For early-risers in many Indian cities, the sounds of temple chants, calls to prayer from the nearby mosque, and the tolling of church bells often mingle together in the morning. And though they’re soon drowned out by the cacophonous soundtrack of the city as it wakes, for a few brief moments, they merge into a remarkable auditory testament to India’s long history of religious coexistence.
Some of these sacred sounds are highlighted in a new global project by Cities and Memory, the UK-based audio art initiative that previously collected the sounds of city life from around the world. This project is titled “Sacred Spaces” and features 200 recordings of everything from church organs to prayers to songs, sourced from religious places across 34 different countries, including India.
While nearly 80% of Indians identify as Hindu, according to the most recent census data from 2011, the country has for millennia been home to followers of numerous other religions, too. This expresses itself through the architecture in towns and cities in every corner of the country, from the Mughal-era mosques of the national capital to the colonial churches of Bengaluru, built under British rule. And while this religious coexistence hasn’t always been peaceful, it’s certainly one of the most defining characteristics of India’s rich and deep culture.
And this comes to life in the Sacred Sounds project which seeks to explore the similarities and differences in the ways sound is used in worship across religions and countries. The collection includes field recordings from cathedrals in Europe to temples in Myanmar and Japan, and more, alongside audio art inspired by the original sounds.
Currently, the India collection is limited to just a few recordings, including sounds from the prayer room at the Jama Masjid and Mahatma Gandhi’s ashram in Sabarmati, both in Ahmedabad, Gujarat, and a muezzin’s haunting call to prayer in New Delhi. But stripped of all distractions, listening to them one after another can remind us of our shared past, present, and future.
Hear for yourself: