On Hindu religious occasions one often hears people “doling out cheap jazz or cinema music… I am surprised to hear that the canker has now spread to the precincts of Muslim religious institutions. May be that what is sought to be propagated in this instance is not profane music but a call to the faithful for offering daily prayers, but the objection remains.” Thus observed a Calcutta High Court judge in Masud Alam and others vs Commissioner of Police and another in 1956. He was dealing with a case in which the use of amplifiers in a mosque had been banned by the police, in response to the objections of non-Muslim neighbours. Giving his verdict against the Muslims, the judge said, “one remembers with pleasure the romantic sound of an early morning moazzin from the turrets of an upcountry mosque on a misty morning, but to transform this into a noisy fanfare is neither artistic nor necessary; I find nowhere that the religion of the Muslims enjoins it.”
This case was decided at a time when big mosques had just begun using microphones for congregational prayers, against public opinion. In my childhood, people used to oppose its use, saying “the devil speaks in this machine”. So the Calcutta High Court just tried to keep the devil away from the mosque. But the scenario became entirely different within a few years of the Calcutta High Court judgment. Gradually, all mosques began using amplifiers. Today, mosques big and small, in cities and villages, take pride in rendering a “religious service” to the people through the use of loudspeakers. During Ramzan, mosques sound alerts for sahri (the pre-sunrise meal) and iftar (fast-breaking at sunset) by setting off sirens or making announcements over loudspeakers.
Temples in India had embraced the microphone culture long before mosques. Amplifiers are used to broadcast bhajan-kirtans (as well as night-long recitation from the scriptures) that are held not only in temples, but also in makeshift pavilions erected in parks and on public lands. This was also once challenged in the Calcutta High Court, which, consistent with its mosque decision of 1956, ruled that using an amplifier in a temple or for a Hindu religious ceremony elsewhere is not an essential practice of the Hindu faith (Om Birangana Religious Society vs the State and others, 1996) and can lawfully be stopped by a competent authority.
Loudspeakers are used in Sikh gurdwaras to broadcast gurbani (the singing of Granth Sahib hymns) as well, but there is no reported judicial decision regarding this practice. Loudspeakers are generally not used in churches, but a Pentecostal church in south India was once dragged to court for using a microphone during mass. On the neighbours’ continued…