Leah Barclay | VEDIC REMNANTS (2013)
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Vedic Remnants is an exploration and contemporary translation of the Athirathram, an enduring cultural ritual from Kerala, South India. This 3000-year-old Vedic ritual is believed to be the oldest surviving ritual of mankind. Athirathram is a ritual of twelve days, consisting of Vedic chanting allegedly derived from birdsong, and is considered the ultimate invocation of Vedic scriptures for universal harmony. It is believed the Athirathram purifies the atmosphere and the Vedic chants transform the natural environment. This unbroken tradition is now at risk, with only three Nambudiri Brahmin families in Kerala, South India holding the sacred knowledge to conduct the ritual.


Vedic Remnants is the result of two years research and development initiated through the REMNANT/EMERGENCY Artlab in collaboration with the local communities of the Athirathram supported by the Australian Council for the Arts. The work recreates elements of the ritual through sound and ceremony and investigates the validity of enduring cultural rituals in contemporary society. All of the source material is derived from field recordings on location at the ritual sites, interviews and recording sessions conducted during research trips from 2011 – 2013.

This project was conceived by Leah Barclay and the initial research labs have been assisted by a range of collaborators including Professor Tony Fry and Keith Armstrong in Australia and Professor VPN Nampoori and Bala Prakasam in India. In the most recent lab, the collaborators worked with a scientific team who believed the ritual presents the opportunity to explore the “scientific implications on nature, mankind and all other living creatures”. Professor Nampoori said the “chanting of mantras and the worshipping of Agni (Fire) with medicinal herbs energizes and protects the environment”. He believes the application of mathematics, physics, chemistry, biology and astronomy is evident in every aspect of this complex ritual. Throughout the first stage of the scientific research, the team conducted elaborate experiments in the areas of atmospheric changes in temperature, humidity and pressure level during the ritual. They also conducted experiments on the implications on microorganisms in the soil and variation in the yield from plants with outstanding results that are soon to be published in an international journal article.


The next stage of the research will include exploring the physiological and psychological effects on human beings during the ritual through neurological experiments. This will also involve documenting the sound of the entire ritual and conducting spectral analysis and sonification experiments onsite in late 2013. This creative exploration of the Athirathram is underpinned by the agency of sound; the idea that sound can extend beyond purely expression and have a transformational effect on the environment.

The Vedic Remnants installation and performance premiered at the ENCOUNTERS India Festival in May 2013 in Brisbane, Australia. The work has featured at various other international events including ISEA 2014 in Dubai. This project is a ongoing community collaboration and will continue to develop in the coming year. 2015 will see the work presented as immersive multi-channel sound installation prior to returning to India for future development in 2016.