When Carnatic music calls a nun

Wearing her veil, congregation’s uniform and sporting a calm smile, Sr Linet Antony SKD would match anyone’s concept of a Christian nun.

But once the Kannur native gets on to the stage and starts singing, the listeners can’t help not being pleasantly surprised. For, she can sign a Vathapi Ganapathi with as much ease as she can belt out a choir song.

The 37-year-old nun, who is a faculty at Chetana Sangeeth Natya Academy in Thrissur, is probably the only professional Carnatic musician of the State from her community. Sister Linet, who did her arangettam way back in 2011, has performed on stages both in Kerala and outside, in the past few years.

As she speaks about her tryst with Carnatic music, Sr Linet remembers how music was always a part of her life, since childhood.

She remembers, “I used to be active in the music circles of church and could also play a keyboard. Moreover, everybody in my family loved music and could sing. My sister and brother were also getting trained in Carnatic music. So, even before I went for my music studies, I was familiar with the various stages like saptha swaras, varisakal, geetham and the like in Carnatic music.”

Interestingly, it’s after joining the convent that she was asked to learn Carnatic music! “Our congregation’s founder Fr Jacob Thoonkuzhy and other administrators wanted to send someone to be trained in music, from our community. Nobody else had ever been sent for such training before that. That was the time I had just finished my vestation. But everyone knew me from childhood itself. My aunt was also part of the same congregation and
whenever I visit her, they used to make me sing.”

In 2004, she was sent to SRV Music School in Thrissur to do a four-year-certificate course of Kerala government. After completing that, she joined Chethana Sangeet Natya Academy, run by the famous Carnatic musician Fr Paul Poovathinkal, the only priest with a doctorate in Carnatic music. Sr Linet completed her graduation and post-graduation in Carnatic music from Chethana, where she is also presently working. “My arangettam was soon
after I completed my degree and it’s Fr Poovathinkal who encouraged me to do it. It was at Chethana itself.” Did she perform in her traditional nun get up? “Yes, I did. I have to say that I’m extremely lucky when it comes to that. All I have ever experienced is encouragement from all quarters — be it my family or my congregation,” Sr Linet says. After she came into the field, at least six nuns have enrolled to study Carnatic music, she says. “Five of them have also done their arangettam,” she says.

Sr Linet has performed in various music festivals, as part of events and even in churches, but is yet to sing in a temple. She also sings a lot of kritis based on Christian ideologies. Does that mean she doesn’t prefer singing in a temple or performing the traditional keerthanams in praise of Hindu gods?

“There is no restriction as such to perform in a temple, just that it hasn’t happened. Moreover, I haven’t felt any conflict of interest in singing Carnatic, despite being a nun. It’s also because the keerthanams are mostly in Tamil, Telugu or Sanskrit and as any singers would know, you hardly know or bother about the lyrics while singing Carnatic and tend to focus on the beauty of the raga. The only time you feel it’s in praise of any God is when the
names get mentioned at any of the lines in the lyrics.”

Sr Linet is a fan of all keerthanams that can invoke a bhakti mood. “I love Vathapi Ganapathi in raag hamsadhwani, and Sidhivinayakam Anisam in shanmughapriya raag, for this reason. But, when I perform, I love singing bhajans like Karunarasa in raag kaapi, as that’s what everyone — even those not trained in Carnatic — finds easier to follow and enjoy.”

The nun also turns composer at times, and says she really enjoys the process and wishes to do more of it if possible. “As of now, I have composed only for our in-house programmes or as per any requests that come my way.

But, I love to do it.” Those around her are also urging her to do a PhD in Carnatic music, but Sr Linet says she is immersed in the happiness of being a teacher. “It’s too joyful a vocation to give away and so, that’s what I am focusing on at present,” she signs off.

(Times of India)

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1 thought on “When Carnatic music calls a nun

  1. Our religious congregations are a good contributors of other religious culture into Christianity.. Congrats to Fr.poovanthinkAl and his beloved student….Rev Sr.Linet… I think our modern nuns be allowed to sing keerthanas in temples too… Because by worshipping Ram and Krishna too one can worship Christ. Catholic means receiving all. So what….

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