The sound of music in churches is not unusual. And yet, the music concert that was featured during the annual festival at the St. Nicholas Church at Puthiyathura five years ago was preceded by much debate and apprehension.
The laity, used to choirs sung in praise of the Lord, was doubtful when a worshipper suggested that Carnatic musician Vazhamuttam B. Chandrababu be allowed to take the stage.
Carnatic music is largely perceived to be associated with Hindu traditions and so the response by the church management was to dismiss the suggestion. They were then given a recording of Mr. Chandrababu’s pieces.
The ‘keerthanas’ he composed celebrated Christian beliefs, excerpts from the Bible and Jesus Christ. “They were impressed and they could not say no,” said Mr. Chandrababu, recalling the well-received concert, the first one he conducted that showcased his ability to invoke communal harmony through classical Carnatic music.
Philosophy of Guru
He says it was his calling in life to show his devotion towards Sree Narayana Guru’s philosophy of one caste, one religion, and one God for mankind through music.
He does not belong to an illustrious line of musicians and he was 13 when he first ventured into the demanding world of classical music and graduated from the Swati Tirunal Music College here.
As a college student, he used to take tuitions for children. It was then he tried to experiment with Carnatic music.
Padmashri Neyyatinkara Vasudevan, who was Chandrababu’s guru, had also attempted to blend Christian values with Carnatic style.
“He cautioned me and told me that it is not easy to understand other religious texts, derive lyrics from it, compose music and sing it. He encouraged me to go ahead, if I was willing to take up the challenge,” said the musician.
There were Muslim and Christian students in his clases. They rarely practised at home, he said, because they felt their parents might not appreciate Hindu ragas.
And so he designed ‘keerthanas’ based on Christian and Muslim beliefs.
Moreover, he regularly consults his friends on the content and ensures that he has got a firm grasp of the text before he articulates them in the language of Carnatic music. It is a way for aspiring Carnatic musicians to become professional without worrying about the content, he feels. “I have been lucky all along. I’ve had support from my colleagues at the St. Joseph’s Higher Secondary School where I taught for five years. I’ve never met with any opposition,” he said.
He is grateful towards S. Ratnakaran who has been mentoring him since Mr. Vasudevan’s passing.
He last performed during Gandhi Jayanthi at Gandhi Park during a function organised by the government.
He has a list of concerts lined up in December including the M.S. Subbulakshmi Sangeetholsav.