Venue — Nageswara Rao Park, Mylapore. A group of four folk artistes from Nagercoil seated on the edge of the dais watching Chitraveena Ravikiran play Ragam Todi. During the tani avartanam (solo playing) between the mridangam and ganjira, the folk performers were nodding their heads and tapping their fingers in perfect rhythm to the complicated mathematical calculations of the percussionists.
The bursting of boundaries between social hierarchy, caste barriers and cultural taste occurred in that instant. No hoi polloi dissection of musical nuances during the canteen chatter that occurs in the regular sabha circuit. Surely percussion wizard Umayalpuram Sivaraman would never have heard a compliment like “Dhool Thatha!” from anyone but a simple fisherman when he played for a Sangamam event on Marina beach two years ago! The one responsible for this magical alchemy between classical, folk and the Chennai citizen is none other than our smart and artistic MP, Kanimozhi, who, along with Tamizh Maiyam’s Father Gasper Raj, have achieved what I never thought was possible.
Watching the riveting opening ceremony of the Chennai Sangamam, which brought the splendour of Tamizh folk forms along with Padayani and Velakali from Kerala in a 70-minute visual feast directed by Prasanna Ramaswamy, made me proud to belong to this soil that has been witness to so many seminal ideas in art and philosophy. Have we urban artistes who live in glamorous five star bubbles forgotten the native wisdom of our people and the innate power of music and dance to connect hearts? I certainly thought so and regretted that I was not fifteen years younger to dance up a storm for such an enthusiastic audience. Amidst the whistling and hooting in appreciation of actor Rohini’s solo theatrical effort Panchali, I watched happy faces gobbling a medley of snacks and two techies trying to stream Ravikiran’s concert to friends through their Blackberry’s.
The next day I was among another horde of excited Chennai-vasis at T Nagar to witness the stupendous street circus parade from France as part of the Bonjour India festival. With my three-year-old niece Ananti perched on my shoulder and my daughter Arya clutching my hand in the jostling crowd, our jaws dropped in wonder at the spectacle that passed by. Oh! My God, Was this even possible? Nine giraffes with gleaming collar necklaces, a snow clad opera singer and a portly clown dovetailed into the most amazing parade down Venkata Narayna Road. I caught a peek at their preparation before the parade began and saw the most heartwarming sight. One puppeteer was a new mother and was breast-feeding her infant perched inside the giant animal costume.
Carnatic music and Bharatanatyam has become associated with one community- The Brahmins. The Chennai Sangaman has dissolved such barriers to return the Tamizh heritage of performing arts back to the aam janta. It is now a coveted event for all the superstars of dance and music to be featured in this January event that is labeled THE OPEN FESTIVAL.
Forget 'phoren' tours. This is our cultural constituency… The real stage.