KOTTAYAM: The Christian, Muslim and Hindu folk songs of Kerala of the 14th and 15th centuries have an uncanny similarity with that of the Jews. These communities have coexisted in the state for centuries and this tradition appears in the folk literature maintained by the Jews.
This is the finding of renowned researcher Dr Scaria Zachariah, Herman Gundert Chair at the Tubingen University, Germany, and former Malayalam professor and HoD of Sree Sankaracharya University, Kalady. His thesis titled, ‘Jewish and Christian folk songs of Kerala’ will be presented at a seminar at the Hebrew University in Israel on June 22 and 23.
Dr Scaria reached his conclusion after studying many antique documents, and at least 50 notebooks of Jewish folk songs. Dr Scaria’s study is significant in the context of the increasing India-Israeli relations and the growing interest in Israel to learn these songs.
The Jewish women kept alive the tradition of folk songs through notebooks handed over from generations and every woman had her own song notebook that was carried for community celebrations. The folk song was extensively used by the Jewish men and women in their daily lives. The men used them for singing religious devotional songs in Hebrew and women sang them in Malayalam in the synagogues and also for functions, including circumcision.
The songs were composed by the men and women of that period for cultural communication in the local milieu. The folk songs lying hidden were identified by anthropologists Barbarah Johnson and Shirley Isenberg in the 1960s.
“Till then the Jews never recognized their literary value. The oldest folk song may date back to the 14th and 15th centuries. In these songs, the Dravidian elements dominate. This points to the cultural exchanges between Jewish and other communities of that period,” Dr Scaria told Deccan Chronicle.
Adding strength to the findings of Dr Scaria, Dr Edwin Seroussi, director of the Jewish Musical Research Institute, Hebrew University, Jerusalem, in his book ‘Oh lovely parrots’ says that it is difficult to distinguish between the native and foreign elements in the Jewish folk songs. The songs, which are mostly Biblical and used for weddings, are also rendered on other occasions.