PANAN PATTU (song of Bards) of the St. Thomas Christians

CMSI-236 PANAN PATTU (song of Bards) of the St. Thomas Christians -

A documentry by Rev. Dr. Jacob Vellian about the bards (Panan) associated with the St. Thomas Christians in Kerala

This video is a treasure. Rev. Dr. Jacob Vellian has done a great service by putting a human face and a voice on to an almost extinct genre of songs associated with the St. Thomas Christians in Kerala, India. The songs are referred to by the title of the bards who perform them: panan pattu (“song of the bards”). The title originates from the Tamil word “Pan,” meaning “melody.” The Tamil origin of the name may be an indication of the emergence of the bard tradition before Malayalam became the language of the region now known as Kerala, i. e. before the tenth century, A. D. The extant song texts, however, are in Malayalam. The earlier Tamil version and most of the texts from the Malayalam version are lost forever. Fortunately, Dr. P. J. Thomas collected a few verses in Malayalam and included them in his book “Malayala sahithyawum kristhyanikalum” ([1935] 1989, pp. 62-65). The professional bards, mostly Hindus, go to the houses of notable Christians on such special occasions as weddings, singing about the privileges of the Christian community which enjoyed high social status in Kerala; the songs also celebrate the greatness of Knayi Thomman (“Thommachan”), the leader of the Christin community that immigrated to Kerala from Persia, sometime in the 4th century. The bards accompanied themselves on an hour-glass drum. Families rewarded the bards with rice and cash. Historians of music and culture in India will be immensely grateful to Dr. Vellian for finding Kunjan Neelandan, who probably, is the last link in the line of bards, and documenting his voice and style of playing the hour-glass drum in this video. The vocal inflection of the melody, rhythmic structure, nature of the drum, etc. remain to be explored. The recording took place sometime in the 1970s. The Christian Musicological Society is grateful to Dr. Vellian for granting permission to post this video on its channel. Reference: Thomas, P. J. [1935]1989, Malayala sahithyawum kristyanikalum [Malayalam literature and Christians]. 3rd edn, with an appendix (pp. 311-540) by Scaria Zacharia. Kottayam: D. C. Books. (First published in 1935 under the title “Keralathile kristhiya sahithyam,” Athirampuzha: St. Mary’s Press).

 

Joseph J. Palackal

New York

1 November 2017