Madras Music Season – The Ultimate Celebration of Indian Arts

For the Bharathanatyam student (or a student of any Indian Art form) knowing about the Madras Music Season is essential. Watching them would be a great learning experience for students, and it can also be a spiritual experience for those who understand the spiritual connotations of the art forms. Here is an excerpt from about the Season:-

“What is the December Season?

The annual festival of classical music and dance which takes place in the South Indian city of Madras has come to be known as the ‘December season’.

That is because the concerts are held in December and through into January!

For the Hindus though it is the Tamil month of Margazhi, a time for devotion – the dawn of the Gods. And the very roots of South Indian classical music is this bhakthi, or devotion, and music has been one of the most important and traditional forms of worship.

The weather is very pleasant at this time of the year, there’s a nip in the air, and even a chill around if the monsoon has dragged on into late November. So it is the best time for kutcheris (concerts).

The December Music season came into stay when The Music Academy began holding the concerts during its first annual conference in 1929 and then decided that a week long music festival be held to coincide with Christmas week. The logic was sound.

The courts were closed during that period and the sahibs were having several rounds of merrymaking. The native society leaders were at a loose end and this gave them something to do. And the city now has a ‘Music season’.

Why is the festival such a celebrated one?
Because it has grown to be the stage where the who’s who of South Indian classical music and dance perform.

Madras, now called Chennai, is the Mecca of South Indian dance and music, and every artiste feels privileged to perform here during the ‘season’.

The festival traces its roots to a rather loose origin when an ‘All-India music conference’ was held as part of a political conference of the Indian National Congress party in 1927. Those were the days when the country was warming up to the idea of independence.

That festival with a few concerts was held in the cool December season. And it was held at the Music Academy, which is considered the grand-mom of the music and dance world here.

Since then, more and more organisations have hosted their own festivals around that of the Academy.

Over the recent years, a lot more sabhas (cultural bodies, and organisers of concerts. The word means a formal gathering of an audience) have come up, and close to 300-plus concerts are now held from mid November to the time of Pongal, which is the local harvest festival. This explosion has also produced its chaff. In fact, Madras is host of many music and dance concerts round the year.
For Pongal, during the summer holidays in May-June, for Rama Navami (celebration of the birth of the Hindu god Rama), for Deepavali (the festival of lights celebrated for the victory of good over evil) and so on. The season has also witnessed many changes.

Traditional arts like like the Harikatha ( which means the Story of God – a formalised musical telling of devotional mythological and didactic stories) and nadaswaram playing are given little attention and purists are against the space given to instruments like the saxophone, guitar, mandolin and keyboard in classical concerts.

Concerts have become shorter ( as against the four hour-long ones of the 60s), people flock to the kutcheris of the ‘stars’ among the artistes and there is a race among artistes to be on the best stage.

Besides the kutcheris, the events at some dozen halls or auditoria are interesting and varied – from intellectual discussions at lec-dems in the mornings and informal face-to-face meetings with artistes to art exhibitions and album launches.

The festival also attracts expatriate Indians and scholars from around the world.

Sponsorship has waxed and waned for the festival over the years but has come to be a more integral part of the December season. However, sponsorship for dance is an area that needs attention, from dancers themselves, rasikas and arts promoters.

Of late, besides the air-conditioned auditoria in the city, alternative venues like the well-known temple premises and heritage bungalows are also being used.

Another happening in recent years has been the growth of an ‘alternate festival;’ called The Other Festival which showcases theatre, drama, dance and music of the avant garde and experimental form exploring ancient and modern themes.

The season goes on till mid January when the scene shifts to Tiruvaiyaru to mark the attainment of samadhi of one of the greatest Carnatic composers and one of the trinity of music – Tyagaraja.

Despite the chaff and the corns, the Madras festival of music and dance, is the biggest of its kind in India. And it hosts some brilliant artistes. If you are in Chennai in December, the kutcheris here are a must see.

I will share with you all reviews, I read, hear and grab out of my inbox from ever so enthusiastic friends all around the world keep mailing to me. So come back at regular intervals and check on who got wooed and who got booed.


One response to “Madras Music Season – The Ultimate Celebration of Indian Arts

  1. Hi ,
    I m Akhila and learning dance from past 25 years with Guru Revathi Narasimhan Bangalore Guru Uma Rao Mysore disciple of Rukmini Amma and her disciple Chetan Hebbar . I am interested to participate at your zeal festival if an opportunity is given.

    Dear Akhila,
    Nice to meet you..
    Please write to the concerned organizations/ persons.. This blog is just like a notice board of events..

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