Chennai Music Culture

Today I would like to share with you the very interesting story behind our unique Margazhi festival and how the Sabha Culture developed in Chennai. 

A long time ago, Carnatic musicians in Tamil Nadu used to live in Kumbakonam, Thanjavur, Trichy, Tirunelveli, and other such distant places. They would travel far and wide to perform, even the nadaswaram players. 

They would perform at temple festivals, at weddings of families and at semi-private events hosted by the well-to-do and influential people. Usually, temples were the prime venues for Carnatic musicians to perform and people would come in hordes to listen to these musicians. 

As Chennai expanded and became a metro, newspapers and magazines gained popularity. Artists performing in Chennai began to be written about and spoken about in the influential circles of Madras, as it was then called. The demand for the artist would increase manifold times. And since a metro is a congregation of a larger number of people (as opposed to smaller towns), musicians found a larger audience base of rasikas here in Chennai. So, they started migrating to Chennai. The early artists settled near George Town and Parry’s. Then Mylapore and Triplicane became the hub for musicians to live in. In fact, there is a saying that goes – “If you walk along the streets skirting Kapaleeshwarar Temple, every door houses a musician.“ 

Gradually, Sabhas started forming. Sabhas were organisations where groups of people would come together, hire a hall like the Museum Theatre, or have it at the Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan, and sell tickets for shows. They would then use the proceeds to host concerts. 

The Sabha Culture has been a great upholder of Carnatic Music – before a senior artist would perform, there would be a 1-hour performance by a junior artist who would get a platform and a rasika base to showcase their talents to. This way, Sabhas provided both a forum for the upcoming artists as well as a platform for established artists to gain more fame. 

The first-ever December Season concert took place in Chennai (then Madras) in 1927 when along with the conference of the Indian National Congress, a Carnatic concert was held. 

This event also laid the foundations of the Madras Music Academy. After being established, the Music Academy started organising concerts every December. For the first few years, there were no awards given but as it started to grow, the members decided to have awards for the discussions and debates that would take place and they also elected a President of the Music Academy who would lead and manage the growing organisation. 

Later,  the coveted award of Sangeetha Kalanidhi came into being. The person awarded this prestigious title is a senior musician and a leader who is thoroughly skilled in performance as well as highly knowledgeable in academics and theory. 

So, friends, this is how our Margazhi festival and Sabha culture have taken shape over the years into how we know them today.

5 thoughts to “Chennai Music Culture”

  1. Feeling happy indeed to listen to the upbringing of the carnatic music child in the land of Madras. It creates more interest when it is narrated by the more senior artist none other than the popular Smt.Aruna Sairam. It is always sweet to hear how most of those great musicians settled around Tanjore and Tirunelveli in those days, and created the platform for others to sing. Mind , in those days the technology was totally absent, moving to places difficult?, and probably these factors would have made Madras, as Carnatic music Center for learning. Glad along with music, the dance art form also grown , and the Kalakshetra, founded by Rukmanidevi Arundale, acts as the cultural hub of Chennai. It is also highly interesting to hear the growth of music Academy since 1927, and the most promising award instituted namely Sangitha kalamani in the initial years. Today apart from Chennai, students gets their musical tuition through online , and many from Tamilnadu have run online music classes from US, Canada, and Europe. The most satisfying aspect of the growth of Carnatic music today is the encouragement from parents , and the increasing desire for learning from Children.

  2. I can say Tamilnadu and Chennai are known internationally not only because of Car manufacturing facility but also because of our annual Marghazhi music festival and the ever increasing number of youngsters learning as well as becoming classical singers . It is more correct to say it is in their blood. In fact the City developed in the past few decades taking the cultural atmosphere provided by Music and dance industry.

  3. feeling happy indeed to listen to the upbringing of the Carnatic music child in the land of Madras.it creates more interestwhen it is narrated by the musical genius, none other than the ever green artist Smt. Aruna Sairam. It is always sweet to hear how most of those great musicians of yester years settled around Kumbakonam, Tanjore and Tirunelveli, did that extraordinary monumental composing of Carnatic music, which is truly divine in nature. Thank God , they moved to a city of Madras one by one and established art in places like George Town, Mylapore, and Triplicane. We must also thank the Congress party in 1927 for arranging a carnatic music concert after its meeting session. Since then The Madras Music Academy came in tobeing and arranged staging carnatic music under its auspicious. Who can forget the Sangith kalanidhi awarded to musicians annualy to individual musicians recognising their contribution to this art form, as a singer and also in creating the new talents amongst the learners of music. Even a layman understands how difficult it is to learn Carnatic music and only after learning for several, years under a Guru,, it is possible to take the stage.. Now ofcourse technological support is there for enterants unlike our senior vidhwans as they were confined to villages and Agriculture was the main occupation for many. So to say, it was not possible for those musicians to be rich. As Smt. Aruna Sairam was mentioning, The Marghazhi Utsavam was instrumental in promting Carnatic music, and given Chennai the pride of place for classical music, and Bharatha natyam. The passion for music has crossed all boundaries especially with the present day youngsters of both sex.

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