The Unsung

The long neglected legacy of Christian Carnatic Music

16 November 2018
Abraham Pandithar’s efforts have been instrumental in understanding the history of not only Carnatic, but all Tamil music. It is ironic that Hindu fundamentalists today are trying to erase the likes of Pandithar from this history.
Courtesy RR Srinivasan / AR Rahman Foundation
Abraham Pandithar’s efforts have been instrumental in understanding the history of not only Carnatic, but all Tamil music. It is ironic that Hindu fundamentalists today are trying to erase the likes of Pandithar from this history.
Courtesy RR Srinivasan / AR Rahman Foundation

The Carnatic musician TM Krishna was scheduled to perform a concert in Delhi on 17 November, organised by the Airport Authority of India and the non-profit SPIC MACAY. However, after being incessantly trolled on social media, the AAI decided to cancel the event. The trolls were incensed that Krishna had announced earlier that he would perform Christian Carnatic hymns. The grouse, as one anonymous Twitter handle put it, was “Carnatic music is identified only with Hindu religion and you have no rights to change it.”

Several musicians faced similar attacks earlier this year. On 25 August, the renowned Carnatic singer OS Arun was to perform at a concert called Yesuvin Sangama Sangeetham, or a Confluence of Jesus’ Music. When he shared the poster on social media, he was subjected to a storm of abuse and accused of being a stooge of the Vatican, out to lure Hindus into the Christian fold. He cancelled the event shortly after. Ramanathan Seetharaman, the leader of a Coimbatore-based organisation called the Rashtriya Sanathan Seva Sangh—which says on its Facebook page that it seeks “the welfare of all Brahmins in the world”—threatened artists with violence if similar concerts are organised in the future. A number of venues in the United States cancelled scheduled performances by Arun and a temple in the US cancelled a concert by Krishna.

The recent attack on Krishna is part of a concerted attack on Carnatic musicians who have sung devotional songs for non-Hindu gods. Right-wing Hindu organisations have called such musicians “traitors of Hinduism” and “shamers of Carnatic music.” Though these groups may have just woken up to the existence of the genre, it in fact constitutes an important chapter in the history of Carnatic music.

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    Keywords: Carnatic music TM Krishna OS Arun Ramanathan Seetharaman Hindu right wing Vedanayagam Sastriar Dalit Christians Christians music history Samuel Vedanayagam Pillai Sikkil Gurucharan Kuruvanji Tamil music Abraham Pandithar Henry Alfred Krishna Pillai
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