Liturgical Music

Liturgical Music


The Malankara Orthodox Syrian Church is proud of its worshipping heritage. It is through the worship that the faith, tradition, and practice of our fathers are passed down  through the generations. The West Syrian form of worship, language, and music was introduced to the Church in the latter half of the nineteenth century, and we continue to practice this tradition in our Church today.  Until 1875,  viz up to .the arrival of the Patriarch of Antioch, H.H.PeterIII, the Malankara Church was practicing the East Syrian language and music. Unscientific method of singing has altered Syriac Music from its original form. Liturgical Music that was passed down through the generations was not through musical notations but through oral traditions. Many Malpans (Teachers) introduced their own style of singing through their teachings, further increasing the number of variations. In addition to this, the influence of local music and mode of singing has transformed Syriac Music into a different form. Religions are the treasure houses of music. All Churches have their own liturgy, faith and music. There is not a “Said Liturgy” that exists. The Malankara Orthodox Church also has the traditional form of faith and mode of worship. Even though this is an Indian Church which upholds the tradition of Apostle St.Thomas, it is known as the Orthodox Syrian Church.  This is due to the influence of the language and liturgy used by the Antiochene Syrian Orthodox Church.

Importance of the use of Syriac Liturgy and Music Syriac is considered as one of the most important and enduring among ancient languages. It is well known for its style of presentation, mode of construction as well as its musical tradition. ‘Syriac’ is the official language of Syrian Christians in India. Why do the Indian Syrian Christians still preserve it?. It is basically because of the solemnity of Syriac music, the nobility of its contents and vitality of its elements (Bhakti) in worship. Writings of the Syrian Fathers are considered as the basis of the theology and worship of the Church. Syriac or the renamed name of Aramaic language could contribute much to Christian literature since the second century A.D. Ancient writers like  Bardaisan and Shemvoon Bar Saboe in the 2nd and 3rd centuries are not accepted in the Indian churches. But 4th century is considered as the golden period of the Christian Church, both in faith and theology, liturgy and music. In the 4th century, fathers like St. Ephraim ,Jacob of  Serog, Mar Baalai of Alleppo,Shemvoon Kookkoyo(Saimon the Potter) ,Severios of Antioch,Aphrahat and Narzai etc. are considered as the pioneers of Syriac literature and poetry. Their writings are focused on three dimensions. They are:-

  1. Theological dimension Syriac literature was written mainly as poetry in strcture.It was the need of the time to propagate the orthodox faith against major heresies. Deep theological ideas were expressed through simple melodies. Thus they founded the Eastern Theology and undefiled faith, which are considered as the basis of the latter theologians of different Christian   denominations.
  2. Social dimension Apart from spiritual homilies, the Syrian fathers wrote homilies for secular and popular use. Their writings had an impact on the social life of the people.
  3. Spiritual dimension. Major part of the writings of the fathers were aimed for propagation of faith, prayer, meditation and corporate worship. Many of the homilies and Bovoothos are enriched in its contents for meditation which leads to edification.

Syriac Language Syriac is the language which is the renamed form of Aramaic language, i.e. the language of Our Lord Jesus Christ. Since the 2nd century A.D., the language became the central part of the Christian Church. As a spoken language it is the mother tongue of Persia (East) and of Palestine (West).Thus it was later identified as Eastern and Western Syriac.  Both of these languages are the same in its principles but differ in its forms and vowel systems. The language reached up to its zenith between the 4th to the 8th century .A.D.  This was the period of the great Syrian Fathers. Their writings became as a fort of the Orthodox faith. Thus the language flowed to the neighboring countries and later, to the entire globe. Those who wish to learn Theology and Orthodox faith, should compulsorily learn Syriac properly. Syriac Music Syriac was popular not only in the field of literature but in music also. Like Byzantine or any other music systems, Sriyac music also has a classical basis. The East Syriac Music system is  based on Hudra, which is monophonic as well as mellismatic in form and structure. It is still  the official chant of the churches that follow the East Syriac system in liturgy in India like Syro Malabar And Chaldean Churches. (Today, the Syro -Malabar Church is in a pale form  and it may be by the impact of enculturation).

West Syriac Music (WSM)

West Syriac Music is one of the most ancient ecclesiastical music systems, which is unique in richness both in literature and music. This is the official chant of the Orthodox Church in India and it became popular after the coming of H.H.Patriarch Peter III in 1985. The soul of Syriac Liturgy is its melodious music. By the relationship with the Orthodox Church in Syria, the Malankara Orthodox Church has imbibed this  music system into its common worship and liturgy.  The Malankara Church eventually witnessed many divisions which led to the formation of various denominations still known under the name ‘Syrian’.For.e.g. Orthodox Syrian, Jacobite Syrian, Mar Thoma Syrian, Syro Malankara, Syro Malabar etc. Why do the Indian Syrian Churches still preserve it? It is basically because of the solemnity of Syriac Music, the nobility of its contents and vitality of its spiritual elements (Bhakti) in worship. WSM is based on the classical system known as Bethgazzo.As in Syriac, meaning   treasury. The concept is equalent to the Greek word Octoechoes, meaning singing a melody in different eight modes.   It may be from the European Modal music system viz.  identifying the four Authentic and four Plagal Modes, which was considered as a Pre-Renaissance Classical system. The Byzantine Church Music is also based on Eight Modes. Eight Mode systems were also known to the Arabic Music System, known as Makkam. ‘Octoechoes’, in the Byzantine concept can be compared with the Syriac term ‘Kintho’ (sing).  Its  plural form is Kinotho. The concept may be the same; but the term cannot be interpreted as the same. Makkam in Arabic  Music or in the Modal Music system of Europe  differs from the concept of Kintho in Syriac Music. It cannot be compared with the Diatonic scale of Western Music. The word can be identified with the term ‘Color’. Kintho is not a scale or Mode  or Raga, in the Indian concept. It is because, according to music theory,  a  Diatonic  scale or mode  is a combination of two Tetra Chords  viz. C D E F /  G A B C   or  Do Re Mi Fa / Sol La Ti Do. i.e. it should have two Tonics ( C , C, or Do, Do ). None of the Syriac melodies may cover the eight notes in an octave. It may often cover three or four or five notes. Unless the melody covers the higher Tonic, it cannot be identified with a scale. So Kintho is neither a scale nor a mode. Here, the word Octoechoes is used only for the purpose of identification.  It is the duty of a Music student to hear the color and feel sweetness of the Syriac melodies. The word ‘Ekkara’, stands as a pseudo name for Octoechoes or Kintho in the Churches in Kerala. The rules for the use of Ekkara is known as Ekkara Canon. The text or guide to learn Ekkara is  known as Ktobo d’Beth gazzo and it is taught by Malpans(Teachers) through the aural tradition. Students learn the hymns in the Ktobo d’ Bethgazzo by heart and use it according to the Ekkara Canon. Lack of classical notations has affected  uniformity of Bethgazzo.As it is taught through oral method, it chiefly depends  on the method of subject approach of the Malpan . This eventually resulted in the disunity of the Syriac music from time to time. The use of Ekkara in Kerala began, as cited above, after the visit of H.H.Peter III, the Patriarch of Antioch in 1875 A.D.  Though it  but was practiced widely in the last century, it’s favor has grown pale presently because of the deterioration of Monasticism and the  growth of  Protestantism and  Sectarianism.  But now as a part of curriculum,  theological seminaries giving importance to Ekkara. There lingers an argument amongst historians on the matter of the origin of Beth Gazzo.  Many  of them believe that Mar Severios of  of Antioch, the great theologian and writer  founded the methodology cited in the Syriac Music. Although he was  Syrian, he had a Greek background. He adopted the Octoechoes system into Syriac Music. Thus he arranged Mavurbo(Magnificat,or praise, which is used in the Lelio or Midnight prayer) into eight different tunes. John of Damascus ,a Syrian father and writer says that there exists no evidence of the usage of Beth gazzo before 6th century A.D.  It is believed that the writings of Mar Severios in Greek was translated to Syriac  by Paul of Edessa .  Assemani says that the grouping of Syriac poetry was done in the 11th century though he does not mention the country or place.  Historians are of the view that the use of Beth gazzo began in the 11th century A.D. But it grew in a wider form only in the middle ages viz. the golden period of Monastical movement. The contributions of Mar Severios of Antioch should be highly honored than that of any other Syrian writers. In the ‘Hoothomo’ or the concluding hymn of the West Syrian Liturgy, there can be found a mention about  Mar Severios as “….. Sangeethathal Sabhaye Uyarthia Severios….”, meaning ,….Severios who had nourished the Church through music….. There are three traditions  are mainly common now  in the Malankara Churches. They are the Tur Abdin, Mousul(Iraq),and Edessan.The former two are western and the third is Eastern. The Tur Abdin and the Mousul traditions are theoretically the same but practically differ in its presentation.(In my personal view, in Kerala, it is the Pampakuda Malpans  that propagated the Tur Abdin tradition and, the  Syrian delegates who taught in the Manjanikkara Dayara i.e., The Dayara where the Patriarch of Antioch, H.H.Elias III was buried, propagated the Mousal tradition). This is why in Kerala, the Churches in North and South  have differences in tunes. Is  there  any  Original  Syriac  Music  that  exists  at present? To me, it appears that there is no any ancient or original Syriac melody existing. If so, how could this have happened? It is because:

  1. As mentioned, Syriac music was taught and learned by oral tradition and this is still continuing now. The same  music may differ from person to person,  from country to country and tradition to tradition.  Majority of the music learners  may not reproduce the exact note even after learning.. It may differ according to one’s age and the level of one’s mind. So, this variation in the transfer of music down the centuries has caused  deviation of  the original melody composed by the Fathers.
  2. Lack of music notations. Ancient chants like Byzantine or Gregorian e.t.c  had been properly notated and used centuries back. But Syriac music is not yet properly notated. Lack of notations caused the change of melody through centuries.
  3. Influence of the popular music. Popularity of a certain kind of music can influence a musician . Traditional music,folklore,and other music traditions influences an individual.  In Syria, Syriac Music has been mixed with the  popular music viz. the Arabic Music. Beth Gazzo has been changed from its original form due to the Islamic influence. In India , The Indian musical elements have been mixed with the Syriac music. Mother tongue and the local music system has also influenced the Syriac music to a large extent  causing the  deprival  of its original form.. The same hymn sung by an Indian and a Syrian, sounds differently.  In this way, Syriac Music has lost its original form.
The Syllabic Structure of Syriac Music Syriac music follows the methodology of Hebrew Music viz. writing music in the syllabic structure and in the metrical style. Syllabic means the number of syllables and vowels  used in one line. The following are the examples.

1. Tetra Syllabic It is the structure which has four syllables in one line. Harmonius, the great composer first wrote the tetra syllabic structure. 2. Penta Syllabic Penta means five.i.e. five syllables in one line. Bardaisan was the first writer who wrote the penta syllabic structure followed later by Mar Baalai. This is very commonly used in the daily worship.viz. Sh’heemo. Mar Baalai is considered as the pioneer of Penta syllabic structure.

e.g.  Hadeth m`leh  rahmeh .    1 Ha    2   deth     3   m`leh      rah     5  meh B`reethok  b`noohomo.      Bree   thok    b`noo       ho        mo

3. Hepta  Syllabic This represents  seven syllables in a line. This is very common in Syriac poetry. Most of the compositions of Mar Aprem are  in the Hepta syllabic structure.

E.g.      Moran ethrahamelain  ./  Moran kabel theshmeshthan 1        2        3            4           5             6             7 Mo  / ran /  eth  /  ra    /  ham    /  a     /    lain

4. Do Decca  Syllabic This  represents  twelve  syllables in a  single line.  Jacob  of  Serog  promoted  the Do Decca  syllabic  structure   into  Syriac poetry. It  means  twelve  syllables  in  one line.

 E.g.    Korenan  lok  Moryo Moran Tho  l`udaronain 1              2     3         4         5              6       7     8             9          10        11       12 Ko   /  re /  nan /  lok   /Mor   / yo / Mo/ ran  /   tho   / l`ud  / ro  /   nain

The Canon of Beth Gazzo Beth Gazzo  has certain specific rules which is known as Canon of  Beth gazzo.The book ktobo d` Beth gazzo, explains how to use Beth gazzo  in the yearly cycles. It is clear that there are melodies which have eight tunes ,single tune melodies, as well as  melodies especially for Passion week  (Hasha).

The rules for the Beth gazzo are as follows. In the Modal music system , the Authentic and Plagal  modes are inter related. Like wise in the Beth Gazzo, the Modes are related in the following  method viz. 1 and 5,                             2   and 6,                       3 and 7,                              and 8.

Two modes are alternatively used in a week as 0cited. The mode begins with the evening prayer (Ramsho) of Sundays and continue in the seven timely prayers (Canona Namaskaram).  Common Prayer in a day, according to Orthodox tradition is divided into seven times viz. Ramsho ( or Sandhya),  Soothara, Lelio (or Mid night),  Saphro (or Morning),  Tlosh shloyeen (or Third hour or Moonnam Mani),  Sheth Shoyeen (Sixth Hour or Madhyannm) and T`sha Shoyeen (Ninth Hour or Onpatham Mani. The Common prayer in Syriac is known as Sh`heemo prayer and starts by the evening prayer and ends in the Ninenth hour.`Seven times’  is a concept.  It was adopted by the Fathers on the basis of Psalm 119: 164  to practice an order of  common  prayer  in a monastic community.  According to the Church calendar, the Liturgical year begins with the great feast Koodosh Eetho, approximately on the first Sunday of  November.  Beth Gazzo also begins with the Koodosh Eetho. The following chart will give a clear picture about the use of Beth Gazzo.

1st Sunday               KOODOSH      EETHO

 Sun  1  Mon  5
 Tue  1  Wed  5
 Thu  1  Fri  5
 Sat  1  5

2nd  Sunday                HOODOSH      EETHO

 Sun  2  Mon  6
 Tue  2  Wed  6
 Thu  2  Fri  6
 Sat  2  6
3rd    Sunday        (Annunciation to Zachariah)
 Sun  3  Mon  7
 Tue  3  Wed  7
 Thu  3  Fri  7
 Sat  3

4th     Sunday     (Annunciation to St. Mary)

 Sun  4  Mon  8
 Tue  4  Wed  8
 Thu  4  Fri  8
 Sat  4

5th    Sunday            ( Visit to Elizabeth)

 Sun  5  Mon  1
 Tue  5  Wed  1
 Thu  5  Fri  1
 Sat  5

6th Sunday     (Nativity of St. John the Baptist)

 Sun  6  Mon  2
 Tue  6  Wed  2
 Thu  6  Fri  2
 Sat  6

7th     Sunday    (Vision of Joseph)

 Sun  7  Mon  3
 Tue  7  Wed  3
 Thu  7  Fri  3
 Sat  7

8th     Sunday    (Genealogy)

 Sun  8  Mon  4
 Tue  8  Wed  4
 Thu  8  Fri  4
 Sat  8
Yaldo  (Christmas)


The Sunday after Christmas  again begins  with    Mode  1 and 5 and continues as cited above.   It continues up to the Nineveh Lent. The Sunday  of  Nineveh Lent  begins  from Mode : 6th  and   2
 The Sunday of Nineveh Lent( Pethurtho) till the next Saturday

 6 and 2

 From the  Sunday All Priest day ( Kohne)  and the  whole week)  7 and 3
 From the Sunday of All souls day (Aneedhey) & the whole week  8 and 4
 The First Sunday of Great Lent Kothne & The whole week  1 and 5
 “       Week    Gabro                      (Leper)                “  2 and 6
 “        M`shariyo                           (Palsy )               "        “  3 and 7
 “        K`nanoitho            (Canaanite  Women)  4 and 8
 “        K`piptho                 ( Bowed Women )  5 and 1
 “        Samyo`                    (Blind  man )  6 and 2
 “       Ooshano                (Palm Sunday)  7 and 3
 “        Kyomtho            (Easter) Up to the 1st Kauma of Lelio  8 and 4
 From the 2nd Kauma  begin with  1
 Hevoreh  Week   (The Week after  Easter)
 Monday  2
 Tuesday  3
 Wednesday  4
 Thursday  5
 Friday  6
 Saturday  7
 New Sunday     (Up to  1st Kauma)  8
 From 2nd Kauma  1
 The whole week  1 and 5
 1st Sunday after  Easter  2 and 6
 2nd  “                            “  3 and 7
 3rd “                             “  4 and 8
 4th  “                            “  5 and 1
 5th  “                            “  6 and 2
 6th  “                            “  7 and 3
 7th “                             “  8 and 4
 8th “   Again  begin   from the first mode  i.e.  1 and 5
According to the Canon of Beth Gazzo, the  beginning of Mode occurs  six times in  a single  year.

 1.     From      Koodosh Eetho       up to       Yaldho   (Christmas)

 2.     “        Sun. after Yaldho                 “        Nineveh Lent

 3.     “      Nineveh Lent               “         Kyomtho  ( Easter)
 4.     “    Easter                “                  New  Sunday
 5        “    New Sunday           “         Feast of the Cross
 6.      "  After Feast of the Cross     “            Koodosh Eetho
Modes :         For    important    Festivals

 1.       Yaldo  -( Christmas )                                     1

 2          Denho  - (Epiphany                                     2

 3.         Mayaltho (Entry to the Temple )                   3
 4.         Sooboro                                                    4
 5.         soolokko (St.Peters and St.Pauls day)          5
 6.        Feast of Tabernacle                                     6
 7.        Shoonoyo                                                   7
 8        The  Feast of the Cross                                 8
Modes :  For Intercessions
Commemoration of St.Mary (In general)

Communion of Saints (“) Apostles, Martyrs and Confessors   8
Prayer for the Departed  Souls (Aneede)   8
 Prayer For the Departed  Priest ( Kohne)   7
 Veneration of the Cross   8
Modes : For the Feasts like Maranaya
 St.Thomas Day


 January 1st. Feast of Mar Baselios and Mar Gregorios    1
 Feast  of John the Baptist    8
 Feast of St.Ephrem and Mar Theodoros    8
 Forty Martyrs  (Sohde  Kadeeshe)    8
 Pentecost    7
 Golden Friday (Friday After Pentecost)    3
 Feast of St.Peter and St. Paul    5

Modes for the  Common Prayer  (Sh`Heemo) In the common prayer  (Sh`heemo ), the Beth Gazzo  is applied to the seven    Canonical hours . Among this, the mode proposed to the  Morning  (Saphro )  and Evening  (Ramsho)  prayers have fixed  mode according to the theme of that day viz. each of the seven days have a specific theme and this can be find in the `Ekbos` Each day. Beth Gazzo according to the Canon is used only to the other five hours.  Following are the list of days, themes and  fixed Modes for  Ramsho ( R )  Soothoro (S )  and     Saphro   (M)

                                                                                           ( R )      (S)        ( M)

 Sun  Kyomtho (Resurrectio) According to Beth Gazzo
 Mon  Repentance    6       6      2
 Tue  Repentance    6       6      8
 Wed  Intercession to St.Mary    7       7      7
 Thu  Commemoration of Apostles, Martyrs and  Confessors    5       5      1
 Fri  Veneration of the Cross    1      1       6
 Sat  Prayer for the departed    1      1       8

Modes :      for   Sacraments All  Sacraments have a fixed  system of mode arrangement according to the situation. Following are the Sacraments, and its Modes.

 Baptism  2
 Marriage              Part  1 “    11  3 7
 Anointing   Sick  6

Funeral   Services : For  Men This consists of four parts ( Theshmeshtha , or Kramam)

 1st    part  5
 2nd   part  6
 3rd    Part  7
 4th    Part  8

For Woman

 1st    part  5
 2nd   part  6
 3rd    Part  7
 4th    Part  8

For children

 1st    part  1
 2nd   part  2
 3rd    Part  3
 4th    Part  8

The names of the syriac melody. Syriac poetry is entirely different from the other poetic traditions. But it bears similarity to  Hebrew poetry. The syllabic structure is the soul of the syriac poetry. It contains, Theology, doctrines, spiritual discourses, praise and petitions. The following are the poetical works, which are included in the eight mode pattern exceptions to the Oktoechoes system or the monophonic hymns. They are:-

1. Madrosho: Writings in the melodies mainly spiritual advice and exhortation title are aimed mainly on spiritual advises. St.Ephrem was the first among the Syrian writers who composed madrosho, which is very common in the west syrian liturgy.

Listen to Audio:

2. Memro: This includes the discourses or homilies in verse. This was the main weapon of St.Ephrem to defend the true faith. 3. Sogito It means additional. It gives a different mood in worship. This is not a prayer or discourses of devotion. It is a dramatical presentation with practical exageration containing Biblical narrations as well as spiritual messages. During  continuous prayers Sogito plays an important role in bringing the mind of a devotee to a different stage of mind. Listen to Audio:
4. Eniyono It means responsaria. The congregation responds or gives answer to the Priests or Deacons. e.g: Ps:136 1&. Listen to Audio:
5. Manito, Mabartho, Takshepto These all are  hymns of praises. Sometimes the poetry is arranged in a acrostic form.

 Listen to Audio:

(The hymns based on Okto Echoes) 1. Bovootho It means petition or request. Usually the canonical prayers as well as every sacraments ends  in Bovoothos.

Listen to Audio:

2. Kukilion It is included in the category of Litanies. ‘Kukkilion’ is a Greek word adopted to syriac which means cycle or cyclical structure of prayers. It  has an important theme. On the basis of this theme a structure has been developed. The following is the structure. Pethgomo or a verse from the Psalms follows an Ekbo (feet or base). Ekbo  highlights the main theme. After Ekbo follows a Prumeon (Introductory prayer) and Sedro. After Sedro a Qolo follows the prayer of incense and a Bovootho. The main themes are the basis faith of the Church i.e.; intercession of St.Mary, Communion of saints, Veneration of the Cross, prayer for the departed and for the departed priests. Listen to Audio:
Qolo The Syriac word means sound. But in music it  refers to a special or important group of  melodies.  The Qolo is very important in syrian worship. It is the continuation or connection of many similar stanzas, having the same music. There are forty Qolos but only thirty of these are used in West Syrian liturgy. Khadeeshat Aloho (Trisagion) During common prayers the prayer begins with Trisagion in prose. But in order to give importance to Trisagion it is mainly used on Sunday evenings and morning prayers, as well as on festival days. Listen to Audio:
Mavurbo It means magnificat or praise.The idea may be taken from the song of St.Mary in Luk:1:46-56 .  Its main theme is praising the Trinity. It includes intercession of St.Mary,  communion of Saints and prayer for the departed souls.

Listen to Audio:

Fr. M.P. George, Sruti, School of Liturgical Music Orthodox Seminary, Kottayam-1