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Mumbai: Avelino Rejoice Dhakul, 81, never fails to bring tears to people’s eyes when he renders the Passion of Christ from the Christa Purana, describing scenes from the crucifixion at the Good Friday service at St Francis Xavier Church, Vile Parle.
Dhakul, who has been singing solo for the last 25 years, is keen that others should step up to carry on the torch, but he says sadly, “I have no luck so far.’’
Singing of verses from the Christa Purana, which is written in the old Marathi script, is a looked-forward to ritual during the season of Lent in some of the old churches of suburban Mumbai, although the last three decades have seen a slow fading of this tradition.
Lent, commemorates 40 days of fasting and abstinence, before the death of Christ on Good Friday. The singing involves a mournful incantation of the verses, which detail the life and death of Christ. This is done during the Passu ceremony when the body of Christ is lowered from the cross for veneration by the congregation.
The Christa Purana is part of the religious and cultural tradition of Catholics in Mumbai, Goa and Mangalore. Written by an English Jesuit missionary, Thomas Stevens, who studied at Oxford and settled in Goa in the 17th century, the writing follows the Hindu puranic style and is regarded as an epic.
Dhakul states that most youngsters do not want to learn to sing the verses in the Purana. “The singing on Good Friday can sometimes last almost two hours, and most youngsters stay away from such a task,’’ he says. “The interest in singing in Marathi is also not strong any more. Youngsters prefer to sing hymns in English.’’
But for the D’Mello brothers at St Andrew Church in Bandra, Conrad (39) and Anselm (36), who sing, the experience is different. “The tradition of singing the Purana is still strong in our family but it has slowed down in Bandra over the last decades,’’ says Conrad. “We have the puran tradition since my great-grandfather’s time and probably even before that, we sang the puran verses regularly at home when we were growing up in Bandra.’’
Even among the Catholics of Vasai who speak and write in Marathi, the tradition is fading. Bishop Thomas Dabre of Vasai explains why.
“The Purana is no longer popular in Vasai because it is written in old Marathi, which is sometimes difficult to understand. The churches now use modern hymns,’’ he says.
Efforts to revive the epic are under way. Fr Simon Borges of Kurla has helped produce a CD of songs from the puran. The issue has also been taken up by Major Leon Fonseca, executive committee member of the East Indian Association. “We are discussing ways and means of preserving this centuries-old tradition. It should not be allowed to die,’’ he says.
The bishop of Vasai, Thomas Dabre, has been appointed bishop of Pune by the Vatican. A Marathi scholar and a well-known Catholic theologian, Bishop Dabre is an authority on Indian mysticism and Sant Tukaram. One of his main thrusts has been interreligious dialogue and communal harmony.
Featured image Source: http://www.kamat.com/database/illustration/cover_of_christa_purana.htm