Friday, October 12, 2012

Ma Navu, The Cochini Chant That Everybody Loves

By Bala Menon

It was Elias (Babu) Josephai (pictured here), the ebullient caretaker of the Kadavumbagam Synagogue of the Cochin Jews  in Ernakulam, who first told me about the enchanting Hebrew song Ma Navu. Josephai asserted that the music was composed by a member of the Kadavumbagam congregation. (The Kadavumbagam synagogue is not in use today).

Josephai's claim is true. I have come across many articles where the credit for the uplifting composition is given to 'Jews from Cochin'.  This Sephardic song in Aramaic is sung by every Jewish person from Kerala. Josephai says it was popular during the Simchat Torah celebrations in Cochin - because the lilting tune made all participants dance with abandon.

Today, Ma Navu is sung worldwide, and in the United States it is popular at various dance festivals, including the Universiy of California and with church choirs across the country.  A search on YouTube will show the many variants of the original Cochin tune, with dancers going round and round in circles, holding hands. There are also uploads of the song by the Cincinnati Folk Dancers, the Crowley Honour Choir, Newark Folk Dancers and  several Israeli folk dancers singing and dancing to the same tune. This video of a song based on the Cochini tune features shots of the interior of Cochin synagogues, including the Ark from Paravur, the ceiling from Kadavumbagam, the Cochin synagogue in Nevatim in Israel and some pictures of Kerala.

The words of the Ma Navu song are taken from Isaiah: Chapter 2, line 7.

Ma navu al heharim
raglei mevaser,
mashmia shalom, mashmia tov, mashmia yeshua,
omer letziyon
malach Elohayich

How beautiful on the mountains
are the feet of the messenger of good tidings,
proclaiming peace,
proclaiming good,
proclaiming salvation;
saying to Zion, your God reigns.

The Cincinnati Folk Dancers perform Ma Navu
Recently, a a group of 12 singers from Estonia - Vox Clamantis - with interest in ancient songs, picked the Cochini chant, for their path-breaking CD Filia Sion.

One review of the CD reads: "Vox Clamantis' imagination and musicality makes for an absorbing and inspiring spiritual encounter. The reviewer says:"The Ma Navu track, a chant from the Jewish enclave of Cochin, India, that has its own kind of uplifting harmonies, leaves you wanting more..."
The Clamantis music group from Estonia
In July this year, the Central Arkansas Children's Choir learnt and sang Ma Navu as part of a 20-song repertoire, the idea being to open 'their eyes to different cultures", according to University of Central Arkansas music advisor Jann Bryant.


  1. Very nice Bala... gives me a sense of nostalgia!

  2. Love to read your blog. Kochi is my home town you see and I feel as if I am there.

  3. ഇപ്പോഴും കൊച്ചിന്‍ ട്യൂണ്‍ പ്രചരിക്കുന്നുണ്ട് എന്നത് വളരെ പ്രധാനവുമാണ്. ചരിത്രപരമായി പ്രധാനപ്പെട്ട ഒരു ബ്ലോഗ് പേജ് ആയിരിക്കും ഇത്.

  4. Hi Bala ,V.Good Am in NY now,

  5. Hi, Bela,
    Thanks a lot for sending me this song. Iam so trilled ,this is our - Cochin people's most loving and popular song .
    Good work Bela!

  6. Nice bala...
    i have to get to the real words as well.
    i will soon have an article up on teh jews of malabar (not cochin) - after it is up, i willlet you know