When people think about Christian music, they immediately connect it to Western music. But Christian music has more to it.
Along with singer Jasmine Wilson, writer-historian Nivedita Louis will be a holding a lec-dem that traces the connection between Tamil music and Christianity on August 23 at Press Institute of India, Taramani. “The Tamil Christian songs date back to 300 years. At the ending of every Knanaya marriage, they used to sing Syriac chants. Missionary Constantine Joseph Beschi, also known as Viramamunivar, thought there was a cultural divide in music between the Tamil Christians and missionaries who propagated Christianity. So to have an alliance between the two musical styles, he started translating texts like Tirukkural,” says Nivedita.
People like Vedanayagam Sastriar, N Samuel and Henry Alfred Krishnapillai started writing Tamil Christian classics. “There wasn’t any difference between Carnatic and Tamil music — the music was the same, only the words differed. Vedanayagam Sastriar wrote Bethlehem Kuravanji (with the Lord of Bethlehem as the protagonist) that was inspired by Kutrala Kuravanji,” she explains.
Missionaries transformed epic Tamil songs and brought it to the hold of Christianity. That’s how the tradition of keerthanais began. Similar to Carnatic keerthanais, they started penning Christian keerthanais as well. “Vedanayagam Sastriar and Thyagaraja are contemporaries. We don’t find much difference in their writings and compositions. The only difference is the usage of words. Those days, people used to write songs in notebooks and pass it on from one generation to next. When music went from one era to another, there was a huge transformation,” Nivedita adds.
The best thing about Christian music is that it is democratic and not restricted to a particular community or group of people.