Each religion has its system of music based primarily on its cultural origin. Church music indicates the Western origin of its original propagators and mosque music indicates its Arabian origin. But does music itself as an art have any religion? The themes of virtually all traditional compositions of Carnatic music are based on the Hindu religion, but does this imply that Carnatic music as an artistic system cannot exist without a basis of Hinduism, or for that matter, any religion? The above question is different from the issue whether there is a place for persons of non-Hindu religions in the Carnatic firmament. We already have Vedanayagam Pillai as a composer, Abraham Panditar as a musicologist and K.J. Yesudass and Sheikh Chinna Moula as performers. Dikshitar experimented with Western tunes. A Sikh gentleman has been regularly attending the concerts of the Music Academy during the season for the last 30 years. (Paradoxically, despite having two great ancient systems of classical music, we have chosen a Western tune and orchestration for our national anthem)!

We do have beautifully tuned nonreligion-based Tamil compositions like Tamarai pootta tadagamadi and Muttamizh solayile muttamma, and several secular songs by Subramania Bharati tuned in beautiful Carnatic ragas. Most of us enjoy Tyagaraja’s or Dikshitar’s songs not because we are deeply religious or acutely conscious of our being Hindu, but because of their musical excellence. Theoretically, it is possible to have a Carnatic concert consisting solely of secular songs or even songs based on Christianity or Islam. But the existing Does music have a religion? P.K. Doraiswamy reservoir of Hindu religion-based compositions is so large and musically of such outstanding quality that it would be ages before secular and non-Hinduism-based compositions could match them in number or overshadow them in quality and displace them.

Music consists of bhava, raga and tala. Bhava is of two types – sahitya bhava and raga bhava. I do not see any objection to any type of sahitya being introduced. The main criterion, however, should be not their Christianity or Islam or iconoclasm but whether the sahitya is capable of generating bhava. Bhava is the developed, relishable state of a strong emotion. The bhakti of the Trinity is one such emotion, so is the eroticism of Jayadeva or Kshetrayya, the dramatic sense of Gopalakrishna Bharati or Arunachala Kavi, or the patriotism of Subramania Bharati. In the hands of a gifted composer, songs on Jesus or Allah can certainly generate a strong emotion capable of being refined into bhava. (The song Chittam eppadio in Nadanamakriya by Vedanayagam Pillai on Christ is an example). Allah as a theme could prove tricky as any description of Allah or his qualities is liable to be considered blasphemous by hard-core Muslims. But it takes a colossal genius to produce bhava out of porambokes!… read more