If south and central Chennai hog the kutcheries and the sabhas, north Chennai too has its own celebration of the Margazhi season, though in a much smaller way.
Every Margazhi, despite the cold mornings, a large audience gathers to listen to Tamizh Isai at the Sri Kothandaramar temple on Perambalu Street in Old Washermenpet. The Margazhi Deiva Tamizh Vizha is in its 26th year, and is being organised thanks to contributions from kind hearts that support music.
R. Mohan Kumar, a resident of Tiruvottiyur, who is at the temple every day at 5.30 a.m. to listen to discourses and the concert of the day, says it is nice to have concerts nearer home. “Earlier, I have attended a few free concerts in sabhas in Mylapore. But I am more comfortable here as I enjoy the music in the mornings and then go for work,” he said.
Margazhi Deiva Thamizh Vizha organisers, S. Mahalingam, Ma. Ki. Ramanan and S. Yugarajan said they were continuing the work of the Irai Pani Anbargal that had been conducting street bhajans for over 45 years now.
“Our aim is to encourage Tamil isai only. The musicians sing for free. We get at least 200 listeners every day,” said Mr. Ramanan. Mr. Yugarajan said that though north Madras was once home to Carnatic music, the area had lost its sheen over the years. However, organising Carnatic music festivals here had helped residents slowly learn to appreciate classical music, he said.
The Tamil Isai Sangam is a leader of sorts in propagating Pann isai (Tamil music) in the city. In its 71st year now, the Sangam was started by Sri Annamalai Chettiyar, R.K. Shanmugan Chettiyar, Kalki and Rajaji.
“Artistes are welcome only to sing Tamil songs. Even Carnatic vocalist K.J. Yesudas, who has been performing at our Sangam for 35 years now, sings only in Tamil,” said a representative of the Sangam. Yesudas will perform for the Sangam on December 28 at the Raja Annamalai Mandram in Esplanade.
Other organisations in north Chennai like the Perambur Sangeetha Sabha (PSS) in Perambur, Sri Sai Vivekananda in Kodungaiyur and Padma Sarangapani Cultural Academy (PSCA) in Villivakkam, support Carnatic music in their own way.
The PSCA had been organising music festivals for 10 years, but stopped after they found that rasikas preferred sabhas in south Chennai. PSCA secretary V. Jayakrishnan said they were unable to continue despite providing transport to the rasikas, as the response to their music festival was not good.
Kalyana Varadan of the PSS said the sabha was established in 1931 and has been organising music programmes every month, except during the kutchery season.
According to historian V. Sriram, the city’s first sabha, the Madras Jubilee Gayan Samaj, was begun in 1887 at Pachaiyappa’s Hall on NSC Bose Road. There were several other sabhas too, including the Muthialpet Sabha and the Thondai Mandalam Sabha, which was the first to ticket concerts in the late 1880s, and the Perambur Venkatesa Gunamritha Abhivarshini Sabha, which was the founder of the Madras Labour Union in 1918-19.