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Interfaith Dialogue ( 30 Sept 2019, NewAgeIslam.Com)

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The Tradition of Devotional Songs in Different Religions

By S. Arshad, New Age Islam

30 September 2019

The tradition of devotional songs (hymns sung to the accompaniment of instrumental music is found almost all religions. In some religious scriptures, the mention of songs, musical instruments and musical notations give recognition to devotional music. The oldest specimens of devotional songs are found in Sama Veda which is a collection of hymns supposed to be sung to the accompaniment of musical instruments. At least one musical instrument, Veena is mentioned in Chhandogya Upanishad, a part of Sama Veda. The verse says:

"Thus those who sing to the accompaniment of Veena sing His praise only and since they sing His praise, they become prosperous."(Chhandogya Upanishad: 6th Khand, Adhyay 1 Mantra 6)

According to Chhandogya Upanishad (Khand 20, Adhyay 2, mantra 1, the head priest is instructed to sing the hymns sung to different deities in different sur (notation) and rhythm.

The word Sama is derived from Saman which means song. The word sounds similar to the Greek word psalmoi which means instrumental music. The word Psalm is derived from psalmoi. Psalms of Prophet David are divine hymns revealed to Prophet David (Dawud a.s.). That the Psalms of David are Zabur revealed to Prophet Dawud a.s. is testified by the Quran as one verse of Psalm No. 37:29 is reiterated by Quran.

The verse in this Psalm says:

"The righteous will inherit the land and dwell therein forever".

The Quran reiterates this in the following verse:

"And we have written after the reminder in the Zabur that the righteous slaves will inherit the land."(Al Ambiya: 105).

Apart from that the style, diction and poetic devices used in the Psalms are very similar to those in the Quran and the Vedas.

According to Judaic traditions prophet David a s. had a very good and serenading voice and he also had the knowledge of playing musical instruments particularly the harp. The Quran only says that he had a sweet voice and ability to sing so well that even the birds would sing together with him.

Some Psalms are called Mizmor. The word is very similar to the Persian word Mazamir meaning musical instruments. Some Psalms begin with the mention of the musical instruments on which they should be played.

Sama Veda was composed during 1200-1000 B C. while the Psalms of David were revealed during 1000-95050 B.C. Thus there seems to be a link between the devotional songs of the Sama Veda and of the Psalms of David.

In 1906, Professor Harprasad Shastri discovered 48 Buddhist songs called Charyapad, composed during the 9th-10th century period from the Royal Library of Nepal. Though these songs are not hymns but deal with philosophical and ideological issues of Buddhism, they point towards the tradition of religious poetry after Buddha probably inspired by Sama Veda and Psalms of David. Buddha lived during 6th-5th century. These Buddhist songs sing about Nirvana and Advaitavad (Monism), victory over sensual desires and a life of ascetism. Every song is based on a particular raga. Musical instruments like drum, cymbal and flute are mentioned in them.

Buddhism and Upanishads inspired the Tao Te Ching of the Chinese sage and philosopher Laozi. Laozi composed Tao Te Ching, a collection of 81 songs or poems in poetic style. It deals with the issues of life and death, good governance, non-violence and the Supreme Being called Tao. Laozi was spiritual guide of Confucius. Charyapad and Tao Te Ching give an idea of how the devotional songs of Psalms and Sama Veda gave way to philosophical and religious poetry. Homeric hymns of 7 B.C. fall in this category.

The Quran does not mention music or musical instruments but playing the Duff is permitted in Islam. Sufis encouraged devotional songs sung on musical instruments and sessions of Samaa' are a part of Sufism. Most of prominent Sufis were poets who composed devotional poetry. The Quran is silent about music but it uses poetic devices like rhymes, rhythm, parallelism, repetition etc. Qirat is the knowledge of reciting the Quran taught to the holy prophet by Gabriel. Tarteel is the principle of reciting the Quran in the correct way.

Another kind of devotional poetry encouraged and promoted by the prophet of Islam is the genre of Naat. It is in praise of the prophet Mohammad pbuh.

In later period, the tradition of devotional songs spread in all the regions of the world as serene music accompanied by spiritual poetry creates a state of trance in the singers and listeners. Baul songs, Qawwali, Rastafarian songs, Bhajan, Kirtan, Charyapad etc are forms of devotional songs evolved over the years and have their roots in ancient scriptures.

S. Arshad is a regular columnist for


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