INDIA - Hindus Object to Mixing Religious Music

Arno Froese

For 35 years, O.S. Arun has been a professional singer of Carnatic music, a classical genre popular in South India. It’s an embellished form of singing frequently backed by the tanpura, a long-necked, stringed instrument that emits a constant drone. He’s recorded several dozen albums.

Arun is famous for adapting outside songs to Carnatic style. He once performed a Carnatic version of “Danny Boy” onstage in Ireland. He also played a Carnatic tribute to the late Beatle George Harrison alongside the Indian musician Ravi Shankar and others at London’s Royal Albert Hall during a concert featuring Eric Clapton and Ringo Starr.

But this summer, when Arun advertised a concert of Christian hymns in Carnatic style, social media erupted, calling him a traitor to his Hindu faith.

Most Carnatic songs are devotional, in praise of Hindu deities. Some verses are from as early as the 2nd century, but most were composed from the 16th century onward, especially during the 18th and 19th centuries.

He and other Carnatic singers have long included songs based on Christian themes or Muslim poetry in their repertoire. Arun has performed Carnatic versions of Urdu ghazals, lyric poems that trace their roots back to Arabic poetry. He has collaborated frequently with Samuel Joseph, a Tamil Christian violinist and composer who goes by the name Shyaam. Arun even wore  a crucifix in a music video in the 1990s. It was never an issue, he says.

But it is now.

“O.S. Arun kept doing this and doing this, and somebody had to take notice at some point,” says Laalithya Konduru, a doctor and amateur musician from Chennai who wrote a magazine op-ed criticizing Carnatic singers’ inclusion of Christian lyrics. She calls South India’s suddenly controversial music scene “the Carnatic Christian conundrum.”

“We need more and more people to listen. We need to take it abroad also. It’s part of India’s soft power, you see—like yoga. You can’t do it if you say, ‘well, Carnatic music shouldn’t sing songs about Jesus Christ,’” says M. Ramesh, a Chennai-based journalist and Carnatic singing fan., 18 September 2018

Arno's commentary

Conservative Hindus, particularly in foreign countries, strongly object to the mixing of their religious music with that of other cultures. 

For now, he has apparently canceled all tours to the US, but that’s not the end, because the mixing of religious music and culture is part of the goal of world unity. 

One needs to remember that the Hindu practice of yoga is now well established in the Western world. Even churches promote so-called “Christian yoga.” 

One senses opposition from traditionalists, who insist that their culture and religion must be protected at any cost. It is our belief that this opposition, particularly evident during the last few years, will eventually melt away, because sooner or later the world must become one.

Arno Froese is the executive director of Midnight Call Ministries and editor-in-chief of the acclaimed prophetic magazines Midnight Call and News From Israel. He has authored a number of well-received books, and has sponsored many prophecy conferences in the U.S., Canada, and Israel. His extensive travels have contributed to his keen insight into Bible prophecy, as he sees it from an international perspective.

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