Father Paul Poovathingal and ensembleOn Tuesday September 25, the Center for Christianities in Global Contexts (CCGC) hosted a performance of Indian classical music in Craig Chapel. The group of four performers was led by Father Paul Poovathingal who is known as the “Padum Pathiri,” meaning “The singing priest of India.”

The evening began with welcome remarks from the Director of the center, Dr. Kenneth Ngwa, followed by remarks from Dr. Wesley Ariarajah (Professor of Ecumenical Theology and World Christianity), and from Janessa Chastain (president of the Theological Students Association) who presented Father Paul with a bouquet of flowers in appreciation for the warm hospitality that Father Paul showed her and other Drew students during a Cross Cultural visit to India in January 2012. In his opening remarks, Father Paul introduced the group of performers, which included a Muslim Professor of Music, a Hindu Professor of Math, and an Artist; he then described their presence and performance in Craig Chapel as an opportunity to bring some of “the mystery of India” to the Drew community.

Seated in Lotus position (cross-legged) and dressed in colorful Indian attire reflecting their religious diversity, the performers used instruments (the violin, the Mridangam, the Ghatam) and the wide-ranging vocal cords of Father Paul to perform a variety of themed songs ranging from praise to interreligious dialogue to harmony and peace.

Entering its sixth year, the CCGC strives to integrate more fully with the curricular goals of the theological school expressed in its Cross Cultural education, and to foster partnerships with institutions of theological education in the global South and East to serve as hosts for concrete collaborations attentive to contextual variety. The CCGC seeks opportunities to experience the rich diversities of global Christianities in their various cultural and multi-religious interactions. The vision, character, and quality of Father Paul’s group and compositions provided just such an opportunity to experience the beauty and power of interreligious collaboration in the form of music. Indeed, it was an event that brought some of the mystery of India to the Drew community but also opened the door for potential future collaborative work. Father Paul’s ministry through music has been at the center of indigenization and inculturation of Christian music in India. He runs a music and dance academy, Chetana Sangeeth Natya Academy, in India that seeks to popularize Indian classical music and dance among children from the poorer and under-privileged sections of society.

Father Paul has given Indian classical music concerts in many parts of the world.  He began learning karnatic music at the age of 17, and eventually got his M.Phil. and Ph.D. degrees in Indian classical music from the Madras University.  He is the first Christian priest to get his doctorate in Indian Classical Music and the first Vocologist in India.  He has composed over 1000 songs and has brought out over 35 music albums.  He was invited to give a recital in front of the President of India, Dr. Abdul Kalam, a rare invitation given only to the outstanding artists of the country. The Roman Catholic Bishops Conference of Kerala gave him an award in recognition of his ministry.

- Dr. Kenneth Ngwa, Assistant Professor of Hebrew Bible