For 25 years now, the 'Aradhana Committee' that works out from Cleveland, U.S.A., has been organising the St. Thyagaraja Music Festival, which has grown to be one of the largest Indian classical music festivals in North America. And this time around too, the fest held between 30 March and 7 April drew a huge response from rasikas all over the U.S.
The concerts were held at the various auditoriums of the Cleveland State University, Siva Vishnu temple of Greater Cleveland and the Cleveland Museum of Art. Lalit Mansingh, Ambassador of India to the U.S., was the chief guest for the inaugural. The silver anniversary celebration was sponsored by Covansys India.
One of the organisers, V.V. Sundaram who plays an active role in the aradhana spoke to Aruna. S of KutcheriBuzz on what the fest offered this year.
"What makes this fest unique is that it celebrates a community spirit and offers a lot of fun to those who organise and participate in it. Every year it has been a huge success and this year, a couple of things made it very exciting.
Firstly, the response was very good. We had about 130 entries for the music competitions and about 180 entries for individual singing of the Thyagaraja Aradhana, for which the slots are strictly offered on a 'first come first serve basis'. We had about 3000 people attending the inaugural and there was a good representation. We had people from Alaska, California, Houston, Boston, Toronto, Montreal, Ottawa and other cities.
One of the senior most singers from India, T. Muktha, who is 87 years old visited the U.S. for the first time and we had about 1700 people attending her concert.
She was presented the title of 'Sangita Ratnakara'. At this age, she sings without notes and people stayed till the end of the concert unlike Madras, where we see people taking a trip to the canteen during the thani avarthanam!
Secondly, Flute Ramani played with 25 of his disciples and we had a big surprise for him. He has been associated with us for the last 15 years and plays at our fest every year, even if it means getting his own plane tickets. We presented him the 'Seva Rathna' award and the 'big surprise' was a golden flute weighing about 400 gms! This was specially designed and made at Thanga Maligai, Madras and had filigree work done on it. It was a very special and emotional moment for Ramani...
For the first time, we presented the 'Nrithya Ratnakara' award, which went to Vyjayanthimala Bali and we had an unbelievable crowd for her performance, which was the only ticketed show.
The other awardees were M.V. Raman from New Delhi, who received 'Kala Seva Mani' and Sujatha Vijayaraghavan from Madras who received the award of 'Nrithya Seva Mani'.
An interesting feature was also the lec-dems in the mornings which had a lively interaction between the musicians and the audience.
And there were some special sidelights too. R.K. Srikantan came on a wheel chair and once he started his concert, it just took off. Ravikiran sang a 'Pallavi' with 101 ragas and Trichur Ramachandran had a huge audience. T. N. Seshagopalan who thought that people might fly out, his being the last slot of the entire Aradhana, sang for a full house. Most of the artists attended the kutcheris of the other artistes, which was a big boost for those on stage.
The fest is a highly community oriented event, unlike the formal 'sabha kutcheris' in Madras. Over 200 families cooked food on the inaugural day, when breakfast, lunch and dinner was served free. We had the typical south Indian idlies, sambar, chutneys, avial, rasam et al and sweets were brought from various other places.
This year we had about 120 volunteers from all over the U. S., who helped us out. There's so much of work in a big fest as this one - driving the artistes, stage management, cooking, washing dishes, clearing the garbage, arranging local visits or just making coffee!
Off stage, the musicians have fun too. They stay in the same hotel and this means informal chats, practice, games, discussions on music or just a handshake with the rasikas! The fest gives an opportunity for camaraderie between musicians.
Circuit tours are organised for some and this time, Vasundhara Rajagopal, Sanjay Subrahmanyam, Ranjani and Gayathri tour about 25 cities over eight weeks."
Plans for next year
The Aradhana begins on 18 April next year and is being planned for ten days. The list of artistes will be finalised almost by this month end. Sundaram says that all those who participate at the aradhana are purists and the list has to be selective. He admits that there is a lot of pressure, be it from the artistes themselves, their relatives, friends or rasikas. "Our slots are sliced", says Sundaram. "For the limited 25 slots, we carefully plan to have a fair representation of vocalists, instrumentalists, regional participants, veterans and youngsters, besides the male/female representation."
The aradhana which had about 75 attendees at the basement of Richmond Heights Church, Cleveland, 25 years ago, now has over 3000 rasikas. From an one-day fest with two concerts, it has grown to a ten-day fest with 25 concerts. Sundaram adds, "It's not just the music, it offers a good chance for our people to turn out in their best pattu sarees and veshtis with their eligible daughters and sons!"
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Visit the Thyagaraja Music Fest's website: www.aradhana.org