Deccan Chronicle

Jewish folk songs similar to those of Kerala

Deccan Chronicle| Abhish K Bose

Published on: June 7, 2016 | Updated on: June 7, 2016

Renowned researcher Dr Scaria came to the conclusion after studying antique documents

A file picture of Dr Scaria Zachariah with Ruby Daniel and Barbarah Johnson, the anthropologist at Kibutz in Israel.

A file picture of Dr Scaria Zachariah with Ruby Daniel and Barbarah Johnson, the anthropologist at Kibutz in Israel.

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.

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