Music and Sound Art in South Asian Religions

Key information

Start date
End date
Year of study
Year 2 or Year 3
Term 1
Module code
FHEQ Level
School of Arts & Department of Music

Module overview

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 module 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

On successful completion of this module students will be able to

  • Interpret the place of music and sound art in the religions of South Asia.
  • Critically examine the relationship between musical concepts and practices in South Asia. 
  • Evaluate the debates around identity, representation and curation in the context of music and religion.


  • Lectures: 2 hour per week 

Method of assessment

  • 1,000-word commentary (worth 30% of marks)
  • 2,500-word essay (worth 50%)
  • Listening exam (worth 20%)


Important notice regarding changes to programmes and modules.