Whan I saw this documentary I was deeply moved by the whole thing about birdsong and prayer chanting, but like many of you I also wanted to know how it was meant. I did remember something else too: That some classical music, when sped up sounds like birdsong. Without getting into fanciful speculations about how many things are alike because of our common origins and creatures evolving in the same environments in constant contact with each other I would just say that there are a number of googleable articles on the topic of the similarity of birdsong and this ancient brahmanic chanting.
One article, a wider discussion the phenomenon, which seemed really interesting is
Mantras and Bird Songs
Journal of the American Oriental Society
Vol. 105, No. 3, Indological Studies Dedicated to Daniel H. H. Ingalls (Jul. - Sep., 1985), pp. 549-558
Published by: American Oriental Society
Article Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/601529
If you are attending a university or college with JSTOR access or have a campus nearby with wifi guest access (and if they have JSTOR access) you can get the article and maybe others on the topic.
For those who don’t know about JSTOR (pronounce “JAY-stor”, it is a digital library of academic journals, books, and primary sources.
You can also register for a limited access account and read the whole thing. Unfortunately you can’t copy and paste in the formate that the limited access gives you. If I get by my local campus I will get a text copy if its available. Then I will put up some excerpts. You can also get a copy for $8.
The article states that mantras that are “beyond language” are known from other sources (not just the one cited int he documentary) and that they are used in a manner which is different from linguistic expression, that they have a different origin and a different purpose and arose from a different need than sensible language. - Peace, Mike
Archaic language use in ceremonial fashion was apparently also done in Rome [Etruscan prayers apparently.] And yes it would drift as soon as the people who actually understood the ‘sacred language’ died off or were killed off though if it were written it would stay on form longer than simple repetition.
I am sorry to resurrect an old thread, but I joined the boards to respond to this. This is a topic that interests me (repetition of archaic language in religious rites). I wanted to point out that the only reason we can translate Sumerian is because after the Sumerican language died out after Akkadian absorption, religious rites were still spoken in Sumerian, giving us an era of bilingualism that allows us to have a reference to use to translate the texts.
There is also the fact that Catholics, to this very day, often have services spoken entirely in Latin, while Jews happily memorize and transcribe the ancient Hebrew languages.
This seems to be a common aspect of the mimetic nature of religious tradition, and I would like to know of more examples of this phenomenon.