SPIC MACAY Convention 2024, at IIT Madras

From May 20 to 26, all roads will lead to IIT Madras for the cultural extravaganza featuring stalwart artistes, yoga experts and scholars.

Updated - May 17, 2024 04:09 pm IST

Published - May 15, 2024 04:14 pm IST

Chhau artistes from Purulia perform ‘Mahishasur Mardan’ under the aegis of SPIC MACAY at Kendriya Vidyalaya-1 in Bhopal in 2019.

Chhau artistes from Purulia perform ‘Mahishasur Mardan’ under the aegis of SPIC MACAY at Kendriya Vidyalaya-1 in Bhopal in 2019. | Photo Credit: A.M. FARUQUI

On May 20, when students from across the country gather at IIT Madras for SPIC MACAY’s (Society for the Promotion of Indian Classical Music And Culture Amongst Youth) seven-day international convention, the campus will turn into a space where art becomes personally meaningful, not only through passive observation, but through dynamic, and transformative interactions. These conventions are not just an escape from the incessant cycle of deadlines, exams, and the constant quest for excellence; they weave deeper threads into the fabric of student life. Besides creating a bridge between heritage and youth, they are life skill labs.

Kiran Seth, founder, SPIC MACAY
| Video Credit: Pradeep

It all began in 1977, when the founder of SPIC MACAY Kiran Seth, then an associate professor at IIT Delhi, engineered a cultural movement in the institution. He was keen to break the myth that the classical arts could not strike a chord with uninitiated youngsters. Through his non-profit voluntary youth movement, which now has nationwide and overseas chapters, musicians are invited to perform, present lec-dems, and conduct workshops in colleges and schools. “We have to erase the divide between art and academics. It was while doing my doctorate at Columbia University that I discovered how calming classical music can be. I wanted more students to experience it. They need not lose touch with the past to secure their future,” emphasises Kiran Seth.

Bharatanatyam dancer Deepthi Parol  demonstrating mudras to differently-abled children during the ‘Natya Swasthi’ programme (2017), organised by SPIC  MACAY, at Asha Kiran Special school in Kozhikode.

Bharatanatyam dancer Deepthi Parol demonstrating mudras to differently-abled children during the ‘Natya Swasthi’ programme (2017), organised by SPIC MACAY, at Asha Kiran Special school in Kozhikode. | Photo Credit: RAMESH KURUP S

From the first concert of Dagar Bandhu in IIT Delhi’s convocation hall with just five students in attendance to becoming a popular movement with year-round performances by stalwart artistes and several teams of student volunteers helping to sustain the momentum, SPIC MACAY’s 47-year journey symbolises the spirit of youth.

Martial art performance at SPIC MACAY’s Crafts Mela in Madikeri.

Martial art performance at SPIC MACAY’s Crafts Mela in Madikeri.

At a time when influences are diverse and choices unlimited, it has not been easy for Kiran Seth to keep the movement going. “When we started, many of my colleagues, friends and relatives often asked me why I was wasting my time on gaana bajaana. SPIC MACAY has had to survive the challenges that keeps presenting themselves differently with the changing times. When we started, many colleges and schools straightaway rejected the idea of having concerts on campuses. Some agreed, but on the condition that it be held during the extra curricular class. We still have to go a long way. We need more volunteers to carry out our activities and be in constant touch with student communities,” he says.

Prof. Kiran Seth stops in front of Vidhana Soudha in Bengaluru during his cycle expedition from Kashmir to Kanyakumari

Prof. Kiran Seth stops in front of Vidhana Soudha in Bengaluru during his cycle expedition from Kashmir to Kanyakumari | Photo Credit: MURALI KUMAR K

For the past two years, Kiran Seth has been on a pan-India cycle expedition. One of the purposes behind this yatra is to create awareness about SPIC MACAY and recruit volunteers for this cultural mission.

Senior violinist GJR Krishnan refers to Kiran Seth as a ‘yogi’. “His dedication to the cause is unimaginable. I can never say ‘no’ to a SPIC MACAY performance. Though I am supposed to be travelling to Australia, I ensured that I don’t miss my concert on May 22 at the convention. I have imbibed the love for this movement from my father Lalgudi Jayaraman. He enjoyed performing for students and would often start with some fun tunes before launching into ragas,” says Krishnan.

Lalgudi G.J.R. Krishnan will be performing at IITM

Lalgudi G.J.R. Krishnan will be performing at IITM | Photo Credit: K.V. SRINIVASAN

From promoting classical arts, SPIC MACAY has, over the years, widened its curriculum to include folk arts, yoga, crafts, intensives by writers, painters, social activists and environmentalists, heritage walks, theatre, screening of classics and holistic food.

“Artistes, institutions, sponsors and volunteers are the four pillars of the movement,” says Suman Doonga, vice-chairperson of SPIC MACAY. “The annual convention is our flagship event. We are expecting 1,300 students and volunteers to attend the event at IITM, which has hosted the convention twice earlier (1996 and 2014). TCS is the main sponsor.”

Padma Subrahmanyam has been associated with the movement for many years.

Padma Subrahmanyam has been associated with the movement for many years.

“We keep talking about catching them young to initiate the next generation into arts. But nobody has done it as successfully as SPIC MACAY,” says veteran Bharatanatyam dancer and scholar Padma Subrahmanyam. She will be performing on the inaugural day of the convention in Chennai. “I have always been excited about performing for the young. The interactive sessions are more enjoyable because there is a curiosity to know. The sincerity and innocence with which youngsters ask questions make you go to any length to explain in a way they understand. They may not choose pursue arts, but when they step out into the world equipped with the knowledge of our culture, they will be able to navigate better life’s path.”

SPIC MACAY conventions are learning beyond classrooms. Apart from being exposed to different musical styles, which enhances students’ cultural perspective, it also improves their social and organisational skills. They learn to bond, adjust and express.

Veteran violinist makes her young students accompany her at SPIC MACAY concerts.

Veteran violinist makes her young students accompany her at SPIC MACAY concerts.

“They make you think of ways in which classical music can be made more accessible,” says violin exponent A. Kanyakumari, who will be performing at this convention. “Kiran Seth is doing an amazing service for art. The teams of volunteers go out of the way to make artistes comfortable. This movement is not about money, it is purely about music. And thanks to SPIC MACAY, I have interacted with students in places where Carnatic music has hardly any presence. For instance, I was recently in Nagaland and was surprised by the response of the youngsters there to my music. Every time I have performed for SPIC MACAY, I have returned energised and hopeful of a better tomorrow.”

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