The pasyon is a verse narrative about the life and suffering of Jesus Christ. The verses are structured in five-line stanzas, with each line containing eight syllables. The pasyon is commonly sung during Holy Week, starting Holy Monday. The reading of the pasyon is a traditional religious practice in the Philippines and people gather around the reader of the pasyon to listen and reflect. It is seen by many of its practitioners as a vow or panata.
The first version of the Tagalog pasyon was written by Gaspar Aquino de Belen in 1704. It was entitled Mahal na Passion ni Jesu Christong Panginoon Natin na Tola (The poem of the Passion of our Lord Jesus Christ). Belen's pasyon went through at least four revisions, with the fifth edition printed in 1760.
The tradition of chanting the pasyon is not rooted to the Spanish language that the songs were originally written in. but is connected to the singing of epics during cultural celebrations among indigenous Filipinos. The pasyon is usually chanted a capella though occasionally the chanters may be accompanied by guitars or a rondalla band.
Several versions of the pasyon began to circulate afterwards, written by anonymous authors. These versions were branded heretical by Spanish friars. In the early 19th century, a native priest named Mariano Pilapil compiled several of these texts and purged them of heresies. The resulting work is known as the Pasyong Pilapil or Pasyong Henares.
Another popular version of the pasyon is the Casaysayan nang Pasiong Mahal ni JesuCristong Panginoon Natin na Sucat Ipag-alab nang Puso nang Sinomang Babasa (The History of the Passion of Jesus Christ our Lord that will set afire the heart of whosoever reads it), which was published by an unknown writer in 1814. This text continues to be used to the present day among the Tagalogs though different versions and translations of the pasyon can be found among other Filipino subcultures.
Many innovations in pasyon singing have been introduced, like the use of the guitar or rondalla for accompaniment and the use of the accordion by a traveling group of pasyon singers. The pasyon is performed in two basic group formations. In the first, two people or groups of people sing alternately. In the second formation, each of the singers take their turns in singing a stanza of text.
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