Mylapore Festival in 2020, a cultural melange
A lane filled with intricate designs, dancers matching steps in sync, and music reverberating across the area — every bit of Mylapore Festival is a celebration.
CHENNAI: Colourful cloth lanterns lead the way to where a silhouette of the brightly lit Kapaleeswarar Temple against the cloudless night sky sets the perfect background for an evening of music and dance. The night is pleasantly cold, the likes of which are quite rare in Chennai, making it all the more special as eager hands reach for the man with little cones of masala popcorn and wait patiently as the dancers prep for their performances.
The atmosphere is bright and culturally steeped — something that the Mylapore Festival has been able to achieve year after year. “We have been coming to the Mylapore Festival every year, and it’s become a tradition for us. It’s wonderful to see such young people take to the stage with such professionalism and composure. My favourite bits of the festival is the food and dance, so now that I’ve had my fill at the food stalls, I can’t wait to see the dance recitals,” says Anuradha Subramanian, one in the audience, just as the first set of dancers walk on to the stage.
The Festival line-up for Friday’s dance bonanza is diverse and high on energy. And as the dancers from Telengana’s Indira Nruthya Academy take to the stage, that becomes quite apparent.
Delivering a series of folk dances that are usually performed during the native floral festival of Bathukamma, even a few technical snags don’t take away from the vibrancy of the experience. A rendition of the traditional dance form of Kuchipudi follows and is presented by the students of the city’s own Saila Sudha Dance Academy, under guru Sailaja.
A breathless silence falls over the crowd as the six dancers, with flawless make-up and costumes, perform with immaculate coordination and poise. They dance to three songs and with each, the intricacy of each of their movements gets elevated.
“This is our first time performing at the Mylapore Festival and what makes it different from all our other shows, is that when you’re up on stage, you can see the variety of people watching the performance. We had a wonderful time,” says Aarthi Vasudevan, one of the dancers.
The last performance of the night — a Bharatanatyam dance-drama, generates a palpable sense of excitement. Dancing to Param were the dancers of the Krishanjali Academy, Chennai, and their guru, V Bala Gurunathan. For him, it was his third time performing at the festival, and the audiences are the reason he keeps coming back year after year. “We are, of course, dancing in front of the Kapaleeswarar Temple, and through our performance, we pay an ode to Lord Shiva and his five Tandavas. It’s a great honour to do so,” he says.
As the dance performances wrap up and the crowd slowly starts drifting away, some remain in their seats, soaking in the joy of the event. “I don’t live in Chennai anymore, but whenever I’m in town, I make sure to attend the festival. The colours, the energy and the enthusiasm of it all, is something that reminds of home now and again,” says Uma Suresh, a Bharatanatyam teacher herself, who now lives in San Diego.
On Saturday, the Mylapore Festival’s venue at North Mada Street donned a slightly different look — that of a larger-than-life canvas. Around 130 participants in Kanchivaram silks and nine-yard saris took pinches of rice flour and decked the streets with kolams of varied designs. As blankets of kolams adorned the streets, joyous notes of the nadaswaram by artistes performing outside the temple soothed our ears.
Sauntering through the different pockets of the venue opens one to how the festival is no more a local affair. Some of the sights are fulfilling — tourists try to capture the essence of the festival in their DSLRs, take alluring videos in their GoPros for a possible Vlog and interact with the locals.
Nancy, a traveller from the US who is currently touring south India says, “We have something similar to the kolams in the US — the designed stickers we place on the ground — but I cannot compare the two at all. Being part of the festival has been a learning experience. I will be going back with a lot of knowledge about food, culture, and people here.” And if nothing else, the Mylapore Festival is a timely reminder of who we are as a city and as one community.
The MD of Sundaram Finance, Srinivasaraghavan, whose company is sponsoring the festival, says, “Through this festival we want to recreate public spaces. There is no commercial intent. Everyone should just come and have fun here.”