Four noted Carnatic singers have been threatened by a Hindu group for singing Christian songs, which has prompted well-known musician T.M. Krishna to announce that he would be singing one every month on Jesus or Allah.
The four singers- Aruna Sairam, who has been chosen for this year’s prestigious Sangeetha Kalanidhi title by Music Academy, Nityasree Mahdevan, O.S. Arun and P. Unnikrishnan- were targeted on social media for singing songs in praise of Jesus. Following the threats, Arun cancelled his participation in a programme organised by a Christian outfit while Nityasree clarified that she would not sing anymore compositions on non-Hindu gods.
The issue had come to light after a phone conversation with Arun by S. Ramanathan, the founder of Rashtriya Sanathana Seva Sangam (RSSS), was circulated on social media. In the voice clip, Ramanathan was heard questioning Arun over his participation in a Christian musical event — ‘Esuvin Sangama Sangeetham’ (musical confluence on Jesus).
When Arun queried why he alone was being targeted when other top Carnatic singers had also sung Christian songs, the social media was flooded with demands to boycott the four singers. Ramanathan even urged the organisers of the annual Thyagaraja Aradhana at Thiruvayaru, to commemorate the saint composer’s memory, not to invite the four singers. He particularly objected to Nityasree replacing the word Rama in a Thyagaraja composition with Jesus while singing a Christian song “Samaanulevaru Prabho’.
Nityasree, in a Facebook post, clarified that the song does not have any semblance to saint Thyagaraja’s masterpiece ‘Rama nee samaana mevaru’ composed in ‘Sankarabharanam’ ragam. She said that the one she had sung was in ‘Karaharapriya’ Raagam. She went on to clarify that she sang the devotional song on Jesus only because she was happy to be an instrument to bolster communal peace and harmony. Stating that she was against any form of conversion or propaganda towards that end, she declared there was no ulterior or financial motive and apologized for inadvertently hurting the sentiments of anyone.
“I firmly believe that it is an unforgivable offence to be involved in an act that would tarnish the image of our rich tradition and heritage, community, society, nation, and mankind. I shall never ever commit or abet one myself,” she said.
In response to the controversy noted Carnatic singer T.M. Krishna tweeted, “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 on Jesus or Allah.”
Pianist Anil Srinivas posted a 24 hour challenge on his FB page in support of the targeted musicians, saying, “I'd like the clip of any artist substituting Rama nama with Yesu or Allah and paste it on my wall using an original Thyagaraja composition or similar. Or forever hold your peace. Or better still, I will band together all the musicians you've targeted and come personally to each of your homes along with law and order personnel and round you up for disturbing the peace.”
“These people have no problem if Christians like Yesudass or American singer John Higgins sing Carnatic compositions. In fact poor Yesudas had to suffer at the hands of the church since they initially refused to baptise his son as he sang Carnatic music in praise of Hindu gods and regularly visited Sabarimala and Mookambika temples,” pointed out a noted musician.
Similarly, stand up comedian Alexander Babu, also a trained Carnatic singer, had once recalled that his Carnatic music teacher Suguna Purshotthaman had asked him to sing “Yesu Kavyam” (a song on Jesus) while she was in her death bed.