The Chennai Season, which is eponymous with music in its quintessential form, conjures up a whole world of multifaceted celebration which is unique

The season, which previously meant Margazhi straddling the period from December 15 to mid-January, today means much more than music, dance and drama!

Prior to the advent of the “Season”, Chennai’s retail trade gets a makeover in gleeful anticipation of the huge arrivals of NRIs, tourists, music-lovers, scholars and musicologists from all over the world.

To begin with, most of the hotels at Mylapore and T. Nagar get swamped with online bookings. A slew of residential service apartments offer temporary accommodation with built-in pantry amenities. Advertisements in the local tabloids offer paying guest accommodation. Cars with or without chauffer-service are on tap and private tour operators have their own regular list of clients who get in touch with them on arrival in Chennai.

Books and stationery stores and music record companies replenish their stocks of CDs, DVDs and CD Roms on “live” concerts, lecdems, “Harikatha Kalakshepams” and the vast repertoire of slokams for sale especially among the NRIs and tourists who buy them in mass volumes. In addition, paid-for downloads of concerts are available at certain retail outlets.

Shops selling puja items, silverware and dance costumes at Mylapore relish, for a change, the reverse swing of demand overtaking supply!

Just before the start of the series of concerts, the tourists visit the popular departmental stores and textiles chains to pick up the relevant wardrobe and accessories that are in tune (pun intended) with the concert halls. Hurried visits are made to shops selling the anthologies of the Trinity and other compositions with English translation. These tools of appreciation are later pulled out of their Prada or Louis Vuitton Bags along with a pad and pencil to make jottings during the concerts.

In between Sabha-hopping and window-shopping, the votaries frequent the eateries/restaurants, set up adjacent to the concert halls by reputed caterers, and relish the large spread of homely delicacies which they have been missing for quite a while.

The daily concerts across the vast network of venues may commence at a convenient hour in the morning and end at night, but the auditoria where Tiruppavai and other religious discourses commence at 6.30/7 a.m. are already chock-a-block with wide-eyed bhakthas who occasionally get worked up into emotional postures as they sway and clap to the frenzied chants of Hari namasankirtnams and bhajans.

The choice available during this “holy period” or Dhanur maasam for the many different routes to spiritual uplift is remarkable for its aesthetic variety. Pilgrims and worshippers throng temples in the chilly early morning to pray even as they listen to “Oduvars” chanting verses from Tiruppavai, Tiruvembavai and other slokas from the vast trove of ancient Tamil scriptures. On the other hand, there are many bhajan groups wending their musical way through the four Mada streets of the Kapaleeswarar temple at Mylapore at the break of dawn lugging their heavy tambura and mridangam.

Occasionally, they are given a hot cup of coffee by local residents as they move around. The cool of the grey morning, the muffled songs, the chimes keeping time with the beat of the mridangam, the shuffling of the figures shrouded in weather-beaten shawls and stoles and the vignettes of the Kapaleeswarar and Srinivasa Perumal temples (behind Chitrakulam) towering above this ethereal scenario weave a spell over those who are fortunate enough to be present there. Lecdems by erudite musicologists at the Music Academy and the Parthasarathy Swamy Sabha, held for the benefit of those deeply interested in the scientific and esoteric aspects of Carnatic music, kick off the day’s proceedings.

Coffee sessions with musicians, organised in hotels, art shows, Bharatanatyam and other classical forms of dance at ancient temple sites sponsored by the State Government’s Tourism and Cultural Departments and visits to heritage sites and monuments add spice to what can be deemed an enriching and multifaceted experience surrounding the Chennai Season.

Caught in the cultural swirl, the print medium and numerous websites go to town on coverage, interviews and mild gossip which kick up a lot of debate, points and counter-points!

The Chennai Season, which is eponymous with music in its quintessential form, conjures up a whole world of multifaceted celebration which is unique.

(The writer’s email: vkalidas@gmail.com)

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