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Updated: November 27, 1997 05:00 PM GMT
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Father P.T. Chelladurai of India´s Madurai Jesuit province strives for "harmonious coexistence" of the Catholic faith with Carnatic music, the predominant style of classical music in southern India.

Having learned music from leading "vidwans" (scholars), Father Chelladurai has distinguished himself as a professor of musicology and musical pedagogy.

The principal of Evening College of Music in Chennai (formerly Madras), the capital of Tamil Nadu state, he has written several books on music and produced popular audiocassettes of devotional hymns and songs.

Kala Darshini (vision of arts), a Catholic institute of fine arts managed by the Jesuits in neighboring Andhra Pradesh state, honored the first Catholic priest to teach Carnatic music with the "kalai mamani" (jewel of arts) award last June.

It said Father Chelladurai had pioneered a movement of music in the Church whose effects would be felt for many years to come.

Father Chelladurai shared with ASIA FOCUS some of his ideas about music. The interview was published in the Nov. 21 issue.

ASIA FOCUS: Why did a Catholic priest take up Carnatic music as a vocation when its patrons and practitioners have traditionally been Hindus?

FATHER P.T. CHELLADURAI: Unconventional, yes, but Carnatic music as a vocation is intimately connected with my religious vocation. Besides, music is an excellent way of praying for me. I get as much satisfaction from it as from the apostolate of preaching.

How did it all begin? Did you learn it in a "gurukula" system (a disciple learning at a teacher´s place)?

I cannot say that I learned music under the gurukula system in the strict sense. My "guru" (teacher) is Thirappampuram S. Shanmugha Sundaram, who is now professor of vocal music and principal of Tamil Nadu Government Music College in Chennai.

I have had several other teachers. I have also had music lessons from my own companions (Jesuit) Fathers M.A. Amaladoss (former assistant to the Jesuit superior general) and S. Maria Jeyaraj, administrator of Aikiya Alayam (house of unity, a dialogue center) in Chennai.

Are you accepted as a vidwan in a field dominated thus far by orthodox Hindus?

Passing in first class in South Indian musicology helped me much. After much struggle and effort, I was appointed principal of Evening Music College on a part-time basis. I carried out the task well and gained acceptance.

Recognition inevitably followed. My teaching ability and my books, too, gained me acceptance.

What prompted you to start a summer school of Carnatic music?

I had heard about a similar school for Hindustani music at Panchmarhi (in the central state of Madhya Pradesh) and felt encouraged to start one for Carnatic music. (Hindustani is the predominant classical style in northern India.)

Another reason was my listening to some undignified music at one or two places in Tamil Nadu. I thought I should do my bit to improve the standard. The Tamil Nadu Liturgical Committee was also eager that I should give such a course.

What have been your experiences with the summer school programs?

We will celebrate the silver jubilee next May. I regret that some bishops and superiors of women´s congregations do not cooperate, but I am happy to note an increase in laypersons attending the course.

During each summer course I take the group of nearly 70 members (this year 90) to two or three parishes to perform during Mass. We have covered more than 25 parishes so far.

You said some bishops and major superiors do not cooperate. What about Jesuits? Do you find support and encouragement?


Carnatic music comprises devotional songs in praise of Hindu deities. Every Carnatic musician has to practice them to attain proficiency. Are you comfortable singing those hymns?

Music is divine, and Carnatic music is a divine art. Singing about Hindu gods and goddesses is no problem for me as a Christian and a priest. My heart is always with Jesus and Our Lady.

There are cases of creativity being curbed by one´s religious vocation. What has been your experience?

I have never felt that my creativity has suffered because of my religious duty.


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