Business / Industry Sectors
Keeping the songs of the Bene Israel Jews alive in India
These songs had become very popular between 1880 and the 1920s, but today they are hardly sung

Believed to be the largest Jewish community in India, there is some debate about whether the Bene Israel Jews is one of the lost tribes of Israel, however, one of their most unique cultural practices is surely in danger of being lost forever.


"As the members of the Bene Israel Jews lived and worked in the villages near the Konkan coast, they had begun to compose several Jewish songs in Marathi. Later, they moved to cities like Mumbai and Pune and brought their songs with them. These songs had become very popular between 1880 and the 1920s, but today they are hardly sung," said Ms. Anna Schultz, assistant professor of Ethnomusicology at Stanford University.


Ms. Schultz said these days most Bene Israelis sing devotional songs and hymns in Hebrew and senior members of the community in India are perhaps the last repository of the Marathi songs. She is currently in India for a research project to document and record these songs and community practices.


Today, the songs are so rarely performed that it was a Hindu kirtankar who first told Schultz about the tradition. "It was while I was researching for my book on Marathi kirtans and nationalism that was released last year that a Hindu kirtankar first told me about these Jewish kirtans. Later, a fellow researcher Barbara Johnson, who has worked on similar songs of the Jewish community in Kerala, told me more and I undertook this project," Ms. Schultz said.


She said that some of the songs are closely associated with some of the customs unique to the Bene Israel. For instance, Malida are special prayers that are held on auspicious occasions only by the Bene Israel. It includes the cooking of sweet flattened rice (poha) with coconut and five fruits, two of which must be banana and dates said Rivkha, a member of the Bene Israel community in Mumbai, who was in the city for the 150th celebrations of the Ohel David Synagogue. "We sing a song Eliyahoo Hanabi Malida on this occasion. It is in praise of the prophet Elijah," her friend Shoshanna added.

While the custom of singing these Marathi Jewish songs is dying out, some of the tunes have been retained in the Hebrew songs they sing now. "There are of course several influences in some of the songs the Bene Israel sing today, but I can detect an influence of kirtans and abhangs as well," Ms. Schultz said.


Source: Times of India


Register your company in our INDEX OF COMPANIES

Have comments? Write to us | Send to a friend | Print |
Share |