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Rivers of Sacred Sound



Solveig McIntosh

Rivers of Sacred Sound traces the flow of influences from East to West, from

BC to AD and from wordless jubilations to the setting of texts. It takes the

discussion about western chant beyond a European perspective.

The text of this book, preceded by an introduction, is presented in seven

chapters and covers a period of approximately five thousand years. There are

many references all over the world to praising the divine with sound. Thus

the starting point is the praise song, a fundamental impulse in mankind. The

Rg-Veda requests that our loudest-sounding hymn be accepted, as food most

delightful to the Gods. The Psalms request us to make a joyful noise unto God

and to sing forth the honour of His name. Spontaneous songs became ritual

events. In an aural culture what was the role of gesture and what is its role

now? There are many doors to open in pursuing these and other questions.

This book opens some of them.

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Chapter 2. Language


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Sanskrit was and continues to be the common language of the educated priestly caste, the Brahmins, in India. It ‘is said to be “well-created” or “perfectly made” speech, the highly evolved language of the gods’. Sanskrit is a word ‘derived from the prefix “sam” meaning in this instance, “well”, the augment “s” and the root “kṛ” meaning to do, make, perform, prepare, undertake’.1,2 However, there have been scholars who maintained that there was a form of Sanskrit spoken by early Āryan people before they reached India. It was a language considered suitable for the Temple and its initiates. ‘This refers to the Sanskrit of the original Vedic writings …’3 The Vedas, together with a form of Sanskrit, were ‘Importations into what we now regard as India. They were never indigenous to its soil’.4 The word ārya has a Sanskrit translation, meaning ‘respectable’ or ‘honourable’.5 It did not refer to either race or language but to a quality of mind and disposition. It is a word which has acquired a heavy mass of connotations but originally expressed a simple idea. As for Sanskrit, the Vedic language of the mantrās preceded that of classical Sanskrit. The Aṣṭādhyāyī [Eight Meditations], a monumental work on grammar attributed to Pāṇini around 600 BC, codified Sanskrit as it existed at that time. The Aṣṭādhyāyī ‘is evidently ← 17 | 18 → the work of a long and sophisticated grammatical tradition and...

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