A Hierarchy of Hindu Identity

In the extremely diverse religio-culture of Hinduism, the type of verbal worship one practices with largely defines that person’s identity in that society. In this way, the sounds of Hinduism serve as a case study for the relationship between sound, identity and belonging. Each invocation belongs to a complex hierarchy of identification. At the top of the pyramid is Hinduism, a broad term referring to the Indian culture assigned to the Western idea of religion. Below that are the two categories of vocal expression, bhajan and mantra. Beneath that the sounds are subject to an elaborate labyrinth of intersecting and intertwined spheres of identification. The most discernible quality at this level is which deity the song, prayer or chant refers to. From there a sound can be traced through traditions and sub-traditions, geographic locations and varying contexts. Though a sound of Hindu worship can rarely be tracked to a precise origin, devotees that belong to the elements that define it can identify with that sound.

This particular bhajan, or prayer song, is in praise of Vishnu, the deity that is responsible for maintaining the balance of dharma and adharma, which roughly translates to good and evil, in the world. Any followers of the Classical Theology of Hinduism or any devotees to Vishnu could identify with this song. Often Vishnu appears in the form of Krishna, so Krishna Bhakti followers would also relate to this particular bhajan.  Many Hindus praise Vishnu in conjunction with his brother deities in the form of the Trimurti, so all of the Hindu’s that identify with any of the gods listed would also find a sense of belonging in this song. However yogi’s and those who practice mantra worship, or devotees of other gods such as Kali-Ma, would not identify with this song.

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One thought on “A Hierarchy of Hindu Identity

  1. This is an interesting topic. What is the difference between bhajan and mantra? Are there songs that cross both categories?

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