Monday, April 25, 2016

In Praise of God

Sr. Rincy Alphonse is a trained Carnatic singer who sings songs, based on ragas, in honour of God, Jesus Christ and Mother Mary

Photos by Albin Mathew 

By Shevlin Sebastian

At 3 a.m., Sr. Rincy Alphonse, 29, gets up, in her room, at the Sisters of the Destitute convent at Chunangamvely [29 kms from Kochi]. She quickly brushes her teeth, puts on her white habit, and goes to the auditorium on the third floor. Then, in the silence, she sits cross-legged on the floor and begins singing Carnatic keerthanas and ragas. Her voice floats easily through the entire building. Interestingly, the 60-odd nuns, who are sleeping, are not disturbed.

We find her voice very soothing,” says senior colleague Sr. Reesa Parakkal. “When you hear the ragas, in the deep silence, it creates a serene feeling, both for the singer as well as the listeners. Some nuns have told Sr. Rincy they have a problem on the rare days when she does not sing.”

Sr. Rincy smiles radiantly when she hears this. There are many reasons for her to be happy. 

On March 29, for the 90th year celebrations of the Sisters of the Destitute, she had given a concert in which she had sung several Carnatic songs. The concert was also dedicated, by Chief Guest Bishop Mar Jose Puthenveetil, to the efforts that are being taken to secure the release of Fr. Tom Uzhunnalil , the Malayali priest, who had been kidnapped by ISIS gunmen at Yemen in late March.

The lyrics of the songs were written by her mentor, Abdul Azeez, the assistant professor (violin) in the RLV College of Music and Fine Arts at Tripunithara, near Kochi. “I have written songs in praise of God, Jesus Christ, and Mother Mary,” says Abdul. “They are a mix of Sanskrit and Malayalam songs, but are based on the traditional ragas.”

For Sr. Rincy, what uplifted her was the thought that while Abdul accompanied her on the violin, the mridangam was played by Guruvayur Sanoj, and the ghatam [percussion instrument] by Parur Gopakumar. “So, there was a Muslim, Hindu and Christian collaboration for a traditional Hindu art form,” she says. Agrees Abdul, “In our small way, we are trying to bridge the gap between communities.”

The nun has sung at various places in Kerala, and has got a good response. The reasons are not far to seek. “Sr Rincy has a sweet and natural voice,” says Abdul. “It has a good impact on the audience. But what I like most is her innate confidence.”

Sr Rincy's life changed when when the Provincial Superior Mother Sneha Neriamparambil heard her sing one day, in 2011. “You have a good voice,” she said. Thereafter, following consultations with Sr. Rincy, it was decided that she would go for training in Carnatic music. “I am a fan of Chithra [the playback singer]” says Sr. Rincy. “She has sung some wonderful Carnatic songs. And Carnatic music is mostly devotional and spiritual.”

The nun did a two-year diploma course at the SRV Music school at Thrissur, followed by a three-year BA (Music) from the RLV College, where she passed out with the fifth rank.

And today, her dedication to Carnatic music is visually palpable. “Whenever I sing a raga, I feel so happy and peaceful,” she says. “However, there are some ragas, like 'Sahana', which creates sadness but, at the same time, it is comforting. I believe that the ragas have a healing power.”

In fact, when Sr. Rincy has a headache, she sings the raga 'Hamsadhvani'. “After a while, the pain goes,” she says. “I used to suffer from migraine headaches earlier, but that has gone completely now.”

Asked about her future plans, Sr. Rincy says, “I want to popularise Carnatic music among people who know little about the art form.”

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