In my last post I had committed blasphemy-  I had trodden on what can only be called the “holy cow” ! I had dared to criticize the “purest” of the “pure” form of music enjoyed and appreciated by the “twice born” and their close brethren! I had also made some comments about making it more “inclusive”. One of the readers challenged my question about why other singers were not invited to the Thyagaraya festival at Thiruviyaru by telling me that it was as odd as wanting to chant the “Vishnu Sahasranamam” in a Church on Christmas day!

Today is Christmas day –a day of miracles! I was witness to something close to that. I watched today a performance of Shakespeare’s “Macbeth” by the 2nd year students of the National School of Drama – presented at the Museum theatre here in Chennai! . So what is so miraculous about it you may ask?.The miracle my friends  lies in the way it was presented.  The entire performance was in the “Koothu” tradition of Tamil folk theatre using the medium of song and dance in … … Hindi with a few occasional dialogues in Kannada and Tamil! The  presentation and the accompanying music were also of the “Koothu” style. As in all folk traditions, there was a narrator and accompanying musicians using the traditional folk instruments of Tamilnadu. The only little innovation was that  the lyrics were in  Hindi which the actors sang to bring alive the performance!

Shakespearean theatre is considered rather high brow and intellectual.  The ability to adapt it using a folk form like the “koothu” is therefore  very innovative . “Koothu” as many of us know is the theatre form performed in villages. To be able to bring it from Scotland to Chennai, almost scene by scene retaining the original dialogue is an absolutely creative way of making art and theatre inclusive. Let me tell you something else - my introduction to Shakespeare was thus. I was six or seven years old when I first watched “Hamlet” being performed in a small town in West Bengal at a “Jatra” which is the traditional theatre form of the state! Even today whenever someone mentions “Hamlet”  it is the actor who played the role in the “Jatra” who comes to my mind.   

One may wonder about the relevance of using Hindi as the medium of communication in the play that I had watched today. I can only say that this was probably done because a majority of the student performers were from northern India. However, there were  two actors who were not familiar with Hindi so they  used Tamil and Kannada. It was an interesting diversion to watch Banquo speak in Tamil and hear one of the witches prophesize in Kannada. The language barrier –if indeed there was one, did not seem to have any problem in the communication.  The audience could relate completely to the  charachters, music and the costumes. Interestingly, it was not your usual  snobbish English speaking theatre going crowd of Chennai that thronged the seats inside the hall . It was an ordinary middle and lower middle class Tamil speaking audience that predominated. The children in the front row laughed loudly at the antics of the narrator or the “sutradhar” who pranced about like a monkey using humor to reach out to the audience in typical street theatre form. It was almost as though we were in a village square. And like all street performances it was absolutely FREE!  Last but not the least was they way the "sutradhar" connected some of the situations from the play to  the current issues that we as a nation are facing –particularly the craze for power.

To conclude I can only reiterate that art and music are without boundaries. It is for performers and audiences to be inclusive and take it to the common man/woman.

And about Vishnu Sahasranamam being recited inside a Church, well I would say why not?  Here is the translation of Shloka one

Visvam Visnurvasatkaro

Bhuta bhavya bhvat prabhuh

Bhuta krit bhuta bhrdbhavo

Bhutatma Bhutabhavanah

Vishvam / a) Universe or Cause of Universe b) One who is full in all respects. Om visvaya namah.

 Vishnu: - a) One who permeates everything, is inside every sentient and non-sentient being. b) One who surrounds everything.

vashatkara / One who controls and directs (not merely pervades).
bhuta-bhavya-bhavat-prabhu: The Master of all things past, future, and present. Nirukti - trikAla vartinAm seshi - The Lord of all things that exist in the past, present, and future.

 Bhuta-krit / The creator of all beings.

 Bhuta-bhrt / The supporter of all things. Bhutani bibharti iti bhuta-bhrt - One who supports all.

 Bhavah / He who exists with all the splendor. He who exists always, independent of anything else.
Bhutatma / The AtmA or soul of all beings - sarvesham bhutanam atma

Bhuta-bhavanah / One who nourishes and nurtures all beings that He created.

  Tell me folks once this translation is made known to a Christian, would s/he object to its recitation inside a Church?
Ofcourse if  I as a “Hindu” feel uncomfortable and want  to hold on to those 1000 names of the Lord by way of intellectual property then it is another issue!

Merry Christmas! Peace be with all of you!


  1. Excellent write up Meera! More please and holy cows be damned!

  2. Very well written. I appreciate it. I like your view - your support of Vishnu Sahasranamam in a Church. But tell that to a Southern Baptist and see his reaction.

    Merry Christmas and Happy New Year to you and your family.

  3. The purists have a long history of cribbing whenever an artist ventures beyond the limits of a conservative set of “rules”. Beethoven was termed “vulgar” when he broke established rules. More recently, L. Shankar and Zakir Hussain were criticized when they played jazz fusion. Zakir Hussain was actually accused of making Indian music impure because of his playing with a non-Indian like McLaughlin. Shakespeare would have been severely reprimanded by my English school teacher for his deviant grammar!

    The exercise of artistic freedom and fusion with culturally diverse forms of art have resulted in some of the best artistic expressions in music as with other forms of art.

    You should enjoy the results of artistic freedom and let the purists enjoy their cribbing!

    Wishing you the very best of season's greetings!

  4. @ Deepa,thanks for the compliment. No more holy cows please...! Drains my research capabilities and really not worth the time!

    @ SG thanks for your wishes. I think I should also thank you for that suggestion of the Vishnu Sahasranamam because it made me go through a lot of internet files and I FINALLY understood what those 1000 names were all about though I have spent over 40 years just listening to it being played on the music system or hear my mother chant it. About suggesting it to a Southern Baptist, well I will try it if and when I meet someone but let us not be prejuidiced. There may be many Open minded Baptists just like there are Open minded people in the Tam Brahm community. One does not have to tar everyone with the same brush. Who knows, Vishnu Sahasranamam in the Gregorian Chant may really catch on in the Bible belt of the United states!

  5. @ Christopher, the purists unfortunately throng the Carnatic style of music. Those people who criticized L. Subramaniam and Zakir must have been from this stream of music! Music is about creativity. Creativity and innovation go hand in hand. If you do not experiment you cannot create-it is not enough to go on singing the same songs for centuries in the same raga and tala!!!

  6. Ha, I can understand the spirit that brought out this post – shall I say rejoinder?
    I agree .The only glaring aspect I foresee and made me mention in my comment -the oddity in singing Vishnu sahsranama in church ,was perhaps of being used to a certain thalam and ragam for church songs. The shasranamam is a different genre and it reverberates in a different way. I feel. And perhaps if I was used to such a rendition in church well it’d not have made me feel odd. Wonder if the prelate chanting in his traditional style, when he raises the bread and wine for the holy mass, “in the name of the father son and the Holy Ghost, amen”, would sound, umm …quite difficult to transliterate and chant in the same mode in a temple.
    Well the essence, the meaning as you mentioned is universal. The syncretism is there. We fail to appreciate or accept that.
    Someone told me the underlying, meaning in Hindu and Christian names, for instance, Victor for Vijayakumar!
    The bottom line is, many people from the so called elite castes harbor still, the bias and prejudice that such classical art forms and music like Bharathanatyam and or Carnatic music are their exclusive.
    The experimentation of multi lingual Shakespearean play, that you mentioned must have been a unique experience.

  7. Thanks Anil for your comment. I think the church chants are as unique as the temple ones though if we are not rigid we may be able to accept either in the other's place! As I had mentioned earlier , Vishusahasranama recited in the tone of a Gregorian Chant might have a different flavour. Let us face it, ultimately religion is only a way to reach God and God is omnipotent and omnipresent! The show was interesting. I have not seen something like that in a long time

  8. Meera,

    I am totally with you in what you said while concluding.

    Take care

  9. Namaste and blessings of the season.
    Segregation is more normalized that many realize, until we are willing to put down the "them an Us" attitude it will continue. The truth-we are all human beings and worth of inclusion.


  10. Two glasses of merlot is talking here. Instead of telling that to a Southern Baptist, tell that to an Imam in a mosque and see his reaction.

  11. Meera,
    I was reading your blogs and totally agree with fusion concept. I have myself heard and loved the original/ standard version of rendering the Vishnu Sahasranamam, and also the fusion ones, and love all of them.
    In fact the I love the other types more than the traditional one. One is sung to the background music, which sounds like a Sufi music, and the other one too has a western touch to it.
    More than the blogs the comments from fellow bloggers are really interesting, and that happens because the blogger (that is you) are able to trigger a discussion about the subject.
    I am more open to fusion in music, and can really enjoy them without any reservations. To recreate, innovate is itself an art worth appreciating.

  12. Thank you Rama, it is a honor to have bloggers actually discuss an issue. I have been extremely lucky to have people like you and others help in turing this into a discussion forum. I may not respond much but I am definitely following the discussions

  13. SG, merlot or not, I am sure you have heard of the sufi tradition! It is akin to the bhakti movement in Hinduism. Their music is divine.. Kabir and his dohas are sung by both Hindus and Muslims. There are different forms of Islam-Sufism is one facet of that. I am sure you have watched the Dervishes dance! Part of the Sufi concept of mysticism. So, if indeed one were to talk about Vishnu Sahasranamam I would like to start the discussion with a Sufi Mystic!


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