By Juhan Samuel
Thrissur (Kerala), May 30 : A parish priest in Kerala has gained popularity as a 'singing priest' for spreading communal harmony through music projecting virtues of Hindu, Christian and Islamic philosophies.
Dr. Fr. Paul Poovathingal, the singing priest, believes in spreading the essence of religious harmony by singing psalms and songs using Indian classic Ragas. He eulogises Biblical themes as well as virtuous thoughts from the Holy Koran and Hindu scriptures.
Poovathingal holds the distinction of being the only Christian priest to have obtained a doctorate in Carnatic music in India. He has composed over 300 songs and he has a number of albums both in Hindi and Malayalam to his credit.
He was drawn to music as a child. He felt charmed by Indian Carnatic music when he reached 17 years of age. But it was after his studies in theology for priesthood that he sincerely had the opportunity to pursue music under the guidance of great music scholars.
"When I joined the seminary I got an introduction into south Indian Carnatic music. Carnatic music is divine," says Dr. Fr. Paul Poovathingal.
His compositions include Carnatic music forms such as Kriti, Kirtanam and other popular forms like hymns, songs for ballet, and for national integration, several awareness programmes on various social issues. So much so, he has over 20 research papers to his credit.
His biggest motivation to carry on with music is his belief that music builds a spiritual bridge between religions of the world, as he says: "Every religion should co-exist, our country is a secular country and I strongly believe that music is a spiritual bridge between religions."
Fr. Paul is an ordained priest in the congregation of Carmalites of Mary Immaculate (CMI), a religious order founded by blessed Cyriac Elias Chapara.
After completing his religious studies for the priesthood, he pursued music under the guidance of great scholars of this field.
After graduation in English and Psychology from Christ College Bangalore, in 1992, Paul joined the Faculty of Music and Fine Arts in Delhi University and passed Sangeeta Shiromani course (B.A. Music) with first rank. He later obtained a Masters' degree with a gold medal.
He stood first in his quest for the M. Phil degree from the University of Madras. In 2003 he submitted his thesis 'Carnatic Music and Christianity - A Critical Study of the Influence of Carnatic Music on the Christian Music of Tamil Nadu and Kerala' for the doctorate from the Department of Indian Music, University of Madras.
Besides, the well known Carnatic musician Prof. Dr. Karaikudi Subramanian guided him in his research and study for the prestigious doctorate.
In 2004, Dr. Paul did his Arangetram, the first public concert at Madras Music Academy with the blessing of his Guru, another famous singer Dr. K J Yesudas and other musicians like Padma Bhushan T. N. Seshagopalan and the Sikkil Sisters.
Besides performing at his native place, Paul has even participated in various international concerts in various countries including the U.S, Canada and many more in the Middle East and received appreciation from all.
People believe, Dr. Paul, who is presently the Director of Chetana Sangeet Natya Academy, a centre for training and research in performing arts in Thrissur, is doing a great work for communal harmony.
"It's the first time that I'm seeing a priest performing on the stage. I've never actually seen a priest performing on stage besides conducting masses. It was really good and we really liked it," said Serin Mathew, one women in the audience.