Nasty row raging over ‘Christian Karnatik’

Does music have a religion? Charges of conversion and narrow-mindedness fly

A fierce fight broke out on social media after well-known vocalist T M Krishna announced he would sing one 'Karnatik' song every month on Jesus or Allah.

His declaration came in the wake of a controversy raging over Karnatik musicians being targeted for singing compositions praising non-Hindu deities.

Krupa Ge reported in The Print how classical vocalist O S Arun was intimidated ahead of a concert titled Yesuvin Sangama Sangeetham, conceptualised by T Samuel Joseph (Shyaam).

Shyaam is a disciple of the celebrated violinist Lalgudi Jayaraman, and is widely known in Chennai musician circles. Karnatik ragas have been used even in the past for compositions praising Jesus. Abraham Pandithar (1859-1919), who composed Christian devotional kritis in the Karnatik style,  is acclaimed as a musicologist.

Arun cancelled the August 25 concert, citing personal reasons. An acrimonious debate followed on social media and elsewhere.

Krishna, a Magsaysay award winner who believes Karnatik music must reach out to audiences across communities, tweeted, “Considering the vile comments and threats issued by many on social media regarding Karnatik compositions on Jesus, I announce here that I will be releasing one Karnatik song every month on Jesus or Allah.”

Aparajith Raman (@aparajithraman) suggested, “While you’re at it, can you have some qawwalis/Sufi-style music on Krishna or Rama made as well? It’ll definitely be nice to hear them too.”

Krishna said many such compositions exist, and posted a link to one he likes: Krishn kanhaiya by Hafeez Jalandhari. Suresh R (@iamabofh) cited a song on god Krishna from the film Baiju Bawra, created by three Muslims: Naushad, Mohammed Rafi and Shakeel Badayuni. “The story is that the production company’s accountant heard the song being recorded and went into an ecstasy,” he said.

Krishna found many supporters online. Charulatha Banerjee (@drcbjee) said, “Thank you for your courage and conviction. More power to you.”

The war had its lighter moments. Some alleged the Christians were tampering with Thyagaraja compositions, a charge Krishna said was unfounded. FlatulenceWapsi (@tarunpall) said, “If you can compose even ONE Carnatic song on Allah and it doesn’t get banned or you don’t get assaulted I will personally hand deliver to you my salary for the next month.”

Krishna had a quick comeback: “Then let me tell you already need to make the transfer since you have not followed my work.”

What it means, in creative terms

At the heart of the debate is the question of whether a musical form is married to a religion. Should Karnatik music be used only for compositions invoking the Hindu pantheon? By extension, is it wrong to compose a song in praise of Krishna in Western music, or in genres such as jazz and rock? Purists exist in every form and genre, and their insights are valued, but most musicians consider such regulations creatively stifling.

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Nasty row raging over ‘Christian Karnatik’

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