Written by Eesha Srinivasan
Walking past a sabha, or grand auditorium, in Chennai during the month of Margazhi, you can see long lines of people in exquisite clothing and intricate jewelry. Look into the cafeteria, and you’ll see people relishing delicious food after watching performances of singing and dancing. From budding artists to masters of their craft, the celebrations rage on from early morning to late at night in glamorous back-to-back performances. Audiences are treated to a feast for all senses in a show stopping month of celebration and art. Known as Margazhi Vizha, this celebration of music and dance typically occurs from mid-December to the first week of January, during the time known as ‘Margazhi maasam’ in Tamil.
The concept of Margazhi Vizha originated in the 1920s, when a group of musicians wanted to dedicate the Tamil month of Margazhi to music and prayer. In 1927, the idea was revisited with an All-India conference held in Chennai, led by former freedom fighter and leader of the Party of Congress, S. Satyamurti. Satyamurti wanted to have music performances as entertainment for attendees, which correlated with the public’s desire to have a music academy in Chennai. Using the proceeds from tickets to the concerts held during the All-India conference, the Music Academy was founded in Chennai the following year.
In 1929, the Music Academy began hosting music festivals during Margazhi maasam. Two years later, the Indian Fine Arts Society was created, leading to the founding of the Tamil Isai Sangam in 1942, both of which added to the multitude of organizations making up the Margazhi Vizha festivities started by the Music Academy. As the 1980s passed, many long-standing sabhas joined the festivities, and Margazhi Vizha became the pompous celebration it is today.
Even as this Margazhi Maasam is coming to an end, the celebrations in Chennai rage on, with a special tradition to celebrate the contributions Saint Thyagaraja, a huge devotee of Rama, who composed many kritis about him, made to music and dance.
Guru 'Kalashree' Sukanya Mahadevan with her advanced students
Performing at RK Swamy Hall on Dec 31, 2019 at the Chennai Dance and Music Festival
For us in the United States, Shishya School of Performing Arts will continue its second year of online Margazhi Vizha performances showcasing the talent of our Shishya community. We hope you will join us in the festivities!
In the meantime, here is a small snippet of the above performance....
The anecdotes of Mrs. Usha Venkataramani