As we utter the words “Margazhi Maha Utsavam,” a plethora of vibrant images floods our minds engaging classical music concerts, captivating Bharatanatyam performances, enthralling dramas, the delectable fare at Sabhas, the artistry of early morning Kolams, the ethereal narratives spun by spiritual storytellers, and the awakening to the melodic resonance of temple bells. How often have we, the youth, engaged in spirited discussions about the Margazhi Maha Utsavam with our peers? While the currents of Western culture have subtly influenced our recent times, it’s imperative that we remain connected to our cultural roots.

In this article, let’s delve deeper into the cultural tapestry of Margazhi Maha Utsavam through the discerning eyes and melodic notes of the passionate singer, Saindhavi Prakash, as she unveils the enchanting magic of classical music during this festival.

Can you share your personal journey of discovering the magic of classical music, particularly during Margazhi Maha Utsavam?
In our typical Tambrahm home, classical music, featuring M S Subbulakshmi Amma and the Soolamangalam sisters, set the daily soundtrack from a young age. My singing journey began at five, though formal training started later. Margazhi brings memories of Kacheri performances and Sabha-hopping discussions with friends and co-singers. Conversations focused on which concert to attend, creating cherished childhood moments.

What sparked your interest in classical music, and how did Margazhi Maha Utsavam play a role in this discovery?
I started learning Carnatic classical music, and that got me interested in classical singers, musicians, and artists. Margazhi in Chennai isn’t just about singing; it’s a mix of singing, dance, and drama—a bunch of different things happening together. I love the Margazhi season; I look forward to it every year because it’s so lively and full of different kinds of art.

Were there specific performances or artists during Margazhi Maha Utsavam that left a lasting impression on you?
Numerous moments stand out; it’s hard to pick just one. I’ve been part of many performances on stage and in the audience. There were times when tears rolled down my eyes, moved by the sheer beauty of someone’s performance. It’s challenging to single out one incident because each musical experience has a unique way of touching the heart. I’m constantly in awe of the artists on stage, be it a singer or a musician.

How has classical music influenced your own singing style and musical preferences?
Being taught and raised in Carnatic classical music has been a foundation that greatly enriched my understanding of various music genres. This applies not only to Carnatic classical but also to Hindustani classical and Western classical. Having a formal training makes it easier to learn, understand, and appreciate different musical styles. When you grasp the basics of any particular music form, it enhances your enjoyment of it.

Having sung in the December season for many years, I eagerly anticipate it each year. The December season holds a special place in my heart, and my formal training has undoubtedly played a significant role in my musical journey and appreciation of diverse genres.

In what ways do you think Margazhi Maha Utsavam contributes to the broader appreciation of classical music among the younger generation?
For quite some time now, every vocalist or a musician or an artist is trying to do conceptual or thematic presentations during Margazhi Maha Utsavam season. I think it attracts all age groups and younger generation included, they also kind of understand what there’s an explanation or a narration that’s going on. And if it’s a thematic, there’s a different kind of presentation and a lot of information is also given. So I think likewise it, you know, attracts all kinds of generation in that matter.

How do you balance the traditional aspects of classical music with your own artistic expression and creativity?
Margazhi Maha Utsavam offers a unique musical liberty, akin to poetic liberties in literature. It allows artists the freedom to explore their own concepts and express creativity. When preparing for a thematic concert, I seek guidance from my teachers to strike a balance between maintaining tradition and conveying the theme effectively. The support of my Gurus, co-singers, and friends is invaluable in this process, enriching the overall musical experience.

How has your understanding of classical music evolved over the years, especially through your experiences during Margazhi Maha Utsavam?
Over the years, our learning has been immensely shaped by listening to legendary artists. Take, for example, Raga Kalyani—different artists explore it in their unique ways. While the basic structure remains the same, each artist infuses their distinctive style into it. This evolution and learning are particularly pronounced during the Margazhi Utsavam season, where you have the opportunity to listen to a multitude of artists in Chennai. The vast experience and learning gained during Margazhi Utsavam are unparalleled and enriching, offering insights and nuances that are hard to replicate elsewhere.

What advice would you give to other young singers who are exploring classical music, particularly during festive events like Margazhi Maha Utsavam?
For young enthusiasts pursuing classical music, I urge you to approach it with an open mind and immerse yourselves in as many concerts as possible. The learning that comes from just listening is invaluable. While practice and implementation are crucial, the initial step is to absorb the richness of various performances. Being in Chennai during the December season, the epicenter of Carnatic music and other forms provides an excellent opportunity. Attend as many concerts as you can, observe how each artist approaches their craft differently, and keep learning. Remember, learning is a continuous journey, and it’s essential to listen to a variety of artists, whether seniors or youngsters. This experience helps you understand your own progress, identify what works, and continually refine your musical understanding, making the Margazhi season an incredible source of learning.

Do share about your upcoming projects in Tamil cinema and a few of your favorite songs to listen to during this season.
I’ve had the joy of singing for some films with great composers like G V Prakash, Raghunanthan, Sam C S, Siddhu Kumar, and others. I’ve got a bunch of different songs lined up, and I’m eagerly waiting for them to be released.

Share a few suggestions on Sabha canteens in Chennai: where to go and what to eat during the season?
Names like Narada Gana Sabha, Parthasarathy Swami Sabha, and Music Academy bring back memories of Sabha canteen hopping, but it’s been a while since I’ve indulged in that delightful experience.