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A sangamam of folk arts

A GOLDEN OPPORTUNITY Folk dancers rehearsing for the show

A GOLDEN OPPORTUNITY Folk dancers rehearsing for the show   | Photo Credit: PHOTO: S. R. RAGHUNATHAN

Chennai Sangamam will feature folk music and dance from all over. GOWRI RAMNARAYAN on the six-day pageant that begins on February 21

One hundred venues from Mylapore Mada Veedhi and Sivan Park to Elliot's Beach and YMCA grounds.... railway stations, bus terminals, markets and churches. A Rs.6-crore budget. A thousand performances of every kind from Carnatic music to kavadi chindu, jazz, western classical, rock, rap, sufi song, kavi arangam, art shows and screenings of film classics. Seven hundred artistes of every known Tamil folk form from tappattam and tudumbattam to jimbla melam and maankombu attam. Food and craft stalls. Fireworks at start and finish. A star nite to represent the city's film industry.This magnificent celebration of the city takes flamboyant shape as Chennai Sangamam. Organised by Tamil Maiyam and the Department of Tourism, this cultural extravaganza is all set to explode through city streets, squares, parks and theatre halls from February 21 to 26. Every event is free.

Focus on folk arts

Chennai Sangamam is the realisation of long-held dreams for co-ordinator Kanimozhi and core team members Reverend Jegath Gaspar Raj and Irai Anbu. "We actually wanted to do a small event around Pongal. But looking at Bangalore Habba made us more ambitious," says Kanimozhi. "We wanted to focus on folk artistes as they simply don't get professional exposure, nor does Chennai get to see them all," says Rev. Raj. Gathering folk teams from all over Tamil Nadu is only a beginning. "Once we identify them, we can help the groups with training, costume design andpresentation." Chennai has a renowned music-dance-film festival in December. "But exclusive and confined to familiar auditoria. We want to take the arts including the classical to the streets and parks, so that everybody gets access to all these riches," says Kanimozhi. The organising process was as exciting as it was exhausting. "Do you know that Tamil Nadu has its equivalent in Sufi music in the songs of Gunakudi Mastan," she asks. Theatre will be well represented from the modern "Panithee," the Mahabharata's story of Ambai performed by Usharani, to Madurai special natakams "Pavazhakodi" and "Valli Tirumanam". The Aravani production "Manasin Azhaippu" is a highlight at the festival, as is the demanding "Vaali Vadham", performed by children from State schools, as trained and directed by the Koothu-p-pattarai repertory."Tamil Maiyam being a non-political, non-religious registered trust to promote art and culture of quality, whatever we do reflects this perspective," explains Rev. Raj. "Our projects aim at serious research into Tamil society, and bridging the gap between urban and rural people, particularly students. Chennai Sangamam is definitely related to these two goals. It began as a dream, and a conversation between Kanimozhi and me, which developed into a concept, and is now to be realised as a spectacular event."Rev. Raj and Kanimozhi believe that an effort like Chennai Sangamam will forge a dynamic relationship between the people and the great arts of the State and country. Kerala Chendai, Andhra drums, Punjabi Bhangra and Gujarati Raas find their place in the inclusive festival. "Today the cultural experience of the Tamils is confined either to sabhas which attract a few hundred people, or cinema. The fine and folk arts which arise from the lives of the people are today separated from those very lives. Chennai Sangamam strives to build bridges between these two divided realms of life and culture."

Glimpses of Tamil history

Any celebration of Tamil Nadu will have to centre stage poetry. The Sangamam anthem composed by Vairamuthu and scored by Deva, songs by Kanimozhi and Rev. Raj are part of the music album to be released during the festival. On the opening night, IIT's open air auditorium will witness 200 artistes performing "Sange Muzhangu", a journey down 2000 years of Tamil cultural and literary history. Conceptualised by Kanimozhi, directed by Vasanth, this show has music by Paul Jacob and sets by Thota Tharrani. Film actor Prakash Raj will recite a poem specially written for the occasion by the chief guest, Tamil Nadu's Chief Minister Karunanidhi.Talk about finances and the organisers chorus, "Very difficult!" But noticeably, they remain unfazed by the hurdles. "It will come," they intone. Amidst laughter they say that any excess will go to Tamil Maiyam's "Give Life" fund for street children.Chennai Sangamam promises to close with a pageant of music, dance and fireworks. "We make no claims this time," say the two organisers. "But over a period of 10 years we want this festival to achieve international standards of excellence. Its inclusive character will hopefully attract every Chennai-ite's participation in some way or the other. Their involvement will give it vitality and vibrancy," says Kanimozhi. Rev. Raj adds, "We hope the festival will promote intellectual, cultural and business interaction among city dwellers, and the expatriate community as well." Both are determined that from next year, it will not be their sole responsibility to run Chennai Sangamam. "We want the people of the city to organise a festival worthy of their city."
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