Sunday, August 19, 2018

Can Carnatic musicians sing Christian songs set to Carnatic music?

Earlier published in

A huge furore is being witnessed now in the social media and among ardent followers of Carnatic music over reports of popular Carnatic singers singing songs on Christ set to Carnatic music. The reactions have been varied but one cannot deny the agenda of cultural appropriation behind this trend. Having tried many techniques for harvesting the Hindu souls right from the times of Roberto de Nobili of the 16th century by donning the Hindu symbols, the Christian marketing team seems to have come around to getting popular Hindus of the day to don the Christian robe. That these Hindus happen to be or are supposed to be the torch bearers of Carnatic music is the reason behind the instant outrage against them.

Dr Nithyasree Mahadevan says that she sang the songs to “to bolster communal peace and harmony”
For the Carnatic music lovers, taught by the Tyagaraja kriti “Sangeeta gnaanamu” that devotion is the purpose of music this response is something odd. Aren’t there others to take care of communal harmony?  As one who grew up in gurukul type of learning from her own mother and illustrious grandmother Smt D.K. Pattammal, she owes an explanation whether this was goal with which she was groomed in Carnatic music. Her grandmother had sung for national causes but could she ever have thought that her prized granddaughter is going to use the skills learned from her to praise Jesus someday? Let Nithyasree do soul searching.

Another musician, Chitravina N Ravikiran came in support of O.S. Arun with a justification that
“..more listeners from diverse religions are likely to end up becoming Carnatic fans where they may end up getting hopelessly impacted by the predominantly high majority of songs on Hindu deities!”
What a childish thought! Is there any missionary compulsion for Carnatic musicians to increase the number of Carnatic fans? What they could not achieve by their songs on Hindu Gods, they want to achieve by singing on Jesus Christ!  By his own logic, the new fans are going to come for the songs on Jesus and Carnatic music is only a means. The popularity quotient of these musicians is an additional attraction. And these musicians are willing to sell their image to attract more people sing their songs on Jesus!

In support of his view he quoted his concert at Madison Square accompanied by artists from different religions and wondered if it made them betrayers of their religion?

They aren’t, for, they gave the instrumental support only to show their talent in fusion music. It was meant to be an entertainment in which they set the music to their tunes and not to Carnatic tunes.
Similarly he or Nithyasree or any other Carnatic musician is free to sing any western song or a song on Jesus in Christian music, but definitely not in Carnatic music. Carnatic music has its own tradition and goals confined to Hinduism.

This is unacceptable to the Magsaysay awardee T.M.Krishna for whom the current uproar “comes from an RSS-BJP, a very extreme right-wing kind of thought process.” He says that “music belongs to everybody; it belongs to Rama, it belongs to Jesus, to Allah and even to atheists. The best thing musicians can do is sing and I’ll do the same”.

He is free to sing about any God, but should he use Carnatic music for that is the question. He rejects the idea of Moksha or Bhakti related to Carnatic music and accuses that Carnatic music is not taken to masses. This kind of thought processes of modern day musicians had led to the current situation.
In this backdrop let us look at the basic questions heard around us.

  • Should Carnatic musicians sing on Gods of other religions?
They can sing if they want. It is individual freedom.

·       Can they use Carnatic music for songs of other religions?

No, they can’t. Carnatic music should not be the carrier of those Gods. Carnatic Ragas are carriers of specific deities, particularly Vedic deities. There is a tradition still continuing in our temples to invoke Vedic Gods by means of specific Rāgas meant for them. In a temple ritual called “Nava Sandhi Koutthuvam” approved by agamic tradition, the nine directional Gods (including Brahma at the centre) are worshiped by means of specific Rāgas and Tālās. In Srirangam temple akasha is worshiped as the 10th direction!

Rāga is a unique Indian innovation that traces its origin to Sāma Veda. The multi-tonal Vedic chants with different notes called svarita, udatta and anudatta are the basis for rāgas. The folk music of Tamil Sangam age has a parallel to this system and one finds that each of the 5 land forms of that period had their own Pa (Rāga) and Tālā. They were all directed at the deity of this land. What is important is that the Pa of a land and deity was not used for another land and another deity. Will Nithyasree and others take a leaf from them? Nithyasree’s song on Jesus is in Sankarabharanam, the Rāga of Jewel of Sankara! That much for their respect for Carnatic music!

Before they want to step into singing for other Gods, they must know that there is so much to explore in Carnatic music and folk music, a facet of it is found in the 17th chapter of Silappadhikaram. Here is a sample from the lecture- demonstration of S.Swaminathan and Uma Swaminathan  titled “Indian Musical Heritage”.


  • Why shouldn’t they, after all isn’t music Universal?
The straight answer is no for Carnatic music for other religions. Music is universal, but the only common music for all people is perhaps the lullaby that calms down a child. But it has an identity in Carnatic music as Rāga Neelambari. Once the child grows up music becomes exclusive for regions, developed by the indigenous people. Every religion has its own music. Christian songs are best heard in their music. Would it sound good to hear about Rama and Krishna in carols? The same holds good for Jesus in Carnatic music.

There is also the concept of Metres that can be traced to Vedas. All the poetic creations including Ramayana by Valmiki are set to certain metres and were musical in rendition. Why a certain metre is given preference over the other is by itself a subject for research. The development of Carnatic music from metres is also worthy of research. A highly trained and successful singer is expected to be a guardian of these concepts and through that the musical tradition itself. It is comparable with how the Vedic pundits are expected to safe guard the Vedas and the temple priests, the temple tradition. When a singer violates this, it is proof enough that he or she has not imbibed the concept and tradition of Carnatic music.

  • Do we complaint against persons of other religions singing on Hindu Gods – a popular example being K.J.Yesudas?
We don’t find fault with anyone singing Hindu Gods. Nor do we find fault with those singing gods of other religions. We only say sing in the say that is suitable for those Gods. Yesudas didn’t sing Hindu Gods in Christian music. His long innings in Carnatic music has a lesson for all those who want to take Carnatic music to Christianity. By his continuous connect with Carnatic music Yesudas had become a Hindu himself which we could see in his trips to Hindu shrines and recently to Sabari Mala by following due rituals meant for that pilgrimage. It underlines the fact that one becomes what one sings or thinks.

The Christian songs that the new age singers promote would definitely alter their receptiveness to Hindu Gods in due course. Their followers from Hindu fold would also fall a prey to that trend by starting to sing their songs on Jesus. So a reverse osmosis is very much possible. This is in addition to the underlying motive of conversion by cultural appropriation.  Will the singers realise that they are becoming tools of conversion?

Post script:

My thoughts on certain issues raised on this article:

1. Ilayaraja composed Thiruvasagam symphony. Is this not a violation?

Ilayaraja  used it to sing the praise of Hindu Gods. In the context read this blog on Mahaperiyava’s words on conversion into Christianity  Mahaperiyava recounted that Arthur Kostler and Christians who came to see him saw “Jesus” in him. Many people from foreign countries who came to see him, saw their God in him. This happened for a Hindu sage, imagine what it would be for the Hindu God. You can see Jesus or any other God in a Hindu God, but you can’t see Hindu Gods in Jesus. That is the message. Why bring in Jesus in Carnatic music that was copyrighted with Brungi Natesha and others?

2. We accept a Christian Yesudas sing Carnatic music, why we don’t accept Nithyasree et al do the same?  

The fact is Christian groups roped in Nithyasree and others and not Yesudas to propagate their mission. Why didn’t they engage a Christian Carnatic singer, Yesudas to sing for them Jesus songs in Carnatic music?  The reason is simple. Can Yesudas lure non Christians to Christianity by his songs? No. He made more Hindus to become deeply religious Hindus. That is where he stands and where the singers under discussion had failed.

3. It is high time Carnatic music is assigned the Heritage tag of music on Gods of Hinduism. The earliest reference to sapta swaras comes in the 1st century Tamil text Silappadhikaram as “Kural, thuttham ….” etc. This had pre-dated Silappadhikaram date as it is part of the ‘ Aichiyar Kuravai’ the traditional musical dance of Yadava women. A broken sutra in Tamil says that there were 11,990 ‘Aadhi isai’ (ancient music). This is mentioned in the ancient commentary to Silappadhikaram. In the verse starting from “Aadal, paadal, isaiye, thamizhe…” in the 3rd chapter of Silappadhikaram a long list of music-types and instruments are given. These are enough to claim Heritage Tag for Carnatic music as the heritage of Hinduism. Hope this is realised soon.


Jay said...

Dear Jayasree,

You have done a through life analysis on an undeserved soul (Akarunanidhi); When will you do a similar analysis on a deserving soul - Vaajpaye.


Jayasree Saranathan said...

This comment is supposed to appear in MK's article. Here it is irrelevant. Anyway let me reply. MK did too many irrelevant things but remained a strong force to reckon with. That makes my work easier to guess what he could have been. In contrast Vajpayee ji was too good a person, that it is obvious that he was a very good person with least issues in the last birth. Only glaring feature is that he didn't get many to accept him. He was ditched by Jayalalithaa for just one seat. This feature could happen only when the person had ditched someone at the penultimate hour and refused to accommodate others. The fall from office due to a woman (JJ) and his life as a bachelor shows another facet of past life with reference to a woman whom he would have ditched. Apart from these his deeds in other areas must have been good.

Dr Rama Krishnan said...

Madam Ji, I have given the link below on an article in The Hindu. I thought you are the right person to tear this guy apart! I wish I had the scholarly knowledge for a proper rebuttal. Some of our secular Hindus are supporting TMK and co and this sort of article gives them ammunition. Thanks.

Dr Rama Krishnan said...

This is a forward I received this morning. I agree with this gentleman.
“” My FB subsequent FB post to TM Krishna and other Musicians...
Dear musicians...
Glad that many of your concerts are cancelled, as you kicked the ladders, which brought yourselves to this great height.
These penalties are the right awards for ditching our Saastriya sangeetham and our traditional values.
The clapping hands so for, have started slapping you now, as you have pledged our Saastriya Sangeetham to those culprits, who have a clear mission of devastating our cultural values.

However, You are now,, free to perform in 'YouTube' sabaas, but, no one is ready to post even 'Thumb Ups' there for you....

The church halls may welcome you.
But, you will be assigned a target of converting your sishyaas and rasikaas with a price tag on it.

Don't dream too much that, your Veda Naayagam Pillai, Chetty banumurthy and Kunagudi Masthaan would bless you like our Trimurthis.

There were many such perverters and converters like Veda nayagams and Chetty banumurthies in British period to polish the English footwears and not to please the Almighty..
Have you, ever thought that, why these compositions unlike Mahakavi bharathi, were not brought to light so for, even by the Christians themselves ?? Because they know very well that this Saastriya sangeetham is the birth child of our Hinduism and they know very well that those are concocted for the erstwhile rulers and not for ruler of the mind or soul.

But now, these dirt are digged out, with the twin motto of spoiling our tradition and swindle money from abroad.

So, don't get disappointed in any concerts there, for not being applauded for your aalaaps and bruhaas.. because, there you have to scream and bellow than creaming your melodies.

We, rasikaas won't be surprised, if we come across any flex on roads of yours as 'Nithyamary' and 'Osannaa Samuel Antony' as yourselves are convinced to place the jewel of lord Shiva ( ie.,Sankara Aabaranam) at the feet of Yesappaa by jingling saranam Jesus...

For few dollars more, you added Lord muruga too in the list..

Be ready..
By adequately filling your bowls, the bone-throwers may even ask you to name the raagaas 'Shanmuga Priya' as "Solomon Priya", 'Abheri' as 'AaMary'...........

You may even be asked to preach, "Only St.Thomos taught Mummoortis the karnatic music and Jesus was the author of our four Vedas".

Before that atleast now, please find out the meaning of the Kriti 'Sangeetha Ghnyaanamu', where Swamy Tyagaraja detailed the object of this Saaastriya sangeetham.

It is unfortunate that you musicians hiding behind secularism, have failed to trust that the ragaas are the children of our Vedas and sapthaswaraas were derived from hyms and mantraas by our Rishis and Saints.

Dear T.M.Chris & Unni Chris..
Do you know that Music is a haraam in Islaam and it is branded as shaitaan in their text ?
Only our Hinduism poclaimed that music is one best via media to converse with God directly.. Upon realising this truth only, Sufis had come between the religions.
But in Islam, Sufis are kaafirs.. History confirms that thousands of Sufi musicians were brutally massacred in those days...

Remember.. No one is against any religion or community, till we are wrongly rubbed..

Dear secular musicians, If you are able to use your harmonised communal knowledge to teach 'Shree Gana Naathaa'
without any disharmony in churches or mosques, then you are welcomed back to preach secularism here too..

There are many ways to show your peace and harmony, but not by selling our traditional treasures for your personal benefits... It is nothing less of selling our family members for the sake of your luxury and comfort...

S.Sathish Kumar
Advocate, High Court Madras...
Any doubts, feel free to call me at

#tmkrishna #nithyashreemahadevan #unnikrishnan