Chennai In Focus Music

Global proportions

 Sudha Raghunathan performing during the December Music Festival at Sri Parthasarathy Swami Sabha in Chennai

Sudha Raghunathan performing during the December Music Festival at Sri Parthasarathy Swami Sabha in Chennai

I was in the middle of a concert when the Prime Minister’s office announced the news about Chennai being included in the UNESCO Creative Cities Network, for its rich musical tradition. By the time I got back to the hotel and checked my phone, it was already inundated with messages from friends, colleagues, rasikas, and well-wishers expressing their happiness and pride. Flooded with emotion, I was overjoyed — Namma Chennai! As M.S. Subbulakshmi once said, “Indian music is oriented solely to the end of divine communication. If I have done something in this respect, it is entirely due to the grace of the Almighty who has chosen my humble self as a tool.”

Tamil Nadu in general, and Chennai in particular, has been home to so many gems of Carnatic music — M.S Subbulakshmi, my guru M.L Vasanthakumari, D.K Pattammal, T. Brinda, Ariyakudi Ramanuja Iyengar, Tiger Varadachariar, Musiri Subramania Iyer, Madurai Mani Iyer, Semmangudi Srinivasa Iyer, G.N. Balasubramaniam, Palghat K.V Narayanaswamy, Veena S. Balachander, Flute N. Ramani, Lalgudi Jayaraman, M.S. Gopalakrishnan, T.N. Krishnan, Umayalpuram Sivaraman, Vikku Vinayakram and many other veterans — who only breathe(d) music all their lives. Their contributions have made the city what it is today. Global recognition was long overdue!

My relationship with Carnatic music began 37 years ago. Since then, I have worked relentlessly to keep our tradition alive and thriving, along with many other musicians. Over the years, I have seen our music expand to many corners of the world, reaching newer audiences while always remaining rooted at home in Chennai. It is quite amazing to think that the Marghazhi festival or the ‘December Music Season’ as it is fondly referred to, first started in 1927. Aside from the musicians, the ‘sabhas’ have played a pivotal role in ensuring that the spirit of Marghazhi continues in full glory with each passing year.

Some of the sabhas have done an excellent job in promoting this unique art and culture for decades. The first on the list is the ‘Sri Parthasarathy Swami Sabha’ which began as early as 1896, by Mani Tirumalachariar. Launched as the ‘Sangeetha Vidwat Sabha’ in 1900, it was rechristened as ‘Sri Parthasarathy Swami Sabha.’ Another great example is the ‘Madras Music Academy,’ which had its humble beginnings staging performances under a pandal. Today, it has grown exponentially into one of India’s premier institutions for the fine arts. Let us not forget ‘Tamil Isai Sangam,’ another pioneering institution that was born out of the efforts of Raja Sir Annamalai Chettiar, who sought to revive interest in the forgotten works of Tamil poets, beginning in 1953. Subsequently, other sabhas joined the bandwagon and further contributed to the success of Marghazhi.

It was not only Carnatic music that drew big crowds; Harikatha and Bhakti Sangeetham played a huge role in attracting large audiences. Classical music made its way into the film industry as well, adding a distinct flavour and building its own fan base. Bharatanatyam queens such as T. Balasaraswathi, the Travancore sisters, Kumari Kamala, and Vyjayanthimala Bali were simply outstanding performers, finding a permanent place in the hearts of the rasikas.

Each year, the Marghazhi season evolves, becoming bigger and better — growing in the number and size of events, with new and talented performing artists and the countless cafeterias serving delicious snacks. A staggering amount of labour and coordination goes into making these events a success, season after season. During this time, our beloved city brings so many people together —musicians, teachers, musicologists, natya exponents, students, technicians, and event organisers. It brings me immense joy to know that we are finally receiving the global recognition that an annual event like Marghazhi deserves.

An Advisory Body on Intangible Cultural Heritage & Diverse Cultural Traditions of India (ABICHU), was created by the Ministry of Culture to facilitate application for this recognition. As a member of this Advisory Body, I can attest to the dedication and focus of this group’s work towards achieving this status! However, while we celebrate this achievement, we must also set our sights on the future. It is time to invest in institutions that will preserve the legacy of Carnatic music — such as a museum, which will amplify the history of Carnatic music with past legends’ memorabilia, and a world-class school exclusively for music and other fine arts. To fully embody the spirit of this honour, Chennaiites must continue to support and encourage the development and education of the next generation of artistes and rasikas that will carry Carnatic music to new heights — our music will only live on through them. Jai Hind!


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Printable version | May 18, 2022 10:03:46 am | https://www.thehindu.com/entertainment/music/unesco-recognition-puts-chennai-under-global-spotlight/article20479319.ece