India is visually rich when seen through a cultural prism. Every aspect of life has a symbolic representation with colors, images, signs, etc. Education, professions, food, rituals, ceremonies, etc., follow a colorful and bright approach so much that internationally, India is depicted in a colorful image, a little over the top. But this strong visual dimension of our culture doesn’t undermine the importance of sound in it. If you observe, in this culture, there is certain importance given to an uttered word than that of a written one. Breaking a given word is seen with disdain, while a written word, even if it is the law of the land, easily gets overlooked.
Teaching, for instance, has always been a vocal tradition for us. In the class teachers would say it out loud and students would repeat after them, louder, be it multiplication tables, poems or lessons. This has been the norm right from vedic times. Upanishad also means to learn through listening. Hence all vedic texts were narrated by the gurus and the disciples would memorise through hearing and repeating. Taking notes during class was not much of a practice.
Music is yet another sound that’s an indispensable part of Indian lifestyle. Farm workers, for instance, have their own folk songs to stay engaged and energized while toiling in the fields. And when they unwind at the village centre in the evening, singing, music and dance are the tools that help them de-stress for the day. All children grow up learning those songs by heart. Once again this education happens through hearing it day in and day out. Today, music from the cinema has become the norm. Every get together, from school events to corporate seminars, all end with a cultural activity, in which the participants invariably perform to a cinema song. Such is the influence of cinema, once again a sound and light show.
Wars also use sound in an impactful manner. War cries are meant to inspire your own army while intimidating the enemy. Divine chants, inspiring slogans, phrases etc., are used to trigger loyalty to the powers you represent and to not blink an eye to either die or kill for the cause. Once again it’s the effect of the sound created by the chorus of the army. The same technique is used in team activities like pulling a huge log, rowing a boat, lifting heavy objects, playing tug of war etc. The impact of a group repeating powerful lines in unison can be quite overwhelming and can rush up the adrenalin. The chants in temples and at rituals is yet another way of usage of sound to create an effect, build an ambience and trigger positive vibes around.
Sound scores a point over the written word. For instance, at the railway station, we see the electronic board displaying that name of the train, time of arrival and on which platform it is expected to dock in. But still we visit the enquiry and check with the human sitting at the counter. Only when he confirms whatever is written on the board, we find peace.
Though we have placed sound in the Indian context here, it is a human phenomenon. Even the international school of thought about sound is on similar lines. Today education has changed dimensions and has become more a written-centric exercise. But learning has traditionally been through sound from the experienced to the amateur. The best form of learning is to combine and get the best of both worlds.