Christmas

The year-long journey of exploring and celebrating popular Indian festivals through music comes to an end only to celebrate the forthcoming year with more music from many more festivals in India. We conclude the year with Christmas as our last article in the festive learning series. Although only 5% of the total population of India comprises the Christian community yet the cultural diversity at the exhibition is extremely abundant.

 Jesus Christ, the Christmas tree, and the Santa Claus are the three important motifs of this festival. Christmas refers to the birth of Jesus Christ and the merriment that follows the occasion. Attending special masses at the church, visiting family members, exchanging sweets among elders and children, buying new clothes, lighting oil lamps or electric lamps, Crib- a temporary structure resembling the birth of Christ- are some of the key features seen during Christmas. Not only Christians but also those from other religious beliefs are seen partaking in the celebrations.

The Christmas tree, a pine, adorned with numerous clinging objects, glittering structures, etc. are symbolic to various aspects. The legendary theory of saint Bonafice’s felling of an oak tree from which a triangular fir tree grows out represents the trinity- a symbol of Christ and new life. Therefore, bringing home an evergreen tree, one like the fir or pine is symbolic according to this theory. Some scholars claim that these evergreen trees symbolize fertility during unfavorable conditions of winter thus attaining the significance of bringing these trees inside a home during Christmas. The other integrant symbolizes the events accompanying Christ’s crucifixion.

Santa Claus- a plumpy, stout with a dense snow-white beard figure wearing scarlet robes riding the sleigh drawn by the reindeers- is a major attraction to kids during Christmas. Santa sneaks inside the house through the chimney, leaving behind gifts, goodies, and treats for children is a very popular anecdote. Elders through such practices inoculate self-contemplation habits in tender minds, thereby enabling them to do only good deeds which get paid off by goodness and well-being in return.  But the Santa we know today is believed to have evolved from Bishop St. Nicholas of Myra. St. Nicholas, a wealthy born was identified as generous, benevolent, and an astute follower of Christianity. His actions earned him a rank of repute among the masses. It was after his death on December 6th 343, Christians commenced the practice of exchanging gifts that continued till Christmas. Thus, the name St. Nicholas and his deeds eventually led to the birth of a fictitious yet popular figure- Santa Claus.

  • Kerala

Christianity in the Indian state of Kerala is believed to have been brought by St. Thomas, an apostle of Jesus Christ, in the first century CE. The West-Asian mercantile groups got the Syriac language- a dialect of the Aramaic language spoken by Christ- to the Malabar coast and as a result, the Syriac language became part of the St. Thomas Christian’s liturgy. A series of social, political, and cultural impacts led to the evolution of diverse Christian practices seen in present-day Kerala. Attempts at reviving the ancient traditions of Syriac chanting are carried out to retain its antiquity. Qambel Maran- an audio compilation of 29 prayers under five sections- is one of the pioneering attempts at preserving the age-old tradition of Syriac chanting.

  1. Solemn form
  1. Ordinary form

As per the explanation provided by the Christian musicological society of India, the chant is a lord’s prayer believed to contain some exact words taught by Jesus Christ to his disciples. The two forms given above are long and short forms of the same prayer sung after nativity hymn and during communion rite respectively. More about the poetry and the liturgy could be extensively read and explored in the hyperlink aforementioned. In the above case, both are sung to the same tune, however, there are examples of the same prayer set to different tunes and arrangements too. The tune shared here is originally sung in Celebrant-choir-deacon scheme with Awūn d’waśmayyā as the resolving point after every verse (particularly in form i.). Although the time from when the musical instruments were used is unknown, yet the influence of different music traditions gives the form a unique identity.

  • Goa

Christianity was introduced to Goa by the Portuguese. A close perusal in an article describing the evolution of Goa in the different eras revealed fascinating accounts ranging from Mythology to its liberation. Interesting among those was to learn about Jesuit priest Fr. Thomas Stephen’s (1549-1919) Krista Puran.

Originally published under the title Discurso Sobre a Vinda de Jesu Christo Nosso Salvador ao Mundo, Stephen’s Magnum opus is an attempt to spread biblical accounts in a poetic form. His work describes the events from the birth of Christ till his resurrection and ascension in eleven thousand verses using several local languages of the then Goa (mainly Marathi and Konkani). His visionary work has earned him the Thomas Stephens Konkani Kendra, an institution run by Jesuits, dedicated to the study of Konkani language and culture.

An excerpt of the precious literary work of Krista Puran could be witnessed in the link given above. From the narration, keywords familiar to Marathi or Konkani speaking listeners will help deduce that the final episode in the life of Jesus Christ has been described. The poet seeks help from Christ’s mother virgin Mary in reducing her son’s pains caused to him by the ill doings of his followers.

  • Northeast

North-eastern tribes have a peculiar way of commemorating Christmas. Besides the hymns and carols, lavish sweets and delicacies, prayers and masses, tribal dance forms and music attract countless audiences comprising of the locals and tourists all over the northeast. These forms were part of the northeast since time immemorial. One such is the Song Kirtan/ Song Kristan of the Garo tribe in Meghalaya.

Song Kristan is an age-old tradition of singing and dancing performed to the accompaniment of traditional drums ‘kuls’ (may have derived from the word Khol- a barrel drum). The tribe performs the dance as they commute to different villages on the eve of Christmas and new year. The young and elders flock and rejoice to the tunes of the performing art form. The above presentation is from the Jengjal region of Meghalaya. Unlike its traditional way of commuting with the music, this presentation is a part of the Song Kristan competition held across Meghalaya during this time of the year. The entire performance seems similar to the garba performed during Navaratri in Gujrat. The dancers rotate around the musicians playing the instruments stationed in the center while making gestures symbolizing the events described in the song text. One can also notice shrill yet uncompromised high pitch notes sung by the ladies singing the song. The drumming pattern exhibiting a six-beat scheme is accompanied by a pair of metal clappers in an arrangement akin to the drums. The troupe exits by gradual uncoiling and moving towards the non-performing side of the arena.

References

Immensely grateful to

My Guru Dr. Aneesh Pradhan, Gurubhai Yashwant Kanolkar.

Published by Musical-rites

Siddharth is a freelance musician, performing for the past 10 years and has experience in accompanying Hindustani vocal and instrumental music, theatre, dance, and collaborative music projects with international artists. Siddharth has also conducted and coordinated various music workshops held in Mumbai. Siddharth is also an independent music composer.

One thought on “Christmas

  1. Very well explained about the song Kristan, the performing art of tribes during Christmas commuting with different villages.

    Like

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