Devotion Through Music

21 02 2008

By Derek Beres

The objects of devotion are seemingly limitless. Some are defined by culture, and appear as figures, crosses or mandalas; others are expressed through different mediums, such as chanting, painting and mathematics. (Yes, some consider numbers to be sacred.) Making music is possibly the most ubiquitous and widespread form of devotion the world knows. When applied in this manner, music is a form of prayer; it is an oblation, ritual and correspondence.

While Western traditions hold that prayers only travel in one direction, and may or may not be “answered” (depending on the whim of their deities or the sincerity of the effort), in the East it is not considered you, specifically, who is praying through music. A more appropriate way to phrase the resulting music would be to say that it is the god using you, through the sound, as a vehicle for prayer.

This is generally true of polytheistic theologies, where gods are not overseers as much as emotional states or natural phenomena. The entire spectrum of Ancient Near Eastern and Indian deities represented natural forces (wind, water, sky, fire), while the Greeks understood love as Eros, regeneration as Persephone and direction as Hecate. If there is one entity at the helm, he or she (or more appropriately, it) is not so much a ruler as a caretaker of the process. To be engaged fully with the deity is to be full aware of yourself. This is why in Buddhism, enlightenment is called “self-realization”. It is an awakening to the inherent similarities between the individual and the external world, both of which are involved in one continuous process; namely, existence.

Devotion, then, is a form of psychology rather than some quasi-unreliable mystical state. A person that is devoted does not have to be devoted “to” something. Simply being devotional is enough. As stated, people like to choose idols, gurus or historical persons as the object of their worship. And many, like the artists that follow, use music as the vehicle for expressing their sonic sanctity.

Read the full blog on PopMatters.

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