Storm over Carnatic celebrities singing in praise of Jesus, Allah

The Asian Age.  | j v siva prasanna kumar

India, All India

Of course, there have also been several posts on the social media in supportive of the Carnatic musicians singing on Christ and Allah.

RSS Chief Mohan Bhagwat (Photo: PTI)

Chennai: In this land of perennial debates — often hot and hostile — the latest storm is over the singing by Carnatic music celebrities in praise of Jesus Christ and Allah. While the “traditionalists” are threatening to boycott the singers and the sabhas featuring their non-Hindu kutcheries, some hardcore Hindu outfits and ‘leaders’ have even threatened to disrupt such public performers.

A phone conversation between one Ramanathan Seetharaman — he claims to be the founder of RSSS, cleverly coined to rhyme with the famous/robust RSS though he denies any intention to mislead and explains that his is actually, the Rashtriya Sanathan Seva Sanghan organisation — and well-known singer O.S. Arun has gone viral, wherein he wants the phone number of T.M. Krishna (obviously to call and abuse) and declares in all seriousness, “Wherever he (Krishna) goes next, we will ensure he gets beaten up”.

Ramanathan refers to Krishna as “that porikki (rowdy)” while asking for his phone number and tries to justify his anger saying as the RSSS chief, he must fight for the Hindus and protect Hindu dharma. And when Arun tells him there are other Carnatic musicians too singing on Christ and Allah, Ramanathan responds, “Just give me all their numbers and we will take care of these chameleons”.

Actually, the abusive phone calls starts with the self-proclaimed Hindu leader demanding explanation from Arun for agreeing to participate in a function to release a Christian music audio release function (August 25 at Chennai), to which the musician replies saying the event was cancelled since many people opposed it. “But why did you accept the invitation in the first place?” Ramanathan demands to know.

The RSSS chief’s anger at T.M. Krishna was inspired by the latter defying the attacks from the so-called ‘traditionalists’ and tweeting: “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 or Jesus and Allah”. The Magsaysay Award winner has been propagating his view, rather stoutly, that music must have multi-religious and non-religious hues. There’s nothing wrong in a Carnatic musician singing in churches and about Christ, he has argued.

But the “war” is not just between RSSS’ Ramanathan and Krishna-Arun; others too have been either rattling their sabres or fleeing for cover from harsh fire. Noted vocalist Nithyasree Mahadevan posted a long explanation on FB saying she had rendered the devotional song, ‘Samaanulevaru Prabho’ on Christ “only because I was happy to be an instrument to bolster communal peace and harmony”. She also apologised “for inadvertently hurting your sentiments if any”.

Her critics had slammed her for replacing ‘Rama’ with ‘Prabho’ (meaning Christ) in a Thyagaraja kriti, ‘Rama nee samaana mevaru’. In the Christian song rendered by her, she had hailed Christ as Lord without parallel, just as Thyagaraja had worshipped Rama in his kriti as ‘one without any equals’.

Nithyasree said in her FB post that she saw no similarity between the Thyagaraja masterpiece in ‘Karaharapriya’ raga and the Christ song composed “mostly in Shankarabharanam’. “I belong to a family steeped in rich Hindu tradition, values and culture. Therefore, I have always been a practising Hindu, and most importantly, I shall always remain to be one”, said Nithyasree, whose Carnatic song on Allah too had ruffled many Hindu feathers.

Venkat Subramanian of Mumbai is one of the ‘traditionalists’ unhappy with the ‘rebels’ such as Nithyasree and T M Krishna. “Rasikas, please avoid attending the concerts of Nityasri. When the sale register does not ring, let us see where her lofty ideals of communal amity go”, he tweeted.

Of course, there have also been several posts on the social media in supportive of the Carnatic musicians singing on Christ and Allah. “My Muslim brothers are part of my life, so too your song on Allah will remain close to my heart”, tweeted Thanjavur’s Ravikumar Arunachalam in Tamil, hugely appreciative of Nityasree’s song on Allah.

Famed Aruna Sairam appears to have got into the crossfire, somehow; so she came out with a clarification tweet, telling her ‘dear’ rasikas that some rumours “are doing the rounds on social media that I have modified traditional Carnatic kritis and sung the same for evangelical purposes”. “I would like to clarify that I would never tamper with classical content either for personal or commercial gains”, said Aruna.

With the world-famous Margazhi Vizha just round the corner, it remains to be seen how this unseemly controversy over Carnatic music getting ‘evangelised’ is going to evolve.