By Soumya Singh
As the month of December approaches, a festive fervour grips Chennai. The largest metropolis of Southern India, it heralds the start of a spectacular six week long melodious joyride: the Chennai Music Festival.
The Chennai Music Festival, or the Madras Music Season, is a traditional Carnatic (South Indian classical music) festival spanning some six weeks, usually held from the beginning of December to mid-January. The history of the festival dates back to 1927, when the event was organised by a group of individuals who later went on to establish the Madras Music Academy. Though first held in the months of April and May, the event started being held in the months of December and January due to more favourable weather conditions and the probability of attracting more tourists.
Previously a traditional month-long festival solely consisting of Carnatic Music, lecture demonstrations and awards, the event has diversified into a month and a half long celebration of dance and drama as well as both Carnatic and non-Carnatic art forms.
Organised by several small communities called sabhas, this spectacular music festival comprises of a number of concerts, traditionally called kutcheris. It attracts maestros and amateurs alike, from across the length and breadth of India and even abroad, who wish to showcase their scintillating performances and mesmerize connoisseurs of classical music with their intoxicating notes. On average, it comprises of around 1,500 individual performances by both novices and virtuosos, and a huge number of duets and group performances, both vocal and instrumental.
The jugalbandi, that translates into ‘entwined twins’, has become a favourite of audiences. It features two musicians in a playful competition: a Carnatic vocalist accompanied by a mridangam player and a Hindustani (North Indian classical music) vocalist accompanied by a tabla player. Each one of them presents a composition in their own styles, which results in an enchanting melody that is sure to captivate the heart of any listener.
The festival is rich in Indian classical music, however it still strikes a chord with Western listeners. Another form of the jugalbandi – this time between the tabla and the violin – is another brilliant piece of composition that gives classical Indian music a new dimension.
Though dominated by music, as its name suggests, the Madras Music Season has another equally important element in the form of the Indian Dance Festival, which features classical dances from all over India, and commands equal appreciation and applause.
Over the years, the Madras Music Festival has transformed from a small concert to a widely-acclaimed musical fiesta. The captivating notes of musicians and the graceful moves of dancers are a true manifestation of the diversity and exquisiteness of art and Indian culture.
This year, the festival also commemorated the devastating floods of Chennai that in the last few months brought the city of 4.3 million to a screeching halt. For the first time ever, the event was slightly postponed. The artistes have expressed their heartfelt condolences for the victims by means of art, and have decided to forward the season’s earnings to the relief fund.
The Madras Music Festival is a celebration of spectacular music and dance, of immensely talented individuals bestowed with the divine blessings of the Goddess Saraswati, the Hindu Goddess of art and education, and of the spirit of Indian life and community.
Photograph: Dance with Rabindra Sangeet – Kolkata, by Gangulybiswarup via Google Images