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Lily Among Thorns by Dr. R. Samuel. Based on Sister Sarah Nawroji. Photo: By Special Arrangement

Lily Among Thorns by Dr. R. Samuel. Based on Sister Sarah Nawroji. Photo: By Special Arrangement   | Photo Credit: Scanned in Chennai R.K.Sridharan

Composer-singer Sister Sarah Navaroji is a pioneer in Tamil Christian devotional music.

She was barely 21 when she was chosen for mission work in Ceylon as it was then known. She was to set sail from Dhanushkodi. To reach the coastal town, Sarah had to take a train from Egmore. After boarding the train, she eagerly waited for her mother to arrive (her father had passed on when she was 10) to see her off. But minutes ticked by and there was no sign of her.

The poignant occasion inspired her to compose the beautiful Tamil song while inside the train: ‘Ennai Maravaa Yesu Naathaa,' which spotlights the Lord's unfailing love even though a mother might forget her child. The year was 1960 and composer-singer Sarah Navaroji was getting into her stride.

A pioneer in Tamil Christian devotional music, she is the next big name after the composers of the late 19th century who wrote Carnatic raga-based Christhava Keerthanais. A prolific composer, Sister Sarah Navaroji as she is known, has written, set to tune, sung and recorded 356 songs over the past five decades. Several of her songs are hits and are sung by other artists as well as played in Tamil Christian churches and homes all over the globe. Her VCDs and CDs continue to sell well.

All-time favourites such as ‘Thothiram Paadiyae', ‘Thirupatham Nambi Vandaen' and ‘Unnathamanavarin' are often heard on various occasions but many may not know that these are Sarah's works - they are among her many evergreen hits.

At 73, she earnestly continues her work for God, having chosen to remain single. She commands admiration for her music, sermons and simplicity - clad in all-white, which gives her a definite aura.

In lilting Tamil akin to poetry, the substance of which is comforting and makes one focus on God, her compositions are marked by all the finer nuances of music grammar with pallavi, anupallavi and saranams in place. Hence music directors such as Sathi Victor, Kalyanam,Mangalamoorthi, Henry Daniel, Richard Vijay and Andrew Augustine found it a pleasure to score music for her many albums.

HMV, AIR artist

Sarah was an HMV artist which meant the record company took full charge of production and distribution. For years, the AIR regularly featured her Bhakti Padalgal. She was conferred a doctorate by an international institute in Rhode Island. Many of her compositions have been translated into Hindi, Telugu and Malayalam and she has travelled to the U.S., U.K., and European countries to sing and to take ‘God's Word' to eager audiences.

Solomon Asirvatham, her father, a violinist and Carnatic music teacher named his three daughters after Carnatic ragas: Lalitha, Vasantha and Navaroji and taught them music. Sarah, the youngest in the family, won the first prize in the U.N. song contest when she was a student of Bentinck Girls' High School.

After a divine vision, Sarah resigned her job with the Madras Electricity Board and began to do full time ministry. Professor R. Michael Faraday, Madras Christian College, refers to her songs as “sweet melodies that melt hearts (idhayathai urukkum iniya keethangal)” and includes her in the illustrious list of Indian women who served Christ: Pandit Rama Bhai, Amy Carmichael, Sesharatnam and Sannyasini Ponnammal.

The melody queen Hema John says that Sarah's lyrics have touched the lives of thousands of people and taken them closer to God. “There's divine anointing in her singing”, is how John puts it.

The book, ‘Lily among Thorns' in Tamil has been released. It details the life and music of Sarah Navaroji and is written by Dr R. Samuel, a former merchant navy officer and engineer, who now serves in the Zion Full Gospel Prayer Fellowship Church. For details, contact 9884713075.

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Printable version | Apr 5, 2020 4:05:34 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/books/divine-notes/article2615104.ece

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