The soul of India lies in the Vedas. Its origins remained shrouded in mystery, although attempts have been made to place their origins over 3,500 years back. The tradition of Vedic chanting also find a place on UNESCO’s List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity. The Vedas are an enormous collection of Sanskrit poetry, philosophical dialogue, myth and ritual incantations that were composed by Aryans. These religious books are regarded by Hindus all over the world as the basic source of knowledge and foundation of their religion. The four Vedas are popularly referred to as the “books of knowledge”, and they have been passed down orally down the generations. The four books are the Rig Veda, Sama Veda, Yajur Veda and the Atharva Veda.
Of these, the Rig Veda is an anthology of sacred hymns. The Sama Veda consists of musical arrangements of hymns from the Rig Veda, while the Yajur Veda contains all the prayers and sacrifices used by the priests. Atharva Veda is a collection of beliefs and rituals which address the day-to-day issued of everyday life in the Vedic society.
The oral tradition of the Vedas is comprised of several “pathas” (recitations), which are ways of chanting the Vedic mantras. The earliest collection of Vedic texts is the Rig Veda, which contains about 1000 hymns. These are chanted in syllabic style, which is basically a heightened speech, with one syllable to a tone. In the chanting of the Vedic texts, three levels of pitch are employed. There is a basic reciting tone which is embellished by neighboring tones above and below. These are employed to emphasize the grammatical accents in the texts.
It’s quite interesting to note that the tradition of oral recitation has existed in continuity due to the simple, numerical system of notation, along with the absolute precision in text, intonation and bodily gestures. The way in which the Vedas are chanted today is the same way in which they were recited thousands of years back. The practitioners of Vedic chanting are taught complex recitation techniques that are based on tonal accents, thus ensuring that the sound of each word remains unaltered. This overarching emphasis on preserving pronunciation and accent as accurately as possible is related to the belief that the power of the mantras lies in the sounds when they are pronounced.