Chennai Sangamam got off to a colourful start on Wednesday with folk artists from different parts of the State showcasing the traditional arts and culture of Tamil Nadu.

Chief Minister M. Karunanidhi, who inaugurated the five-day open air festival, described Chennai Sangamam as an effort of the Dravidian movement to preserve and promote traditional arts. Mr. Karunanidhi explained that the very conception of the Dravidian movement was to recapture the glory achieved by illustrious kings such as Raja Raja Cholan and Rajendra Cholan. “Without that name (Dravida) you cannot start even a political party in the State,” he added.

Referring to a drama – Santha alladhu Palaniappan – staged by a group of his friends from Nagapattinam four to five decades ago at Villupuram to propagate the ideals of E.V.Ramasamy, he said, “We were ridiculed those days and disparaging remarks regarding our caste and community were hurled at us.” The drama was meant to condemn casteism. Now, if the same were to be staged there, it would be kindly treated by everyone as “folk art”. That was the impact of the Dravidian movement on the psyche of the people of Tamil Nadu, he added.

Mr. Karunanadhi, while adverting to the inaugural dance-drama “Vaanam vasapadum”, quipped that this had been staged at a time when everyone was mulling over whether “vakkugal vasapaduma” (whether votes could be captured). “Whether we get the votes or not we will safeguard our self-respect”.

He congratulated Kanimozhi, MP, and Jagat Gaspar, Tamil Maiyam founder, who were instrumental in organising the festival year after year.

Tourism Minister Suresh Rajan said the Tamil Nadu government had been in the forefront of rejuvenating folk arts. Poet and lyricist Variamuthu pointed out that this festival had been a blessing for the folk artists who had been hankering for recognition. Ms. Kanimozhi and Mr. Gaspar spoke.