MANGALORE, India — Catholics at Mangalore along the west coast of India made history when they held a marathon non-stop singing program.
Forty-four groups comprising 1,711 singers, including priests, nuns and seminarians from four Indian states took part in the Konkani Nirantari (“Non-stop singing” in Konkani) singing Christian hymns and traditional songs for 40 hours — from 6 a.m. Jan. 26 to 10 p.m. Jan. 27.
At the end, Keith Pullin — an official from the Guinness Book of World Records — was on hand to issue the certificate for the record to thunderous applause and loud cheers from hundreds of those gathered at the amphitheater of the Mandd Sobhann — the premier Konkani cultural organization of Mangalore led by Catholics.
“It has been a unique event, and we are proud of the great effort by our people,” Bishop Aloysius Paul D’Souza of Mangalore, who inaugurated the program, said Feb. 6.
Bishop D’Souza pointed out that the program has given a “boost to the Konkani language [the official language of his diocese] and rekindled their pride in the Konkani culture. I am really impressed by the commitment our people have shown in organizing an event like this.”
Almost all the people behind the program that obliterated the earlier 36-hour non-stop singing by a Brazilian Lutheran choir — were members of the Catholic foundation based at Mangalore, which is known as the second capital of southern Karnataka state.
Mangalore is a center for Konkani-speaking Catholics. Nearly 5 million people speak this language in four states along the southwestern coast of India from Mumbai to Kerala.
“This was an attempt to draw international attention to our language and culture,” Eric Ozario, chief coordinator of the record-setting program, said. “We are happy that everything went off according to the plans.”
A musician and Konkani cultural activist, Ozario said the program was planned more than a year ago. At the July 2007 planning meeting, delegates from all 44 groups, including those from three states outside Karnataka, attended.
Then, the team led by Ozario visited each of these centers, including Mumbai, Goa and Kerala, to train the groups on the singing format.
That format was finalized per instructions given by the officials of the Guinness Book of World Records. As a result, the 1,711 singers, with members ranging in age from 29 to 69, sang continuously, with less than 10 seconds between songs and between singing groups.
Language and Faith
The event was conducted under strict monitoring in the presence of the Guinness official. Each group performed for roughly one hour, no song was repeated, and no singer appeared a second time. The groups providing musical accompaniment changed every four hours. About 600 Konkani songs were sung during the program, all of them Christian hymns or traditional songs or those with a social message.
While many of the singers came from Catholic parishes in the Mangalore Diocese, Catholic parishes in Mysore and Bangalore, as well as other states like Goa, Kerala and Maharashtra (with Mumbai as its capital), dispatched their Konkani-speaking teams to Mangalore to join the carnival of Konkani music.
“We are a small community and Westernization is eating away our culture,” said Ozario, who insisted a community grows “only when it is united, culturally rooted and proud of its culture.” Due to migration and other social causes, some Konkani-speaking Catholics have over time switched “to an English culture, forgetting their rich cultural roots,” he said.
“We never thought that the program would generate so much interest in the people. The atmosphere was incredible,” said Ozario who is also the president of the Konkani Sahitya (Literary) Academy set up by the Karnataka state government.
However, Ozario pointed out that his team did not take a penny from the government for conducting the program.
The program, he said, has created “a new awakening on Konkani heritage among the people. This will prompt our people to pay greater attention to Konkani language and culture.”
“Konkani language and our Catholic faith are linked to each other, and we cannot separate one from the other,” said Sister Juliet Lobo, a Queen of the Apostles nun who was actively involved in the record-breaking performance.
Titus Noronha, spokesman for Konkani Niranthari, said the entire expense of three million rupees ($75,000) was raised through donations from volunteers.
“We even paid the fee for the Guinness Book official to witness the event and certify our record,” said Noronha.
Clara D’Cunha, a housewife, had to make many “adjustments” to attend the three-hour practice held every evening at her parish, “but all our sacrifices were for a cause, and I am happy about it,” she said.
D’Cunha said she felt proud to help her community set a world record, which many larger linguistic groups in India have not accomplished.
“For us, our language, culture and faith are one and the same,” she added.
Luis Pinto, president of the group that organized the program, considered the record-breaking event also a celebration of the Christian faith.
“The Church was not directly involved in organizing the program,” he acknowledged, but it “was also a Church event, as all of us are Christians.”
“This program will surely have lasting impact on the younger generation and lead to greater interest in Konkani language and culture among them,” said Father Francis Rodrigues, editor of the Catholic Konkani weekly Raknno (Guardian).
He added, “It is a milestone in the history of Konkani language and a proud achievement for the people who speak the language.”
UCA News contributed to this report.
Anto Akkara writes from