Sunday, May 9, 2010

Chapel bhajans

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    • Shevlin Sebastian
    • When Fr Joseph Thattarassery was appointed as the parish priest of St Joseph’s Church in Tripunithura eight years ago, it changed his life. A mild interest in Carnatic music became a passion. That, he points out, had much to do with that central-Kerala small town, eight km south of Kochi. “There are some 130 temples in and around Tripunithura,” he says. And most of the major temples, like Sree Poornathrayeesa and Chakkamkulangara, regularly host classical concerts — or kacheris as they are called.
    • “Ragas were something I was struggling to learn. Soon, I could see their excellence in concerts,” he says. Then, one day, a brilliant concert by a young Carnatic vocalist changed it all for the priest. Chennai-based T M Krishna’s kacheri inspired Fr Thattarassery to the extent that he thought of starting something similar in the church. So, he took some ragas, and changed the lyrics to suit Christian themes.
    • Despite the misgivings, Fr Thattarassery began a bhajan recital at 4 am, every Friday, with a group of singers. And slowly the parishioners were drawn in by the power of the south Indian classical tunes. “When you listen to the Gregorian chants (Western liturgical music), you feel the Christianness in the song,” says Fr Thattarassery. “But when you listen to a Carnatic song with Christian lyrics, you get the feeling that Jesus Christ belongs to our land.”
    • After five years, Fr Thattarassery was transferred to the Our Lady of Perpetual Help church at Ochanthuruth in the Vypeen Islands west of Kochi. Quickly, he started a 12-person choir for bhajan singing, which included three Hindus: Unnikrishnan on the mridangam, Lalu on the tabla, and Devadas on the flute. “It has been an amazing experience for me,” says Devadas. “To play Carnatic music inside a church before dawn has brought me nearer to God. I feel an inner peace.”

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