[Continued from the first part of interview with Carnatic musician Dr. Fr. Paul Poovathingal C. M. I. Read the first part here.]

The Singing PriestQ) For a person who comes from a conservative Christian family, there is a possibility that he can get confused on the religious basis when he learn Carnatic music (considering the Carnatic krithis are mostly deva sthuthis). Is there any effort happening now to overcome this?

A) Of course, it’s happening. This is the subject of my PhD thesis. It’s called “Carnatic Music and Christianity”. Any object has a matter and form. Carnatic music is kind of a music methodology. The raaga and thaala is the format of Carnatic music. The content ofcourse is the lyrics written about Hindu names of God. It is possible to change this content while keeping the form of raaga and thaala. Carnatic music has a universality. It is open to include all religions. Like you said, its possible that a conservative Christian feels a block while singing Carnatic krithis. “Why should I sing in praise of Hindu Gods” etc. But let me share a parallel thought of mine on this. In the school time, we have learnt many stories and poems
this way, including Ramayana stories. But our Christian faith hasn’t reduced because of it. Because the important thing is to learn the classical nature of such literature or can take something out of it. Those who learnt such texts might be writing about something else. Just like this, there is no meaning in the thought that my Christian faith would be reduced because of learning Carnatic music.

At the same time there is a lot of Christian content being integrated with Carnatic music. There are many Christian compositions made in Kerala and Tamil Nadu on the basis of Krithi, Varnam, Keerthanam etc. My PhD thesis is about such efforts.

Q) I have noticed one thing that is most of the age-old music forms in the world has begun with spirituality and then went on to the romantic age. Even in Hindustani music, we can see such formation with the branches like Ghazals. etc. But I feel that Carnatic music is still stuck in its basic expression of Bhakthi. How much does it affect the growth of Carnatic music as a music form? Why there is not much experiment happening in that area? Can you please explain?

A) There are light versions of Carnatic music in the form of film songs, light music or semi-classical music. But its true that there is no such romantic style in Carnatic music like in the western music or Hindustani music. I think the main reason for this is the Bhakthi expression of Carnatic music. Carnatic music has a very traditional style compared to Hindustani music where they have a mix of Indian and Persian music. Coming down to the south, there is a tendency to keep the purity of Indian music and to protect it that way. And there are very few possibilities of interaction when Carnatic music stands among the limits of only one religion. In Hindustani music, there is a meeting of Hindu and Muslim cultures. That could be one reason among many others. BUt the main reason is its still in it’s bhakthi form.

Q) How much does it affect the growth of Carnatic music as a music form?

A) I don’t think it affects the growth of Carnatic music. Perhaps if Carnatic Music had taken such a deviation it would have been more popular. But I think it has taken a popular form through film songs, semi-classical songs and light music.

Q) I heard that you have composed songs in many languages. Can you tell us about your efforts in the music composing area?

A) The first time I composed a song was for a stage play during the initial religious training in the seminary life. And people said it has come out well. And when I joined in the Bangalore seminary, I started composing for occassions such as festivals, Christmas etc. Then I had a chance to compose for a cassette. I have done two albums for Tharangini (music company of K. J. Yesudas) during 96-97 time. I have composed 10-15 albums and most of it were in Hindi language. I have composed 7 albums in Hindi.

Q) All of those were devotional songs?

A) Devotional songs and patriotic songs. I have done some bhajans also. I was addicted to Hindi songs from the school days. And I have composed in Kannada for Bangalore Doordarshan when I was in Bangalore. And also in English and Tamil.

Q) What are your activities in the music field these days?

A) It has been one year since I came to Thrissur after my studies in Madras University. I am working here with Chetana foundation. After I came here, we have broadened the facility of Indian music and dance academy and began an institute named Chetana Sangeet Natya Academy in 2004. It is emphasized on the Indian traditional arts. We have introduced a new subject called Vocology and I have a voice clinic there. There are many people coming there to solve their voice related issues including students and teachers from various parts of Kerala and even from Gulf countries. I help them to learn voice production technics. I think there isn’t any such voice clinic elsewhere in Kerala. So vocology is a specialty of our academy.

Q) Is vocology only for the people involved in music?

A) Mainly, yes. We also help other people as well. But its mainly for the people in the music field. I learnt about the vocal technics from Columbia university.

I have done Carnatic music concerts in Hindu temples and Christian churches. Also in many sangeetha sabhas and in Guruvayur etc. Music is a bridge between religions. I think music has the power to heal in this time of increasing religious tensions.

Q) Thank you for spending your valuable time for us and I wish you all the best in your musical journey to reach out to God.

A) Thank you very much and wish M-Pod all the success.



Fr. Paul’s website
Interview in The Hindu
Article in The Hindu
Focus on Kerala article