Monday, 5 March 2012

Carnatic Music Season starts in North America

By Raja Ramanathan

Pushya bahula panchami, the day of Tyagaraja’s samadhi, occurs early in January. (I have always been struck by the way some of our saints are remembered and revered on the day they move on from this world, hopefully, to bigger and better things.) January is a time when the area north of the 49th Parallel North (the Canada – US border for a major part) is bound in snow and the temperatures are well into the minus regions.

While several individuals have private Tyagaraja aradhana functions in their homes on the appointed day in January, the ‘official’ celebration has to wait till the mercury has started climbing above the freezing mark.

Toronto hosts the Tyagaraja Aradhana in March a week or so before the grand conclave at Cleveland, Ohio. For me, the Toronto function marks the start of the Music Season in North America. The music season in Chennai starts in December these days and extends to February, and, by the time spring comes around, the musicians are ready to warm up North America with their music. Around Easter, we are getting into the swing of listening to Carnatic music in the school halls and auditoriums of North America. That generally continues through the spring and into early fall. As the leaves turn to red and golden hues in North America, the musicians have started winging their way home to Chennai for the Music Season… and, away from the cold.

About twenty years ago when I came to Canada, the Toronto Tyagaraja Festival was being held at the York University. Canada was still predominantly ‘white’ and I have always wondered what the average white Canadian thought, in those days, when the sight was not so common, of Tam-brahm women dressed in their marvellously coloured saris, wearing their jewellery, walking across the parking lot and through the corridors of York University to the Curtis Lecture Halls, where the festival was generally held. Did they praise Pierre Trudeau for his multi culturalism in changing Canada’s immigration policies, or, did they mutter ‘There goes the neighbourhood’?

The men, I notice, have been less venturesome in their attire. While I do see more kurtas worn over jeans these days, I rarely see a full blown jibba-veshti-angavastaram. Come on, guys!

In recent years, the Tyagaraja festival has shifted to the premises of the beautiful Sri Sarada Devi temple, built by the Sringeri Vidya Bharati Foundation. So, attending a concert also serves the purpose of catching up with your religious commitments. Lovely carvings of incidents from Adi Sankaracharya’s life adorn the entrance to this temple complex and the brief inscriptions, in English, below the carvings, tell the story.

No occasion where Tam-brahms gather is complete without food, witness how much time is spent during ‘tanis’ in the cafeteria at the Music Academy. The first time I attended Cleveland, I was somewhat miffed that I had to start the day with a corn flakes breakfast at the Holiday Inn, instead of a nice ‘neyy roast.’ I haven’t been to Cleveland in years now. Things may have changed. The Toronto festival has a grand lunch and snacks available, during the festival. All this is so seamlessly coordinated by the tireless volunteers of the Bharati Kala Manram.

The Toronto Tyagaraja festival starts with Pancharatna singing, and, I understand the practice sessions for this year’s Toronto festival, which is the 40th, will be starting soon. (To my family, no fears, I will not be allowed to practise my brand of singing anywhere near the function. So fret not.) The festival which will take place on the weekend of March 30, 2012 to April 1, 2012, will include vocal performances by OS Thyagarajan and Unnikrishnan and a laya vinyasa concert by Toronto’s home MVP (Most Valuable Player, from baseball lingo) Sangita Kalanidhi Trichy Sankaran. Also, there will be a competition for local talent. I have always been impressed by the good natured competition among our younger generation, many of whom may have spent only their holidays in India.

This year has not been a particularly harsh winter in Canada. So, the really heavy parkas never came out in all their glory. Nevertheless they were on standby. As we put them away and switch to light sweaters, the strains of Jagadanandakaraka are making their way across the Niagara Falls as the North American Carnatic Music Season, starts off in a few weeks…


  1. In North America, 'official' Thyagaraja Aradhana celebrations begin the weekend of Pushya Bahula Panchami in January every year at the Sri Siva Vishnu Temple of Washington DC. It is probaably the only official celebration of Aradhana in the North America that occurs the same time as in tiruvaiyaru. It includes 'Unjavruthi', Rama and Thyagaraja Pooja, Pacharatnam recital.

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