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Vol. XXVII No. 18, January 1-15, 2018

The Margazhi music blend


There is something ineffable about the month of Margazhi. The great poetess Andal refers to Margazhi as a month devoted to spiritual pursuits. Lyricist nonpareil Kannadasan describes the heroine as the Marghazhi amongst months in one of his evergreen songs! It straddles the mid-December and mid-January period, when there is a precious nip in the air in a city better known for its ‘hot, hotter, hottest’ climate!

How does the Margazhi Magic work in Madras? A kind of spiritual catharsis sets in, in what is known in the native almanac as the month of Dhanur. The orthodox home is up at 4 am; rangoli (kolam) designs using rice flour are drawn in front of the main entrance, nagaswaram music is played on the radio or any other device which these days includes the smart-phone, I-pad and I-pod with the boom box placed at any random spot in the house! After coffee and Suprabhatham, the visit to the neighbourhood temple is mandatory, where the Oduvar beckons the neighbourhood to join in the morning darshan and prayers. The ancient Tamil scriptures that include Thiruppavai, Thiruvembavai, Tirupugazh etc., cast an ethereal spell over the temple precincts even as the faithful shrouded in moth-eaten woolen shawls, ear-muffs and stoles shuffle across in a blur of movement in the inky pre-dawn darkness.

Hark! the gentle clang of cymbals (jalra) and the beats of the dholak or mridangam from across the Mada Street (or the streets that skirt any temple) announce the approaching footsteps of a bhajan group singing the Praise of the Almighty in the form of Abhang (devotional compositions of the Warkari saints of Maharashtra like Jnaneswar, Namdev, Tukaram), Namasamkirtanam (devotional) and Dasar-nama (songs from Purnandara Das and his parampara.) The group or groups gather momentum as the day breaks while the good samaritans from the homes lining the streets stand with steaming cups of coffee to warm the cockles of the singers’ hearts, so to speak.

As the yellow disc of the Sun comes into full view after playing hide and seek with the fog and cloud, the daily pilgrims wend their way to some of the sabha-s that will be beaming out full-throated bhajans-s from highly acclaimed groups. It will not be too long before a hypnotic spell causes many of the devotees to start clapping their hands and gradually begin to dance in a trance.

The music component of the ‘Season’ on which the idée fixe rests, takes over around 8 am with lec-dems at a couple of high-end sabha-s that amply demonstrate the science and art of this great tradition. From 10 am till the end of the day even the cobble-stones on every street would seem to reverberate with music as the innumerable sabha-s bend over backwards to run a tight schedule of concerts by the neophyte, the over-the-hill veterans and the highly popular ones (prime time of the evening) regardless of how thin or good is the audience! Temporarily withering under the overkill of music, the sabha-hoppers will soon bestir themselves with a strong dose of ‘degree’ coffee and make a beeline to yet another auditorium for a different brand of music.

Just as the audience is indulging in a frenzy of sabha hopping, the musicians too keep up their schedule with the large number of sabha-s dotting almost every other corner of the city, their vocal chords showing strains of a relentless beating!

Does the music pall? To prevent any form of cloying, eateries and canteens are placed strategically outside the auditoria to entertain the palate too! Time for all votaries of Carnatic Music to dig into a huge variety of snacks made as deliciously as at home (as they announce at every opportunity in the Press and on social media).

A lot of buzz and excitement is added to the scenario with the huge influx of NRIs who make it their Annual Yatra, visit home and temple and renew contact with their roots in their ‘native place’. Their presence certainly adds an impetus to the local economy in terms of sales of a whole range of items from dresses for Bharata Natyam back home in the Big Apple to joss sticks and puja material, not to mention enough snacks from Grand Snacks, Suswad etc., to last a few months! Kurtas from Fab India, silks from Kancheepuram and arty items from Arts and Craft Expositions compete for the greenbacks.

The annual visit, combined with Christmas holidays, also gives an opportunity for the brood of the NRIs to pick up extra tips personally from the gurus who have been teaching them Carnatic Music on Skype. Of course, further progress is made when the gurus follow them to Yankeeland for the Cleveland festival and other concerts planned from the East to Bayside!

This magic does not last an eternity. It soon fades out; the city’s problems with water and power will soon surface and cry for attention. The heat will return with renewed vigour, but not before Santa Claus makes his annual visit on his sledge and offers goodies to wide-eyed children in their make-believe world. The churches flaunt quaint cribs and chime merrily for Christmas and New Year. Plum cakes and wine will take over the palate and canticles and carols will soothe the “fevered brow” as night falls and cools the atmosphere. The Star of David will shine brightly from many a household for at least a fortnight, assuring humanity that despite niggling problems the sweet tenor of Life will hold good forever.

V. Kalidas

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