Expressing sonic theology: understanding ritual action in a Himalayan festival

Andrew Alter*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Festivals dedicated to various forms of the Goddess Devī are celebrated throughout the Indian and Nepalese Himalayan region. The Būṅkhāl Melā is one such festival that is held annually in the central area of the Indian state of Uttarakhand. In this paper, the Būṅkhāl Melā serves as a case study for examining how sonic theology manifests as ritual activity. Drumming, dancing, processing, singing, and possession form part of ritual action designed to worship the Goddess. Music and action at the melā illustrate how sound is both a sacred essence and a functional element in worship. The movement and sound of melā participants are a material expression of the theoretical explanation of sonic theology–a theology that may be found in the broader Hindu textual traditions. Consequently, the festival provides a site for observing and hearing Śākta-Tantra practices expressed through the sounds of drums and singing in association with dancing, processions and possession.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)321-337
Number of pages17
JournalEthnomusicology Forum
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - 2 Sep 2019


  • drumming
  • festivals
  • Garhwal
  • Goddess
  • India
  • metaphor
  • musical meaning
  • procession
  • ritual
  • sacrifice
  • Shaivite
  • Tantric
  • Tantrism
  • Uttarakhand
  • Śākta-Tantra

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