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Department of Music

Sacred Sound in South Asia

Unit value:
0.5
Year of study:
Any

Prerequisites

Course may not be taken if BA course has been passed.

Objectives and learning outcomes of the course

  • Knowledge and understanding in depth 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, demonstrated in written work and oral presentations.

Scope and syllabus

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 a number of religious traditions including Hinduism, Islam, and Buddhism.

Geographical scope: India and the South Asian region.
Religious traditions: Hinduism, Islam (Sufi), Buddhism (Tantric), plus any of: 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; musical articulations of time, space and cosmology; the control of temporal and emotional experience; music as concerted versus individual experience; possession and trance; symbolism of musical instruments; etc.
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 20%);One 3 000 words essay (worth 60%);One seminar presentation (max. 15 minutes including AV examples) (worth 10%);One  listening exam (worth 10%).