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Oral Performance of Sanskrit Mantras in the West: A Pragmatic Approach (based on examining the situation in Bulgaria)


In the focus of the current paper is the transnational and transcultural presence of Vedic and Tantric mantras as well as of other sacred Sanskrit texts, whose oral performance has been gradually becoming a global phenomenon. They are widely practiced nowadays outside India and as a whole outside South Asia - their native and natural context, by people of different cultural background, of different intentions and motivations. My observations and conclusions have been made mainly by investigating the Bulgarian version of this phenomenon. Many Bulgarians seeking new religious paths especially after the beginning of the democratic changes in 1989 became adherents of several New Religious Movements, inspired by Hinduism or Buddhism. Significantly increased also the number of the yoga practitioners in the country.

The chanting of Sanskrit mantras and verses and the performance of sacred texts play a constant and important role in their religious and spiritual practice. The foreign practitioners generally don't know or know only incompletely Sanskrit - the original language of the mantras and of the other sacred texts. This means that semantically they aren't entirely accessible to them or to their audience, but still the practitioners or disciples prefer to utter the mantras in their original language and in this way to have and to demonstrate a direct access to the sacred texts.

I am very much challenged to try to interpret this linguistic situation in the perspective of pragmatics, in particular of the speech act theory, generally considered a theory of the language use, widely applied to fields as diverse as philosophy of language, literary criticism, religious studies, performance studies, narratology etc.

I argue that the oral performance of Sanskrit mantars and verses in this outlandish environment could be defined as a kind of "perlocutionary act", according to Austin's terminology, who asserts that "saying something will often, or even normally, produce certain consequential effects upon the feelings, thoughts, or actions of the audience, or of the speaker, or of other persons: and it may be done with the design, intention, or purpose of producing them" (1962: 101).

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