Margazhi’s specialties lie with the way the different elements of art are woven together. With bajanais around temples in the early misty mornings, colourful kolams on the streets, music, dance and a lot of cooking — the Tamil month margazhi is sacred and creates a lot of buzz in the city. The changing times might have had their effects on the lifestyle of Chennaiites, but nothing stops them from recollecting the traditions and living the ancestors’ way of a healthy and joyful living.
Artistes, who are bringing contemporary twists to the age old art forms such as, Carnatic music, Bharatanatyam, cooking and painting, share about what they are introducing this season and what Margazhi means to them.
Ragas and swaras
Carnatic musician and playback singer Mahathi is a popular face in the music industry. She has been performing Carnatic concerts since the age of 10 and has performed at almost all margazhi season concerts for a long time now. “Margazhi is like an annual exam for the musicians. No matter how many concerts we perform in, throughout the year; when it comes to Margazhi, we rehearse and research a lot more!” she begins.
Stating that the number of sabhas have gone up in multitude, she adds, “Previously there used to be about four to five. Now there’s a sabha within every five kilometer range.” Welcoming the change of youngsters opting to learn more about Carnatic music, Mahathi claims, “Now many people in the age group of 20 to 30 have started participating in more Carnatic music concerts. I’m happy that the times are changing for the better.”
Stating that innovation is the key, the singer shares that keeping the ragas, thalas and pallavis exciting is important to keep the concert lively. Her concert in collaboration with Anil Srinivasan and Sudha Raja titled Azhagiya Thamizhe, will be something to look forward to. “About 100 music students will be performing on stage and it will be a tribute to Balamurali Krishna sir,” she concludes.
Natya that talks history
Donning multiple roles as a doctor, a dancer and a mother, Dr Srinidhi Chidambaram has been a regular Bharatanatyam performer in all popular stages during the Margazhi season. “December has a lot of events happening together. During the days of my school and college, I always had exams clashing with my performances and I had to work harder to excel in both; now my daughter’s exams clash (laughs),” begins Srinidhi.
Talking about the challenges of performing in the recent times for the Margazhi season, Srinidhi shares, “Now that the number of sabhas have gone up, it’s a challenge for the performers to get a full-house like before. It’s very needed to keep it interesting and innovative.”
With the rise in appreciation for culture among youngsters and the expat crowd, a facet of Margazhi that receives a lot more crowd than before are the lectures and conferences. Srinidhi, who is also organising a dance-based conference, shares, “This time, we’re focusing on Sringaram. It is an element of dance that shows romantic and erotic feelings combined; but in Bharatanatyam, we show it in a subtle and appreciable format, which is poetic — it is a great challenge.” The dancer will also be performing a solo dance, which will have messages of current scenarios like intolerance and religious traditions.
OF perception and strokes
To celebrate the culture of margazhi, Shalini Biswajit, the founder of Forum Art Gallery, has set-up a unique painting exhibition with about 25 religious paintings and food installations. “This month means a lot to Chennai residents as the buzz is so enjoyable. At the onset of the month, the temples are full of activity — there’s music, dance and a lot of food to try out! Andal from the Hindu mythology has sung a lot of songs in appreciation of Lord Vishnu and she is the highlight of the whole month. Our exhibition will also have a lot of focus on her,” shares Shalini.
Keeping Andal as the protagonist, Shalini has set-up the exhibition with traditional and contemporary depictions of the former. Along with her, popular artists like AV Ilango, Biswajit Balasubramiam, Lakshmi Srinath, Chakra Morkonda and more have painted specifically for this exhibition in margazhi.
“Biswajith is an artist, whose paintings will have a humourous take on the activity of Chennai around the margazhi season. Every element of the exhibition will remind the attendee of the tradition of the month. And visual language is the best way to reach out to the public about the history, mythology and tales!” mentions Shalini.
The forgotten recipes
A singer, culinary expert and a cook, Rakesh Ragunathan’s Puliogare Travels is a popular blog which all foodies in the city read up. For the margazhi month, he is hosting Food Culture Collective, which has wokshops, film screenings and live cooking demonstrations of some of the margazhi specials, forgotten over time. “Food is something that has come in poetic verses since the 6th century. We haven’t documented most of the amazing and healthy recipes that our ancestors ate. In that attempt to look back at the history, I found some recipes that are perfect for this month and I’ll be sharing them in the collective.”
The collective will have Rakesh in conversation with Padma Bushan-winner Sudha Ragunathan, a documentary screening of Jeong Kwan and her culinary experiences with a Buddhist monk, a cookery workshop about the prasadams offered in significant temples and a live demonstration in Forum Art Gallery.
“Vangaara dosa from Aazhwar Thirunagar, amritha kalasam from Thirukkannamangai and kalkandu chakkara pongal from Chidambaram Natarajar temple are the most loved prasadams and I’ll be teaching these recipes that I learnt from the priests,” adds Rakesh, also asserting that culture and food are inseparable!