Come December and all of Tamil Nadu, especially Chennai, is caught up in the magic of powerful voices raised in song, the melodious strains of the flute, the tinkle of anklets, the hypnotic beat of the ghatam and the uplifting sense of a centuries-old tradition. Artistes from all over the world as well as music and dance enthusiasts descend on the state to participate in this unique month-long celebration of the performing arts.
The origin story
Mid-December to mid-January - the Tamil month of Marghazi – is an auspicious month – traditional Kolams (rangoli) outside residences add to the visual dimension while temples celebrate with early morning spiritual chanting and offerings of devotional music.
The December Kutcheri (Tamil for concert) – became formalised in the 1920s when Chennai artistes decided to dedicate Margazhi to music. In 1928, the Music Academy was formally established a music festival was planned for every year. As other arts-and-culture organisations were established, they joined in and the Margazhi festival kept growing organically.
State of the arts
Chennai especially comes alive with cultural performances, recitals, lecture-demonstrations, discussions, theatre productions – from Carnatic and Hindustani music to classical dance forms of Bharatanatyam, Kuchipudi, Kathak, Mohiniyattam as well as instrumental performances and folk-art forms across public spaces including temples, cultural institutions, dance and music schools.
The contribution of Marghazi season to the modern evolution of classical art forms of music and dance has been immense. Marghazi season presents the chance to watch renowned artistes perform, and also to know young talent, for whom it is a once-in-a-year opportunity to perform before a knowledgeable international audience. With about 3000 plus concerts in a period of 15 days by around 150 sabhas, dance and music lovers are truly spoilt for choice.
Stalwarts such as TM Krishna, Sudha Raghunathan, Bombay Jayashree, Priya Sisters, among others keep raising the bar every year and to the delight of music lovers, younger artistes keep rising to the challenge.
Marghazi Season is not just about performances - Vedic lectures, discussions and presentations by artistes and scholars are a huge draw.
Food for thought
In India, there can be no festival without food, and Marghazi is no exception. Over the years, Sabha canteens have earned as much name and fame as the performances. A wide variety of south Indian food is on offer throughout the city, with most canteens serving four meals a day!
The festivals of Vaikunda Ekadasi, Sri Thyagaraja Aradhana and Thiruvathara are also commemorated during Marghazi. Early morning processions accompanied by the singing of bhajans and chanting of hymns – the nagarsankeertan - happen in temples and towns across the state.
Usually, the Thyagaraja Aradhana, the annual Carnatic music festival held once a year to commemorate the life of the saint Thyagaraja, also falls within this month. Exponents of Carnatic music gather to pay their respects and thanks to the saint by singing the Pancharatna kritis – they are watched by millions of committed followers of Indian classical music.
A legacy of love
Among the hundreds of sabhas, the Madras Music Academy, the Indian Fine Arts, Tamil Isai Sangam, Mylapore Fine Arts Club, Sri Krishna Gana Sabha, Rasika Ranjana Sabha, Naradha Gana Sabha, Nungambakkam Fine Arts Academy and the Kalakshetra Foundation, must not be missed.
If you love the arts, Tamil Nadu and especially Chennai is where you should head in December. Nowhere else will you get to watch seasoned stalwarts perform side by side with energetic new talent in one city over one month. Nowhere else will you be able to attend lectures as well as performances, seminars as well as recitals about the past, present and future of our legacy.
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