Syriac chant traditions in South India

2005 2005

Other formats: Order a copy

Abstract (summary)

The Syriac chant traditions of the Chaldean and Antiochene rites reached South India at various stages in the history of the St. Thomas Christians. In spite of attempts by the Portuguese missionaries to suppress the Syriac tradition in the sixteenth century, and the voluntary efforts of the Syriac churches to vernacularize liturgies in the 1960s, the Syriac language and the musical styles associated with it have not only survived in oral transmission for centuries in South India, but also have retained their unique identity in a completely different cultural milieu. The dissertation focuses on the contemporary practice of the model melodies of the Chaldean rite in the Syro-Malabar Church and the oktoēchos (“eight voices”) of the Antiochene rite in the Orthodox churches. The system of model melodies supports the practice of singing multiple texts in a specific poetic meter to a single melody, and the system of oktoēchos supports the practice of singing the same text in eight different ways.

A survey of the historical circumstances that led to the retention of Syriac chant traditions in India shows that one of the reasons for the resilience of the melodies is the resoluteness of the practitioners to perceive music also as an imaginary boundary marker between communities. The analysis of model melodies shows the presence of consistent melodic and rhythmic gestures that are coordinated with the semantic and syntactic structures of the text. The system of ettuniram (“eight colors”), the local term for oktoēchos, exemplifies the transformation of a musical concept as a tradition is transferred from one culture to another. The model melodies and the oktoēchos employ a systematic body of musical knowledge that is applied as normative standards in composition and performance and, therefore, deserve to be included in the larger discourse on music in India. Also, the Syriac chants present a case in point for the musical proximity of otherwise distant regions and diverse cultures.*

*This dissertation is a compound document (contains both a paper copy and a CD as part of the dissertation). The CD requires the following system requirements: Windows MediaPlayer or RealPlayer.

Indexing (details)

Ancient languages;
Religious congregations;
0289: Ancient languages
0330: Religious congregations
0413: Music
Identifier / keyword
Communication and the arts; Social sciences; Language, literature and linguistics; Chaldean rite; Chant traditions; India; Liturgical music; Syriac; Syrian Orthodox
Syriac chant traditions in South India
Palackal, Joseph J.
Number of pages
Publication year
Degree date
School code
DAI-A 66/03, Dissertation Abstracts International
Place of publication
Ann Arbor
Country of publication
United States
Blum, Stephen
City University of New York
University location
United States -- New York
Source type
Dissertations & Theses
Document type
Dissertation/thesis number
ProQuest document ID
Database copyright ProQuest LLC; ProQuest does not claim copyright in the individual underlying works.
Document URL
Access the complete full text

You can get the full text of this document if it is part of your institution's ProQuest subscription.

Try one of the following:

  • Connect to ProQuest through your library network and search for the document from there.
  • Request the document from your library.
  • Go to the ProQuest login page and enter a ProQuest or My Research username / password.