Call Number : PER-10

George Panjara (1938-2017)
ജോർജ്ജ് പാഞ്ഞാറ

George Panjara

Composer and performer of Christian Karnatic classical music in Malayalam

"നാദവാദ്യസമേതമായ് നിൻ
നാമഗീതികൾ പാടുവാൻ
ഏകി മാനവ ജൻമമീമുഗ്ദ
ഭൂവിൽ ഗായകനായിമേ”

" With voice and instrumental accompaniment
To sing the praise of your name
You {O Lord} gave me human life on this
Earth as a singer "

Joseph J. Palackal
(Copyright ©2018 Joseph J. Palackal)

George Panjara (1938-2017) was a gift from God to Malayalam-speaking Christians in Kerala, especially the Syro Malabar Catholics who failed to unwrap and appreciate him while he was alive. This is the story of an extremely gifted poet-composer who dedicated his life to celebrate his Christian faith through the performance of Karnatic classical music. Born in a traditional Syriac Christian family, Panjara was inclined, early on, toward South Indian classical music.

1. Introduction

Panjara’s native place, Kothavara, is adjacent to the historic town of Vaikom. The most important institution in this town is the Shree Mahadeva temple which has a significant place in Indian political, social, and cultural histories. The main offering in this temple during the festival season, is music. Famous and aspiring Karnatic classical musicians come here and perform their art as an offering to Lord Shiva, the presiding deity of the temple. Thus, people in the vicinity have the fortune to listen to great performers. Besides, for many years, the temple used to play recordings of classically based Hindu devotional songs through public address system in the early mornings. This is the environment in which Panjara grew up, and his mind and body resonated with the music that was in the air. Panjara decided to learn Karnatic music from Maestro Vaikkom Balakrishnan Nair, who was associated with the Vaikom temple. After mastering the art of classical music, Panjara redirected his life journey as a performing artist. Similar to the great composers in the Bhakti tradition, Panjara composed Christian devotional songs in Malayalam and performed them in a concert format.

George Panjara was gifted with supple vocal cords, a solid, baritone voice with a range that extended beyond two and a half octaves; he also had a brilliant mind that absorbed and processed information, musical or otherwise, that came on his way from varied sources. He educated himself on the nuances of the Malayalam language by reading books. This self-learning gave him courage to venture into various literary genres as poetry, drama, short stories, and novel. By 2009, Panjara had already 300 compositions with Christian themes to his credit. This is an extra ordinary corpus of Christian literature that he has bequeathed to Kerala and Christianity. He also had a vivid imagination creating visual images through word painting.

2. Releases of George Panjara

3. Compositions

Alphabetical list of compositions by Panjara

From the 300 or more compositions, we have been able to collect only 68 lyrics. There are audio versions of 34 compositions in the five commercial releases. We were fortunate to obtain the audio tracks of the first commercial release in 1985 by Chavara Cultural Center, Ernakulam. In the list of 68 compositions we see Panjara used 52 ragam-s; some of these are rare ragam-s. It is truly amazing to see that within six years of training in Karnatic classical music, Panjara mastered a remarkable amount of ragam-s. Only a person with an extremely brilliant mind could have done that. In the song titles in the list we also see the wide range of topics and an indication of the extraordinary mastery of the Malayalam language.