Sacred Sound in South Asia

Key information

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

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 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.


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

    Objectives and learning outcomes of the module

    • 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.


    • One hour Lecture, one hour Seminar

    Method of assessment

    • One 1,000-word essay (worth 30%)
    • One 2,000-word essay (worth 70%)


    Important notice regarding changes to programmes and modules.