Christianity Music Religion

India’s Carnatic musicians threatened over Christian hymns

Written by Darius Rubics

Carnatic musicians in the southern Indian city of Chennai have often been accused of being elitist and upper caste.

Their music is traditionally set to songs composed by Hindu devotional poets of the 17th Century and beyond, and is a genre associated with southern Indian classical music.

But, more recently, right-wing groups have issued threats to Carnatic musicians who are seeking to widen their horizons by singing about Christ or producing interfaith fusion music.

The current controversy began with a barrage of attacks aimed at Carnatic singer OS Arun.

He cancelled a scheduled performance, the Yesuvin Sangama Sangeetham (Fusion Music of Christ), a concert produced by popular Tamil Christian producer T Samuel Joseph, on 25 August, following objections by upper-caste Hindus and organisations, and vicious social media trolling.

The matter snowballed when Ramanathan Seetharaman, founder of a hitherto unknown fringe Hindu group, the Rashtriya Sanathana Sewa Sangam, with a following of about 18,000 high-caste Brahmins in the city of Coimbatore, phoned Arun and allegedly threatened to stop him performing.

“The vicious attacks and trolling has left me shattered,” Arun told the BBC.

“That they recorded the phone conversation and uploaded it on YouTube and WhatsApp has made me lose faith in my community,” he said.

He said he had often performed music of “other faiths” owing to his belief in the “encompassing and universal nature of music”.

Following the fracas, his Carnatic music tour in the US was cancelled by the organisers.

“I have sung songs on [Dalit icon] Ambedkar’s birthday on televised programmes for Dalit solidarity; Sufi music and alongside choir groups. This is ridiculous to emotionally pressurise us from singing,” he said.

Mr Seetharaman told the BBC that “Christian and Islamic religious musicians do not sing Hindu sacred music, so why should our Carnatic musicians sing their songs?”

“Hindus must boycott those Carnatic singers who sing against the Hindu faith.”

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Darius Rubics

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