The Madras Music Season, alternatively known as Margazhi Festival of Dance and Music is a unique event dedicated to Carnatic music. Celebrated in the Tamil month of Margazhi which falls in December-January, the festival attracts talented artists & musicians from across the globe. Considered one of the largest music festivals in the world, the Madras Music Season has a versatility that will leave you spellbound.
The history of the festival goes back to 1927 when it was started to celebrate the first anniversary of the Madras Music Academy and to protest against British imperialism. The music festival served as a means to mobilise crowds for the freedom struggle using its socio-political repertoire. Over the years, the festival has evolved with the inclusion of several non-Carnatic dances and art forms.
Interestingly, historian V Sriram believes that the culture of celebrating and supporting arts via such festivals has been prevalent in the city since the 1850s. The performances at the festival are held by several organisations at venues called ‘Sabhas’ across the city. The number of sabhas has grown exponentially over the past several years. The sabhas can be anything from a rented small hall that can accommodate 75 people to a posh auditorium with a capacity of 300 people.
The concerts start in the morning and extend up to late evening. You can usually catch free concerts before 4pm, post which you will have to purchase a ticket. A few sabhas including Bharathi Vidya Bhavan offer all the concerts for free where you can witness performances by several prominent artists. Over the course of the entire music festival, close to 5,000 concerts are arranged with over 2,000 artists showcasing their talents.
The performances focus on the songs in South Indian languages such as Tamil, Kannada and Telugu. Both experienced and new artistes bring the arena alive by weaving their magic with traditional musical instruments such as Veena, Flute, Mridangam, Nagaswaram, Thavil, and Goottuvadyam. Notably, Carnatic music is a blend of melody and divinity as it is considered a means to pay homage to the Gods.
As a visitor, you will be faced with a tough task of choosing between the concerts you want to attend. With several shows taking place simultaneously across the city, you will have to let go some fantastic performances too. To help you narrow down your choices, we recommend not missing the musical performances of Bombay Jayashri, Vijay Siva, T.N. Krishnan, Sanjay Subrahmanyam, Ravikiran, and Seshampatti Sivalingam. Dance performances of Shanta and V.P. Dhananjayan Leela Samson, and Malavika Sarukkai also should not be missed.
Even though the Madras Music Season is an art festival, the food served in the sabha canteens and other food stalls are quite popular. You can relish the lip-smacking South-Indian delicacies such as Kuzhi Paniyaram, Podi Dosa, Adai, Keerai Vadai, and full meals. Be prepared to stand in long queues at the canteens and food-stalls before you can get your hands on the delicious food.
Visitors can get a season pass for the event, but they are usually sold out in within the first week. Passes for individual events are readily available at the venues. Reaching Chennai should not be difficult as it is well-connected with rest of India and several international cities. The Chennai International Airport at Meenampakkam handles both domestic and international air traffic in Chennai. You can also fly into nearby cities such as Bangalore and reach the venue via the easily available Bangalore to Chennai cabs.
You can reach Chennai via road using the state or private buses that ply at regular intervals. The road connectivity within the city is also quite developed with decent motorable roads. Since the concerts will take place across the city, it is recommended that you avail the services of cost-effective local cabs in Chennai. Considering the inflow of the crowd during the tenure, booking accommodation in advance is recommended.