Rituals are recurring stylized behavior and in repetition the ritual becomes rhythmic.
The author beautifully portrays the types of rituals and the rhythms they generate from the babbling of a child to a band parade or the chanting of a mantra he explain the initiation and completion of patterns that form the rhythm.
The book further proceeds to ‘Hermeneutics’ or the science of interpretation and attempts to explain rituals in their light.
An ex-banker Jayant Burde holds academic/Professional qualification in physics, Mathematics law and banking. His published papers involve mathematical models in finance coasting and organization structure. He is also the author of the books Ritual, Mantras and science an integral perspective and the Mystique of om.
This book explains how rituals are closely connected with verse music and dance. It asserts that like music and dance rituals belong to the world of the rhythm. By ritual we mean any stylized behavior that recurs. Rituals abound in all walks of life social intercourse military affairs law and politics education and so forth. In most rituals rhythm is manifest and loud. In a few rituals which have a slow tempo some analysis is necessary to detect rhythmic patterns.
The book is written for the common reader. I have avoided diacritical marks mathematical and logical symbols and many technical devices which were used in my earlier book Rituals Mantras and Science. An integral Perspective (2004). The main purpose of writing that book was to show that there can be a science of rituals and I heavily borrowed from frits Staal’s work rituals and Mantras Rules without Meaning. In the present book my main goal is to show that like music and dance rituals belong to the world of rhythm. I have also discussed at greater length the rituals instinct which was conceptualized in the earlier book.
The notes which I have added after each chapter are meant for those who would like to know more about the relevant topic. The reader who feels that notes are unnecessary hurdles which merely impede reading may totally ignore them.
There are many technical words from music dance and religion. These have been explained in the text. Nevertheless I have provided a glossary which can be used for ready reference.
Have you seen a two-month old baby perform a rhythmic exercise in which it rotates its hands and legs? Doctors rightly call this rituals activity cycling. As it grows the baby displays more and more such rhythmic behavior. For example its babbling such as is full of rhythm.
Human adults too display ritualistic behavior either consciously or unconsciously. They hum a tune when they are elated pace up and down when they are anxious and make rhythmic sounds when they are playing with children. Animals too engage in ritualistic behavior higher primates such as chimpanzee’s experiments with different sounds by repeated banging and striking. Other members of their society man join them and enjoy the percussion. Many animals make repetitive vocal sounds such as hoots and screams in which an individual may soon be joined by the entire group. Animals too respond to music rhythmically by swaying as human adults and babies do. They also perform what are called animal rituals such as aspersion rites or combat rituals (in which they have no real intention to engage in flight).
In most of the ritualistic behavior mentioned above rhythm is quite patent. It would not be wrong to say that wherever there is ritual there is rhythm. The second aspect of rituals mentioned above is that neither human babies nor animals have to be taught rhythmic rituals. These rituals appear automatically under proper conditions. We may safely assume that this innate capacity is due to what may be called the rituals instinct capacity instinct. Even case of rituals performed by human adults the rituals plays a dominant role but in this case instinct is tempered by cultural factors as we shall see later.
You must remember that in this book the word ritual is used in a board sense to indicate any stylized and recurring behavior. It is not used in a restricted sense merely to refer to rigid rituals especially those found in religion. Incidentally rituals can be rigid or flexible long or short simple or complex.
Rituals appear in all walks of life social intercourse (greeting manners) politics (worship rites of passage such as marriage) politics and law (elections enactment of laws parliamentary procedure) military affairs dress, ranks treatments of war prisoners education recreation.
But what is rhythm? We feel rhythm when we hear music see a dance listen to drum beats watch soldiers parading or listen to a priest chanting mantras. In fact our own reaction to ritual rhythm is also rhythmic. When we hear music we may start humming tapping clapping or swaying. Broadly speaking repetition in time or space especially with regularity characterizes rhythm.
If we analyse rituals in general we find that there are 10-12 patterns of which repetitions refrain palindrome and chorus are found in almost all rituals. Others patterns such as really overlapping multiples pattern completion embedding cycle etc. appear with varying frequencies depending on the type of ritual. We shall call these patterns rituals or rituals structure.
In repetition the same ritual element appears successively. In the baby’s babbling mentioned above ba is repeated in the first line pa in the second line and so forth. Refrain is a ritual element which appears periodically. If a devotee chants Rama Rama and prostrates before an idol after every ten uttering his prostrations are refrains while every block contains ten repetitions of Ramas Palindrome or mirror is a pattern in which a part of the sequence of ritual elements appears as a mirror image of the other part. Thus in a simple prayer Om Namah Shivaya id often extended as Om Namah Shivaya.
The second part Shivaya Namah Om is an image of the first part Om Namah Shivaya. This is equivalent to saying that the ritual appears the same from the beginning to the end as from the end to the beginning.
The word chorus is borrowed from music. When many people perform the same ritual simultaneously you have an instance of chorus in ritual. The baby’s cycling provides an example of the ritual pattern called cycle.
Most of the ritual patterns also appear in verse music percussion and dance with which we associate rhythm. This aspect should make us wonder whether rhythm is simply a regular repetition in time or space or something more complex a bundle of ritual patterns. So closely related are rhythm and ritual that we can use the idiom of ritual in rhythm and vice versa. For example the word relay borrowed from sports can be in music and the word refrain from verse can be applied to ritual.
Analysis of rituals based on structure is called the syntactic approach to rituals. A better known approach is concerned with the meaning of ritual. However meaning cannot be easily discerned especially in case of traditional rituals which originated centuries ago. For many reasons which are discussed later rituals are distorted as time passes. The net result is that there can be scores of interpretations some of them diametrically opposite to others. This has led some scholars like Staal to conclude that some Vedic rituals such as shrauta rituals are meaningless.
The structural approach has opened a new dimension in the study of rituals. The fact that music and dance display almost all rituals patterns convinces us that rituals constitute a world of rhythm.
Brahma Sutras (81)
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