. traditions.
Topics such as:  concepts of sacred sound; the musician as intermediary between human and divine realms; auspiciousness and impurity; gender roles; music for and as ritual; transmission and initiation; music as expression of devotion (bhakti) and power (tantra); music of ascetics and mendicants; sacred narrative, dance and drama; participatory versus presentational forms; and musical articulations of sacred time and space.
Case studies such as: Ādivāsī traditions (Pardhan, Gond, Kota etc), Vedic religion and chant,  the Bauls of Bengal, Buddhist caryā dance, temple singing traditions of India and Nepal,  Sufi music,  classical musicians, the songs of Tyāgarāja in South India, dhrupad in North India etc.

Method of assessment

One  1 000 words essay (worth 10%);one 1 000 words essay (worth 20%);one 3 000 words essay ( worth 60%);one listening exam (worth 10%)