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A man poses with a religious icon of Jesus
Joseph J. Palackal. Photo courtesy of Fr. Palackal.

Botkin Folklife Lectures Plus: Joseph Palackal on Syriac Christian Music

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In the Botkin Folklife Lectures Plus series, we present selected lectures in our Benjamin Botkin Folklife Lectures series that also had accompanying oral history interviews, placing both together in an easy-to-find blog post. In this post, we’ll present a classic lecture from 2018: Joseph J. Palackal and his presentation Syriac Chants & Aramaic Christianity in India. As usual for posts in this series, you’ll find a lecture video, an interview video, and a set of links to explore. (Find the whole Botkin Folklife Lectures Plus series here.)

According to Palackal, Aramaic Christianity is an essential component of India’s religious diversity. Christian faith came to the shores of South India from its source in West Asia, through the medium of the mother tongue of Jesus and the apostles. Christian Aramaic came to be known as Syriac, and due to unusual historical circumstances its tradition survived in India. In spite of the Syriac churches’ decision to translate the liturgies into the vernacular in the 1960s, both the Syriac language and the music associated with it continue to be a part of the cultural legacy of India. This presentation includes a brief lecture, a video, and a performance of Syriac chants. It calls for a reconfiguration of the ways in which India has been historically imagined. Watch it in the player below.

Joseph J. Palackal is the founder and president of the Christian Musicological Society of India. He earned a doctorate in ethnomusicology from the Graduate Center of the City University of New York. He has contributed articles on Christian music in India to several international publications, including The New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians and The Garland Encyclopedia of World Music. He is principal vocalist for over forty releases in five languages, including Sanskrit and Syriac. He made his debut in New York in the off-Broadway show Nunsense. Currently he is working on a project to revive the sound, memories, and melodies of the Indian version of the Aramaic language. In the interview, he spoke about his life and career with AFC staff member Nancy Groce:

You can find both of these videos with more bibliographic information on the Library of Congress website, with the lecture here at this link and the oral history at this link.

Collection Connections and Links

A man and a woman hold a colorful tapestry.
Folks of Bengal perform in the Whittall Pavilion. Photo by Stephen Winick, June 29, 2018.

Collections Guide

Find out all about our India collections in the guide American Folklife Center Collections: India

Homegrown Plus Blogs (Concert Videos with Interviews)

Other Concerts

Other Blogs

Many Thanks

Thanks for watching and listening! As always, you can find the whole Botkin Plus series at this link.


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