Ciao Winter, Ciao Music…

The tides of the essence of Carnatic music flowing into the soul is an enthralling experience. If a single concert proffers this to its listeners, can we imagine what an entire season of Carnatic music does? Yes, The Margazhi Music Season is the answer.

Poster released by the online journal Sangeethamrutham for the Margazhi Festival 2013

Every December, Chennai observes this music festival, also called the Madras music season, where Carnatic artisans around the globe showcase their talents. Over five hundred institutions or sabhas put up over two thousand music concerts in the city. Slowly and steadily, Margazhi’s association with Madras, now Chennai, has emerged into something intrinsic; the two expound on each other. For Chennai, Margazhi has become an identity and is written into its genes. No other city observes the December music season the way Madras does. It is a lot more than a few sabhas presenting amazing singers. Indeed, it is a wholesome cultural and social experience. It is a marquee event, one that has people not just from the city, but from across the world, waiting in contemplation, and working for months preparatory to the festival. The kutcheris or the Carnatic concerts performed by the prodigies of the classical music spans for six to nine weeks. 


Akkarai sisters singing a kutcheri at Margazhi music festival

The associated Bharathanatyam dance festival gives it the name Margazhi festival of Dance and Music that in turn adds a mystical divinity to the city of Chennai. The Music Season has strengthened over the years and is now one of the largest cultural events in the world. The performances take place in the evenings and nights and comprise all classes of Carnatic compositions and improvisations. The festival holds great significance, as Carnatic music is acknowledged as the best medium to pay homage to the Gods. All this makes the music carnival an amalgam of both melody and divinity. The festival opens with as much as pomp, always more than expected. Every year they organize around 3800 concerts at nearly 90 venues and a large crowd of 50000 rasikas (audiences) appreciate the concerts. What makes Margazhi more than just an event is how the entire town finds this fiesta. There is a perfect smorgasbord of content beyond the forms. Besides the Bharathanatyam season, there are also many other festivals such as the now admired Urur Olcott Kuppam festival, drama plays and luscious food options. The salubrious climate of the city is a perk. But the season as we know it today remained small for a long period. Just the most famous of all the sabhas, the Indian Fine Arts, The Music Academy, and Tamil Isai Sangam controlled the Margazhi. Till the 1980s, most sabhas were only allowed a small space in the concerts. But performances seemed an interesting option during the season since the educational institutions and offices were closed, and soon, others followed in. And about the past three decennials, the NRIs too started joining in. It has been three years since Chennai got the United Nations’ Creative City tag and the Margazhi season was an important reason.


Dancer Alarmel Valli performing Bharathanatyam at Margazhi music and dance festival, Chennai

Fascinated by the music and the singers, many rasikas don’t mind travelling long distances to come to the show. Most of the people enjoy two concerts minimum. Acoustics in the venue have advanced throughout the years. The artists’ fantastic performances make the audience come back in droves every year. The musical demonstrations conducted by the sabhas help the rasikas to appreciate fine arts better. The demonstrations are mostly organized in the morning, where enormous crowds gather to experience it. They say that nothing but live concerts give them more happiness and enjoyment than the virtual or digital concerts they attend. 

Carnatic music has always been in the heart of South Indians since the time unknown. When the eminent classical singer and composer, Semmangudi Srinivasa Iyer was the head of the Swathi Thirunal Music College, Thiruvananthapuram, according to his suggestions Carnatic music was taught in the schools as a subject. Some schools in Kerala continue this tradition. According to the sabha members, a revival of this tradition would help future generations to have a better bond with the language and musical culture. Since the NRIs are frequent visitors of the Margazhi, the Sabha members had implemented a plan of including the talented NRI artists in the concerts. They gave a platform for 500 ambitious NRI Carnatic singers over the last 25 years. Mesmerized by the concerts, many foreign youngsters have stayed back in Chennai to start their journey in Carnatic music. The talented artists who have been recognized through their concerts at Margazhi received invitations from different parts of the globe to manifest their extraordinary skills to the world. To aggrandize the fame of the season, the sabha members have come up with ‘Mudhra Yatra’ a photo exhibition of 25 years of the journey of the Margazhi festival. Last year, they released 30 documentaries under the banner of Mudhra Yatra.


Rasikas (audience) enjoying a Carnatic kutcheri at Margazhi   

The season also sees a distinctive rasika, one who likes to sate his taste buds and if possible to take in a song or two. Many sabhas have commissaries, and the fare at the canteens is a hot topic throughout any conversation about the season. Most of the concerts are also streamed online. Rasikas who aren’t able to attend the live sessions make use of this opportunity. Some concerts are also streamed live on social media channels.

Every year, a number of people fly into Chennai to join the Margazhi. But this year, with the concern of the pandemic still at large, they are conducting the concerts online. Instead of a month-long celebration of music, the December music festival is cut short to a 14 days program, and that is to be streamed virtually. The season of music and dance is a culture that has been going on without a pause for 100 years.

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Poster released by the e-paper DT-NEXT in 2018   

Carnatic Music, one of the most classical art forms in the universe, came to existence around the latter half of the 14th century. Being the traditional & popular form of music in south India, most of the south Indians are trained and could sing Carnatic music. During the period of the rise of Tamil and Malayalam music industry, the ragas of Carnatic music were adopted in composing the songs. Worshipping this classical art form for south Indians is nothing but pure divinity. The Carnatic music and kutcheris have taken the name of South India to the entire universe, enhancing the pride of Dravidians, their culture, tradition, mantra and language.

KK Akshaya

S.Y B.Sc. Economics


  1. The official website of Music Academy Madras
  2. The Chennai December Season (2020) official website
  3. Music Festival – The Indian Express
  4. The Hindu 

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