Indian Carnatic Music Festival In Chennai India CulturallyOurs

Explore Margazhi Carnatic Music Festival Of South India

Indian Carnatic Music Festival In Chennai India CulturallyOurs
Earlier in the week, we explored the culture of Carnatic music from South India and the Margazhi Carnatic music festival, a month long celebration of the arts. Our guest, Vignesh Ishwar, a world renowned musician, shared his life journey from an IT professional to a full-time Carnatic musician. In case you missed Vignesh’s podcast interview, you can listen to it here.
We now dig a little deeper into the culture of Carnatic music and explore the festival of Margazhi with Surbhi Mittal. Surbhi takes us along a cultural journey as we learn more about marghazi and how the festival is promoting one of the oldest art forms in India – Carnatic music which has origins from the Vedic times in India.
CulturallyOurs Margazhi Music Of South India
From Surbhi,

Once you’ve spent your mornings in Tamil Nadu in December, peace takes a new meaning. As you step into your courtyard to water the holy basil and welcome the morning, there is a slight breeze in the air that carries the tranquil fragrance of jasmines lining the streets.The sound of morning hymns (bhajanas) floats into the house as you set your tea to be brewed. Kolams are drawn in every household much before the sunrise, along with the chanting of Tirupavvai and Tiruvanbavvai (the holy verses). Across every neighbourhood in the city, you’ll find families making their way to the temple at the crack of dawn, dressed in their finest, prepared to spend the next hour to worship.

Month of Margazhi

This is the Tamil month of Margazhi that begins mid-December and ends in mid-January. The holy star Mrigaseersha (the constellation Orion) combined with the Pournami thithi is the birth of the great Margazhi month. As the weather cools down by Chennai standards, the atmosphere all around is that of quiet contemplation. The month is considered inauspicious to start anything new and must be dedicated to prayer, worship and Carnatic music. The Indian diaspora across the world, who have grown up listening and learning Carnatic music, make the journey across oceans to be a part of that moment in time when the city collectively reflects.

Celebrating Margazhi

Like most religions across the world, the Tamil calendar is defined by the stories that are associated with each month. The month of Margazhi is considered auspicious because in Bhagavat Gita, Lord Krishna says that he will be as the ‘Margazhi’ in that month. While this is the most widely recounted explanation of the divinity associated with the month, there are sects of Vishnu and Shiva followers who have their own beliefs. It is a truly remarkable spectacle to see how followers from such diverse religious beliefs coalesce in the coastal town of Chennai to form a community that is tied together by the belief that observing religious practices during this season is a path to liberation from sin. Vishnu followers do so by fasting for 30 days while the Shiva followers will sing Thiruvempavai, hymns written in praise of Lord Shiva by his devotee Manicka Vasagar.CulturallyOurs Indian Carnatic Music And Festival Of Marghazi Rangoli OutsideWaking up at the crack of dawn is another integral part of Margazhi. Men would leave the house to sing Bhajanais on the street while paint the streets outside their houses with beautiful Kolams, a form of drawing that is drawn by using rice flour, chalk, chalk powder or rock powder, often using naturally or synthetically colored powders. Woven into the mathematical calculations that go into the art are countless beliefs about the significance of kolam-making. Apart from its aesthetic value, the ancient art of designing a kolam on the doorstep is believed to be a way to welcome a specific deity as well as general prosperity into one’s home. Since the powder, or sometimes a wet mixture, is made of rice flour, it is also considered to be food for ants and birds. Even the symmetry of a kolam is explained through belief – a traditional design is composed of curved loops or geometric lines, each of which must be drawn to completion. Closing the kolam blocks evil spirits from entering the shapes, and symbolically, homes.CulturallyOurs Indian Carnatic Music And Festival Of MarghaziCarnatic music is considered a form of worship in Tamil culture. Learning Carnatic music is considered as an essential part of growing up. During the sacred month of December, it becomes an even more integral part of their lives. On all the thirty days of this month, Thiruppavai, 30 devotional poems attributed to the female saint Andal who fell in love with Lord Krishna, are rendered in the early morning in all temples and houses. Unmarried girls sing one song each day for 30 days to get good husband for them. The evenings are dedicated to attending a number of free concerts called ‘kutcheris’ organised by sabhas, organisations that help conduct concerts and bestow titles and awards to artists to recognise talent. This celebration of Carnatic music used to be known as the Madras Music Season and is now known as the ‘December Season’.

Margazhi Carnatic music festival in Chennai

The Madras Music Season was launched in 1927 as an adjunct to the All India Music Conference of the Indian National Congress held in Madras (as Chennai was called back then). It was decided to launch a conference that would collect all information regarding music, maintain the library and publish a journal to help the cause of music. The idea was championed and propagated primarily by E. Krishna Iyer who has worked actively towards the revival and acceptance of Bharatanatyam as a respected form of art. Over time, the December concert came to be known as the Margazhi season or Music season within music circles.The inaugural edition in 1929, though small in scale, featured the leading musicians of the time. Subsequently, the festival severed all political ties and emerged as a stand-alone fixture on Chennai’s cultural calendar. The earliest sabhas sprung up in the areas of George Town, Triplicane and Mylapore. The traditional role of the Music Season is to allow aficionados of Carnatic music to appreciate performances by renowned artists, and to allow promising young artists to display their talent and skill.

Growth of the Margazhi Carnatic music festival

The Music Season has grown over the years, and has been described as one of the world’s largest cultural events. In 2004-2005, there were over 1200 performances by about 600 artists (about 700 vocal, 250 instrumental, 200 dance, 50 drama and others). Today, it is estimated that more than a thousand concerts and dance performances take place during this fest, across a couple of hundred venues. With the blurring of technological, social and geographical boundaries, the music season has expanded to include other formats like Open Mics, Theatre performances and live streaming. In 2013, Parivadini, an organisation for music, art and culture, launched the first Parivadini award and also started streaming live carnatic concerts. for free. Another startup, Carnatic Network, has launched Open Mics to equalise the playing field for Carnatic Music performers and escape the elitism that hounds the Carnatic Music community.For many people, the Madras music and dance festival is like a pilgrimage. Immigrants who have moved to greener pastures, come back to Chennai every December to relive the memories or rediscover a culture that is sacred. It is not just non-resident Indians and locals, but tourists across the globe who make a journey to Chennai and South India in December, when the weather is cooler.

Mahad Ayalur, an Indian living in Chicago who routinely travels to Chennai during Margazhi talks about what motivates him to do the 8000 mile journey across seas for this event. “To me, Margazhi is a treat for all five senses. Touching the morning fog of Chennai, seeing the intricate colorful kolams adorning the small side streets, smelling the pleasant aroma of agarbathis and flowers from the temple, tasting the sumptuous food from Sabha canteens that comes with a side of juicy gossip from the local aunties and best of all – listening to melodious music all day long! You just simply have to be there and take it all in.  It is an experience you don’t want to miss.”

Starting in Chennai and travelling across the state through temple towns, coastal cities and spice mansions, one discovers the peace that exists in cultural blanket of Tamil Nadu.

Related Reading

Leave your comments below