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- The Survival Story of Syriac Chants among the St. Thomas Christians in South India
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Abstract and Keywords
This chapter explores the Syriac chant traditions among the group of South Indian churches, collectively referred to here as the “St. Thomas Christians.” These churches, which encompass a variety of denominational communities in Kerala, trace their origins to the apostolic and Chaldean/East Syriac sources of West Asian Christianity, later articulating also with the Antiochene liturgy and Orthodox Christianity in the late seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. They have defended their linkages with the Syriac liturgical and musical traditions against the incursions of foreign Catholic and Anglican missionaries, and later a wider variety of Catholic and Protestant movements within India. The chapter suggests that they accomplished this, in part, by only selectively accepting musical, liturgical, and theological elements that arrived with each of these missions. But more recently they have accomplished this by retaining Syriac chant melodies even as churches began to sing in vernacular languages such as Malayalam.
Joseph Palackal is the founder and president of the Christian Musicological Society of India. He earned a doctorate in Ethnomusicology from the Graduate Center of the City University of New York. He has contributed articles on Christian music in India to several international publications, including The New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians and the Garland Encyclopedia of World Music. He is principal vocalist for over forty releases in five languages, including Sanskrit and Syriac. He made his debut in New York in the off-Broadway show Nunsense. Currently, he is completing his book on the Syriac chants in South India.
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