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Tradition of Vedic chanting

  • वैदिक जप की परंपरा
  • वैदिक जप की परंपरा
  • वैदिक जप की परंपरा

Inscribed in 2008 (3.COM) on the Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity (originally proclaimed in 2003)

The Vedas comprise a vast corpus of Sanskrit poetry, philosophical dialogue, myth, and ritual incantations developed and composed by Aryans over 3,500 years ago. Regarded by Hindus as the primary source of knowledge and the sacred foundation of their religion, the Vedas embody one of the world’s oldest surviving cultural traditions.

The Vedic heritage embraces a multitude of texts and interpretations collected in four Vedas, commonly referred to as “books of knowledge” even though they have been transmitted orally. The Rig Veda is an anthology of sacred hymns; the Sama Veda features musical arrangements of hymns from the Rig Veda and other sources; the Yajur Veda abounds in prayers and sacrificial formulae used by priests; and the Atharna Veda includes incantations and spells. The Vedas also offer insight into the history of Hinduism and the early development of several artistic, scientific and philosophical concepts, such as the concept of zero.

Expressed in the Vedic language, which is derived from classical Sanskrit, the verses of the Vedas were traditionally chanted during sacred rituals and recited daily in Vedic communities. The value of this tradition lies not only in the rich content of its oral literature but also in the ingenious techniques employed by the Brahmin priests in preserving the texts intact over thousands of years. To ensure that the sound of each word remains unaltered, practitioners are taught from childhood complex recitation techniques that are based on tonal accents, a unique manner of pronouncing each letter and specific speech combinations.

Although the Vedas continue to play an important role in contemporary Indian life, only thirteen of the over one thousand Vedic recitation branches have survived. Moreover, four noted schools – in Maharashtra (central India), Kerala and Karnataka (southern India) and Orissa (eastern India) – are considered under imminent threat.

Chanting was essentially used as a way to help memorize teachings as well as expressions of commitment. Also known as oral prayers, it is one of the popular ways of expressing devotion.The whole practice of chanting is neither active nor passive but is receptive. Chanting involves conscious effort. As a practice, chanting has existed over a long time period across various faiths and religious institutions such as Buddhism, Vedic Hinduism, Christinaity (orthodox), Judaism and even Paganism.

The Vedas or the Vedic texts are a body of religious texts written in Sanskrit that date back to 1500 - 1000 BCE. Apart from liturgical material and mythological accounts, the Vedas include poems, prayers and religious eulogy that represent the Vedic Hindu religion.

The Vedas are divided into four major parts - the Rig Veda, the Sama Veda, the Yajur Veda and the Atharva Veda.

Chanting or recitation of prayers in Sanskrit (Hindu Vedic chanting) is in the form of a simple praise or eulogy called stuti, sukta or stava. These chants are considered to be the oldest unbroken oral traditions since the existence of Vedic literature,which dates back to the Iron Age. The whole concept of Vedic Chanting can be seen in two parts - Tone and Recitation (Patha).

Vedic chanting primarily uses four different tones - Udatta, Anudaatta, Svarita and Deergha Svarita.

Pathas are the styles of hymnal recitation. There are eleven such ways of recitation - amhita, Padha, Krama, Jata, Maalaa, Sikha, Rekha, Dhwaja, Danda, Rathaaand Ghana.

The first, Samhita, is the simplest form of recitation that approaches the mantra as it is. Padha, on the other hand is recited in a way where each word is broken down. Krama, the third technique, adds the first real level of difficulty into the recitation through a pattern of repetition. Jatapatha, the first of the more challenging patha, alternates between a repetitious interposing and transposing of words. Between Jatapata and the last technique are six other techniques (called Mala, Shikha, Rekha, Dvaja, Danda and Ratha) that again are built-in combinations and permutations that have ensured that the order and words of the Vedas remain unchanged throughout the chant.