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Vol. XXXII No. 19, January 16-31, 2023
Chennai Sangamam is back, after a gap of 11 years. By the time this issue of MM is in your hands, the event will have concluded and here is to its success. May it prosper and may the residents of Chennai once again have an opportunity to soak in all aspects of culture that the festival has on offer. The event is scheduled to be held across 16 locations of the city, which include stadiums, sports grounds, parks, beaches and fair venues. Over 600 folk artistes are expected to participate. In short, Chennai Sangamam is back, and how!
Which takes us back to the earlier editions – when for almost five years Sangamam was a fixture in the city’s social calendar for January. It had all the ingredients of a success – mass participation, open air venues, free events, and food festivals. It encouraged the social media generation to celebrate the wide spaces that the city had rather than remain cooped up in front of electronic means of entertainment. There was just one drawback in all of it – the event got too closely identified with one political party, namely the DMK. The promoter was Ms. Kanimozhi, daughter of the patriarch himself and it was interpreted as a DMK show. Which is why when the opposition swept to power, the ADMK-led Government promptly mothballed all plans for observing the Sangamam. Thereafter the event remained in cold storage, emerging only when the DMK was elected.
It is indeed a great pity when culture is given political colours. It hurts in every way – when the DMK lends too much of its muscle to such events, when the ADMK buries them for precisely the same reason, and when the party in power at the Centre and its representatives here use every platform to politicise culture. At its heart Chennai Sangamam was a festival to promote awareness of Tamil art but it was never allowed to remain that way by its promoters and opponents. The net result was that for eleven years, folk artistes did not get opportunities to showcase their skills on a city-wide stage and Chennai residents did not get to see our State’s vibrant culture. Eleven years is a long time in today’s world, and it can safely be said that a whole generation has been bypassed.
What is interesting is that the latest edition is back with its political slant intact. While everyone involved may deny it, this is the first aspect that greets the eye. Which means the opposition will boycott it and bide its time till it returns to power to stop the festival. It would have been far better if the organisation of the festival had been handed over to the Department of Art and Culture, with no politician either taking credit for it or standing in the frontline as promoter. That way, it would have become a part of the Government’s traditions and continued unimpeded no matter who was in power.
Better still would be to hand over the festival to an independent panel that will be charged with the responsibility for conducting it for a period of three years. The panel ought to be tasked with everything including sponsorships and managing the finances. The surplus earned could be used for spreading the Sangamam to other cities in Tamil Nadu. One of the reasons for the enduring tradition of the December Music Season is that it is conducted entirely by private organisations with no Government involvement. No matter that it promotes niche arts, it has demonstrated its long-term viability. The Sangamam ought to study these options if it wants to survive changes in political fortunes.