Christianising Carnatic Classical Music: The Madras Enablers of Cultural Appropriation

And just as I had predicted, the Ideological Iyengar has exploded in his naked, phoney fury and revealed himself in full technicolour craziness. Don’t take my word for it.

Check his own tweet.

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Thodur Madabusi Krishna’s metamorphosis from merely being an Ideological Iyengar to a cultural hoodlum is complete. This sort of adolescent bullying tactic ideally deserves exactly the same treatment meted out to high school and college bullies but we’re on…err…cultural territory here. It’s clear that this tweet by the newly-minted Rowdy Rathore of Carnatic Classical Music is meant to be a threat issued to the entire Carnatic Music fraternity.

So, before we proceed, let’s extend T M Krishna’s so-called “threat” to its logical conclusion.

In that rational spirit, let’s welcome T M Krishna’s announcement to “release one karnatik song (sic) every month on Jesus or Allah.” But why stop merely there? Why not go the whole hog and convert to Christism or Islamism? Which also means automatically reducing your endowment stature by half. And then we’ll see whether a Christian or Muslim T M Krishna will dare tweet that he will “release one karnatik song every month on Shiva, Rama, Krishna, Ganesha, Saraswati, Vishnu, Lakshmi, Devi, Annapoorneswari, etc.”


Vandalizing Thyagaraja’s Kritis

For those who came late, a controversy erupted last week when it was revealed that O S Arun, Nithyashree Mahadevan, Unnikrishnan, and Srinivas, prominent Madras-based Carnatic Classical singers, were slated to participate in concerts organised by Christian institutions and were accused of tampering with Thyagaraja Swami’s traditional compositions by substituting “Rama” with “Yesu” (Jesus).

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The prime case in point was Nithyashree Mahadevan singing Thyagaraja Swami’s extraordinary composition, Rama ni samaanamevaru set in the Kharaharapirya Ragam. The lyric was brazenly mangled where “Rama” was deleted and “Prabhu” (Jesus) was substituted instead.

The original lyric which poignantly describes the glory of Sri Rama, his wife Sitadevi and the nobility of his brothers reaches its devout climax when Thyagaraja Swami hails Sri Rama as “tyAgarAja kula vibhUSaNa” (literally, the Ornament adorning Thyagaraja’s lineage). Whereas the vandalised lyric has such torrid gems eulogising Jesus as:

O pavanatmuda O punydshiluda
papatmulanu brova paramatmasuta
nee samanulevaru prabhu

You who are pure, you who are endowed with virtue
You who redeem the sinners
You the son of God
Who all are equal to you?

There’s not even a pretence in the plural “samanulevaru”: the direct implication is that Sri Rama is no equal to Jesus.

I haven’t heard what O S Arun and others have sung so I’ll refrain from commenting. But in light of this available evidence, it’s clear that Nithyashree Mahadevan is the worst offender. Ever since this controversy blazed, she has been quick to clarify that she was

extremely pained to read the accusations against me that have gone viral. I sang the song on Jesus only because I was happy to be an instrument to bolster communal peace and harmony. I apologise for inadvertently hurting your sentiments..

Indeed, her excuse for an apology only makes it worse. But the worse is yet to come. Nithyashree also claims that

she was steeped in rich Hindu tradition, values and culture, was against religious conversion of any kind, and would never ever engage in any act that would endorse or encourage religious conversion.

Nithyashree shouldn’t impute stupidity on the part of people. Here’s what the album for which she sang that vandalised lyric says:

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Given this, are we to seriously believe that Nithyashree didn’t know the purpose for which her song would be used? Even assuming that she didn’t, the least she could have done was to ask that Christian lyric-writer the precise meaning of the song. And perhaps then she would’ve seen the bit about “bolster communal peace and harmony” in an entirely different light. Perhaps not. At any rate, nobody asked Nithyashree to bolster the said communal peace and harmony in the first place. Her self-righteous apology is worse than her original cultural transgression.

The clarion call from the rest of the Carnatic Music fraternity to boycott these singers was indeed timely and is a great example of what Hindus can accomplish when they merely stand up with their spine completely erect.

As praiseworthy as this is, and as alarming as the preceding phenomenon is, these are mere manifestations of a deeper and far more fundamental rot.


Awareness of Cultural Consequences

The phenomenon of Hindu singers singing Christian songs is not new. Celebrated playback singers like S P Balasubramaniam and S Janaki have rendered scores of Christian songs. Of course, you will hear the familiar excuses that “music has no religion, no language, no barriers, communal harmony, God is one, and so on.”

But to give the benefit of doubt, these singers might even genuinely believe this. However, monetary motivation is also an undeniable factor that plays a significant role in these cases. Which is not a negative or a bad thing intrinsically. But then it also comes with consequences: these singers will be obligated to either praise Jesus or Christianity, or at any rate, refrain from criticising this predatory, personality-driven cult. The extent of their silence is directly proportional to the extent of damage dealt to Sanatana Dharma as a consequence.

As the latest proof, watch the selfsame Nithyashree Mahadevan waxing eloquent about how “privileged” she felt in singing that cultish song by slaughtering Thyagaraja Swami at the altar of a supposed son of God whose existence is as doubtful as it is definite that Jesus will never come again (don’t think dirty for you shalt have committed a sin). Lest the irony escape her, that cult regards Sri Rama as a false God. In which case, how will that cult regard Thyagaraja Swami?

The venerable D K Pattammal Amma must be turning in her grave.

This is not to make a case for Hindu singers to refrain from singing Christian songs but to alert the Hindu society to the long-term civilisational dangers that such faiths pose. Think about it: would any bhajan, kirtan, or kriti to a non-Christian Deity be allowed in the “Christian country” of Nagaland, right here, in India? Think about what would happen if the rest of Bharata becomes Nagaland. Think about where that would leave all our Purandaradasas, Bhadrachala Ramadasas, Thyagarajas, Muthuswami Dikshitars, Shyama Sastris, Mysore Vasudevacharyas and the rest.

And most importantly, think about who are being recruited to attain that objective. The answer to that question will tell you why deracination is fatal.


The Nature of Bharatavarsha’s Music

But then, an aesthetic argument can also be made advocating the separation of music and what’s known as religion. In which case, it is undeniable that it is only in Bharatavarsha that music touched the upper echelons of perfection, nuance, and impersonal abstraction.

Dr S L Bhyrappa’s classic Mandra is an extraordinarily evocative treatise on the subject. And when he sketches Bharatavarsha’s musical conception using truly outstanding metaphors and symbols drawn entirely from our Yogic, Puranic and epic lore, we’re transported to a state of a profoundly elevating silence. And this is apart from the countless expositions, commentaries and other works on music dating back to hundreds of years. And it is on this tradition that all of our musical greats including Thyagaraja Swami relied upon, refined and developed.

And this tradition is undeniably Hindu.

Let it also be said that a novel like Mandra wouldn’t have ever been conceived — much less written — without the life-fluid and the muscle and the flesh and the blood and the tendons and the nerves and the bones supplied by this tradition. Let it further be said that Mandra wouldn’t be written even by a Hindu born and raised outside India because at the core, Mandra is a lived novel. And aesthetic experience.

And this is also why the same Thyagaraja Swami who asks “Rama nee samaanamevaru” can also boldly question “Hariyata Harudata surulata narulata” (It seems there’s somebody called Hari and Hara). How would this lyric read if “Yesu” was substituted? Or whether something like “Mokshamugalada bhuvilo jivanmuktulu” would even be allowed if it was Yesu-ized?

Given this, there’s simply no way one can separate the aesthetic from what’s known as religious in Indian classical music without damaging both.

However, it is equally true that a Christian hymn or lyric can be composed in a way that’s musically pleasing, akin to a Kriti. However, that begs the historical question of why Church-choir music or Christmas carols and the like are so limited both in lyrical and musical scope. Or the fact that the aforementioned Yesu-vandalised lyric could be embellished only by setting it in the Shankarabharanam raga? There. You have it right there. In the name of the Ragam itself: The Ornament of Shankara or Shiva, the False God. How would it sound if it’s renamed to Yesubharanam?

One can also regard this from another perspective.


Recruitment at Will

Christianity’s ravaging forays in India are premised on offering a superior alternative to and a more powerful and compassionate God as opposed to the “native” Hindu Deities, traditions, practices, etc. In which case, one fails to understand why there should be a Jesus Sahasranamam, Dhwajasthambas outside Churches, a Satya Veda (Bible), decorating Jesus and “virgin” Mary like Hindu Deities, and now, the rampant and flagrant appropriations of timeless and time-tested Hindu art forms like dance and music.

For the longest time, the realm of performing arts — especially Bharatanatyam and Carnatic Classical Music had lain far, far beyond the reach of the Church. But the Missionary, like the Jihadi never gives up. Add to this the toxic mix of unchecked Dravidianism and a perverted Tamil cinema culture, the fortification was slowly, systematically and surely breached. It is also not coincidental that the purity — for want of a better term — of Carnatic Classical Music was diluted almost in exact proportion to the rising clout and reach of the Church apparatus in Tamil Nadu. It might sound ironical but one of the significant reasons that Hindustani Classical Music has remained almost intact is because a good portion of Muslims continue to uphold it. And the world over, the Church apparatus, including the mighty Vatican has all but prostrated before Islam. Think about that.

If anything, this cultural appropriation only proves the enormous failure of Christianity in achieving the grand successes that it achieved elsewhere like in Philippines, South Korea, etc. However, the very fact that this appropriation is occurring on this scale shows that the Church has long since learned its lessons, and has quickly re-adapted and re-strategised.

And today, it has powerful allies almost in every sphere in the political, social and cultural realms. I have personally written off Kerala but Tamil Nadu has become a vast basket case and the Telugu region is fast getting there. And a Y S Jaganmohan Reddy coming to power in Andhra Pradesh will inevitably be accompanied by his sidekick “Brother” Anil and his well-funded army of Evangelical soul-vultures.

Thanks to decades upon decades of such patient and sustained effort and wise investments in people and institutions, the Church today has ensured that our educational system continues to remain a sprawling syllabus of indoctrination in deracinating Hindus and has sections of the media under its absolute sway or at least willing to prostitute themselves for money and other allurements.

In short, the Church has today acquired a formidable ability to recruit Hindus at will. To its missionary cause. And this transfer of power has occurred over just the previous generation.

Think about this: today, who are the most vocal proponents the hot-air balloons of “all religions are equal,” “all Gods are same,” “no religion preaches violence,” “caste system is evil,” etc? Or who are the shrillest drum-beaters of that other childish and immature notion called atheism? Or the most forceful torchbearers of the vacuous slogan of “I’m not religious but spiritual?” It is the Hindus.

This is what is operating at the root of O S Arun, Nithyashree and co.


Thyagaraja Swami with a Cross

And it is the same phenomenon that germinates said cultural hoodlums like T M Krishna who I had diagnosed as the cacophonous poster-boy of the Radical Left. But at a very fundamental level, operating in the realm of basic human impulses, a person is attracted to the Left ideology for the following chief reasons:

  • An incurable personal pathology that characterised people like Karl Marx, Stalin, Hitler, Mao, etc.
  • An innately weak and flawed character that doesn’t tolerate notions like Dharma and Adhyatma and constantly seeks to wreck an existing system whatever its imperfections. This mentality operates under delusions of such grandeur as heralding a new world order.
  • Career and wealth-maximising opportunities at any cost.
  • Plain naïveté or dim-wittedness which if detected early, can be cured.

However, what also happens when you sign up for Leftism is that you automatically get enrolled in a vile package deal that grants you donation-free admission into the Dark School of either enabling, justifying, or defending such exalted deeds as Jihadism (“poor victims”) and Christian conversions (“good samaritans”).

It’s upto the discerning reader in which of the aforementioned categories he or she will place T M Krishna. This eminence also needs to clearly understand a stark truth: he will be valuable to the Church only as long as he remains a Hindu. But one thing is for sure: it will never end well.

Thodur Madabusi Krishna is certainly free to compose and sing songs extolling Jesus or Allah but he can’t expect to be insulated from criticism when personality-cult-based faiths try to appropriate invaluable Hindu traditions that have stood the test of time and which millions revere. Nor does he have the moral right to characterise such criticism as “threats” and “vile abuses.”

Freedom is a two-way street.

Indeed, there’s a yawning difference in Thyagaraja Swami’s Nidhichala sukhama Ramuni sannidhiseva Sukhama (Does wealth bring happiness or does serving in Sri Rama’s sannidhi bring happiness?) and substituting “Yesu” in this lyric. Simply put, Yesu and his jealous God do not allow anyone in his Sannidhi. The former elevates the soul, the latter accelerates the worst of human tendencies.

In his Magsaysay Award-fuelled zeal, this Ideological Iyengar is perhaps oblivious to the logical, civilisational conclusion of his current antics which can only be described as stupidity drenched in egomania: there will come a day when Jesus Aradhana will be conducted in Thiruvarur and Thyagaraja Swami’s Murtis and pictures will bear the beard of a meek goatherd adorned with a cross.

Thyagaraja Swami. Or St. Thyagaraja.

Choose wisely.

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Sandeep Balakrishna
Writer, author, translator, and socio-political-cultural analyst. Author of "Tipu Sultan: The Tyrant of Mysore," "The Madurai Sultanate: A Concise History," and "Seventy Years of Secularism." He has translated Dr. S L Bhyrappa's magnum opus "Avarana" into English.
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