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Tamil Folk Music as Dalit Liberation Theology

Zoe C. Sherinian

Publication Year: 2013

Zoe C. Sherinian shows how Christian Dalits (once known as untouchables or outcastes) in southern India have employed music to protest social oppression and as a vehicle of liberation. Her focus is on the life and theology of a charismatic composer and leader, Reverend J. Theophilus Appavoo, who drew on Tamil folk music to create a distinctive form of indigenized Christian music. Appavoo composed songs and liturgy infused with messages linking Christian theology with critiques of social inequality. Sherinian traces the history of Christian music in India and introduces us to a community of Tamil Dalit Christian villagers, seminary students, activists, and theologians who have been inspired by Appavoo’s music to work for social justice. Multimedia components available online include video and audio recordings of musical performances, religious services, and community rituals.

Published by: Indiana University Press

Series: Ethnomusicology Multimedia


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pp. C-C

Title Page, Copyright

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pp. i-viii


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pp. ix-x

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pp. xi-xxii

This book is an ethnomusicological ethnography of the creation, transmission, and recreation of Tamil folk music as Dalit liberation theology in India and beyond. The focus of its narrative is a heterogeneous community of poor Tamil Christian villagers, lay workers, seminary students, activists, theologians, and artists, inspired by the personality and music of a theologian/composer they...

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pp. xxiii-xxviii

This book is the culmination of contributions and inspiration of many who shared in the music and presence of Paraṭṭai (aka Rev. James Theophilus Appavoo). This includes the extensive community of Paraṭṭai’s colleagues, students, friends, comrades, family members, and distant admirers. We miss him and continue to hold his spirit through the inspiration of his music. I offer my most...

PURL Audio andVideo Files

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pp. xxix-xxxiv

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pp. 1-33

In the opening stanza of “The Lord’s Prayer” from his Girāmiya Isai Vạṛipāḍu or Village Music Liturgy, Theophilus Appavoo (also known by the pen name Paraṭṭai Annan or “big brother with messy hair”) (re)composes the name of the Christian God using the secularist Tamil vernacular call to action viḍutalai varavēnum. In so doing, Paraṭṭai the trickster intentionally draws on the root...

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1 How Can The Subaltern Speak?

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pp. 34-61

People perform social identity through music. Thus musical value can encode both powerful and degraded social value. Over the last four hundred years, through multiple waves of culture contact and local internal negotiations, Tamil Christians have (re)indigenized Christian music, making conscious style changes in performance practice to encode shifts of power and social identity....

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2 Sharing the Meal

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pp. 62-118

In the “Virundu Parimāṟuṟadu” (literally, “meal exchange”), or “Meal Sharing Song,” section of the Girāmiya Isai Vạṛipāḍu, Appavoo creates a contemplative atmosphere of tension and release for a total sensory experience of the Eucharist. He emphasizes three themes: (1) the transformative concept of grace given...

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3 Paraṭṭai’s Theology

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pp. 119-166

Mr. Pitchai, a non-Christian Dalit landless laborer, described God from the perspective of Tamil village religious practice (or Adi Samayam, “original religion”), saying “God is part and parcel of life” (Appavoo 1997, 283). This inspiration for Appavoo, from one of his “best teachers of theology,” led him to formulate...

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4 Ethnography as Transformative Musical Dialogue

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pp. 167-201

On a pleasant evening in mid November, 1993, a choir of seminary students, graduate student spouses, faculty and staff children of approximately age ten and up, faculty wives, and me, an American ethnomusicologist, gathered in the auditorium on the campus of the Tamil Nadu Theological Seminary. The auditorium...

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5 Reception and Transformation from Seminary to Village

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pp. 202-253

In the small community of the Tamil Nadu Theological Seminary in Madurai where Theophilus Appavoo taught for twenty-six years there was no question of his significant impact: the use of his songs in almost every service and community event brought Appavoo’s Dalit theology and an orientation toward Tamil...

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6 Performing Global Dalit Consciousness

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pp. 254-268

Through Tamil folk music Dalits have been transformed spiritually, psychologically, and socially from centuries of caste discrimination, as well as contemporary class and gender oppression. This study demonstrates that folk music is an effective form of transmission of Dalit Christian theology to villagers and the poor. Yet it is clear from the reception of Dalit theologian Theophilus Appavoo’s...

Appendix 1. Song Transcriptions

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pp. 269-284

Appendix 2. Song Lyrics by Rev. J. Theophilus Appavoo

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pp. 285-292


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pp. 293-318


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pp. 319-330


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pp. 331-345

E-ISBN-13: 9780253005854
E-ISBN-10: 025300585X
Print-ISBN-13: 9780253002334

Page Count: 384
Illustrations: 10 b&w illus., 25 music exx.
Publication Year: 2013

Series Title: Ethnomusicology Multimedia
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OCLC Number: 870670907
MUSE Marc Record: Download for Tamil Folk Music as Dalit Liberation Theology

Research Areas


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Subject Headings

  • Church music -- India -- Tamil Nadu.
  • Folk music -- India -- Tamil Nadu -- History and criticism.
  • Folk music -- Religious aspects -- Christianity.
  • Dalits -- India -- Tamil Nadu -- Religious life.
  • Dalits -- India -- Tamil Nadu -- Music -- History and criticism.
  • Appavoo, James Theophilus.
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