Communalising Carnatic music
by Vijaya Rajiva on 20 Aug 2018 13 Comments

A program aired on a famous television channel, (Is Carnatic Music being Communalised?, Aug.13, 2018) raised the question whether those who argued that Carnatic music should not have icons such as Jesus and Allah are being needlessly communal. Music is universal, argue those who wish to include Jesus and Allah in their repertoire of songs. A very vocal advocate of this view is well known singer T.N. Krishna, who was prominent during the discussion.


The immediate occasion for the television program was the alleged threats being made against some Carnatic musicians for planning to participate in an event where kritis (songs) would invoke Jesus or Allah (since then these artists are said to have withdrawn from the event).


The discussion included four panelists, amongst whom only one Vijaya Kumar maintained that Carnatic music should not be tampered with as its lineage stems from the Sama Veda. As readers would be aware, the Sama Veda is the musical version of the mantras of the Rig Veda. Unfortunately, the anchor in this program did not allow him to develop his argument and kept loudly interrupting him with such vacuous comments as ‘music is universal’ and there should be no hate mongering by fringe elements of the so called Hindu right.


This article argues that Carnatic music is specifically Hindu in the Vedic sense. The Vedic worldview is quite different from the Judeo-Christian and Islamic worldviews. No doubt some great and beautiful music has been written in the Christian tradition. For instance, there is Handel’s Messiah commemorating the life, death and resurrection of Jesus. In the Christian belief system, Jesus is the son of God, who came to earth to redeem humanity from original sin. His ministry ended with his crucifixion and his resurrection which is a guarantee of the resurrection of all humanity provided they earnestly strive to be redeemed. Otherwise, of course, they shall be condemned to everlasting hell. Handel’s Messiah ends with the famous Hallelujah chorus celebrating Christ’s resurrection.


In contrast, the Vedic vision is quite different. There is no original sin and no redemption by a single godhead. Instead one has the vision of the Rishis celebrating the cosmos, the many energy centres (deities) and the joyous existence of that Ultimate Reality which later would be called Brahman and Satchidananda (that which exists, is conscious and is blissful). The Rig Veda also anticipates the reference to the Atman.


The Rig Vedic hymns were composed by the Rishis who heard the sounds of this cosmic universe and therefore the Rig Veda is referred to as ‘sruti’, that which was heard by the Rishis during their heightened states of consciousness. Carnatic music not only relates to the Sama Veda but is intimately connected to the Rig Veda, whose mantras are sung in the Sama Veda. It is important for Hindus to revisit and commemorate the Rig Veda.


There are four significant strands in the Rig Veda which are the basis of later developments:


1)      The Yajna, the ritual worship of the deities. Down the millennia this has continued in Hindu worship.


2)    Philosophical themes in the Rig Veda:

a)     The origins of the universe (Nasadiya Sukta).

b)    The mantras of Rishi Vamadeva proclaiming the identity of self and ultimate reality.


3)     The meaning of mantra and the sound basis of mantra. The latter has become part of the Sabda Brahman philosophy. The meaning of mantra has been talked about by contemporary philosophers such as Aurobindo.


4)    The anticipation of Yogic practice, later elaborated by Patanjali et al.


Hence the Hindu worldview, as can be readily seen, is distinct from the Judeo-Christian and Islamic worldviews.


To reaffirm this is not a sign of ‘hatred’ as shouted out by people who have their own agendas. Can the forced insertion of the names of Jesus and Allah into a Carnatic kriti (song) be fitted into its worldview? And can it be compatible with Christian and Islamic theology? Or it that irrelevant for some reason?


The answer is a clear no, whatever the sentiments (dubious or otherwise) of the advocates of the transposition of Christian or Islamic themes into Carnatic music.

User Comments Post a Comment

Back to Top