Chicago Tyagaraja Utsavam (a non-profit organization) celebrated its 36th annual music festival during the Memorial Day weekend (May 26 – 28, 2012).
The Utsavam was dedicated to the memory of Saint Tyagaraja. The composer-saint’s life-work and spiritual message are behind the mission of CTU, which is to pass on the legacy of our rich traditions to the next generation.
This year, CTU broadened the cultural diversity of its presentations to embrace more children and families in to the fold. The community has been generous with its heartening response. Many more Illinois based CTU students are scaling new heights of competence, winning (US) national level contests.
Yet other students who have gone off to college return to CTU events to re-live – even if only for a day – a chapter of their childhood years.
CTU’s 2011 programs were telecast in the Tamil Network Jaya TV on six consecutive Sundays from March 25, 2012. This Utsavam is among the largest celebrations of its kind outside India.
The three day festival offered some 16 programs including six Carnatic music concerts by celebrity artistes, a music competition for youth and children and more. The combined total audience for all the programs was about 5400.
The functions started everyday at 8:00 am and went on till 11:30 pm, offering about 36 hours of programming. Spread out during the three days, about 520 amateurs – the majority of whom were youth and children – individually or in groups performed Tyagaraja’s Kritis for about 17 hours.
Group performances included Pancharatna Kritis, Utsava Sampradaya Kritisand Divya Nama Sankeertanas, as well as the Sahasranama. On a previous date, a group of CTU children performed the Hanuman Chalisa following the version popularized by Smt. M. S. Subbulakshmi.
The Utsavam started on Saturday May 26th with Sri Vishnu Sahasranama Stotram and as per tradition, and was followed by the KritiChethulaara played on instruments. This was followed by Pancharatna Kritis which had almost a hundred performers sitting on the floor as they do in Tiruvaiyaru, India. The orchestral accompaniments included 6 violins, 4 veenas, 4 mridangams, a flute and a saxophone.
This was followed by Homage to Tyagaraja by amateurs – mostly children. The last event of the day was a vocal concert by Dr. Pantula Rama.
Sunday, May 27th started with Utsava Sampradaya Kritis andKolaattam to Tyagaraja’s Kritis- all done by children’s groups. In Kolaattamthe participants wearing traditional attire dance, striking decorative sticks against one another in a rhythmic pattern to match the music. Saint Tyagaraja’s portrait kept on a decorated chariot was then taken in a procession, accompanied by Chendai drums played by Chicago Kalakshetra Group.
Then there was a dance by "CTU moms" clad in Kerala-style attire to the song Cheti Mandaaram (Andanda Bhairavi) to the Chendai beats. TheChendai drum, which is native to Kerala, is renowned for its thunderous sound.
A group of about 80 children then performed the Divyanama Sankeertanas. The 9th Annual Music Competition was next, in which 35 students hailing from 12 US States participated. Cash prizes of $250, $150 and $100 were awarded for the 1st, 2nd and 3rd places, in several categories. After an interlude of more students performing Kritis, there were two major events.
The first was a lecture demonstration by Madurai R. Sundar (vocal) followed by a duet by Kumaresh (violin) and (his wife) Jayanthi (veena).
There were three concerts on Monday, May 28th as follows: Subhan Kasim and Subhan Babu (nadaswaram duet), Saketaraman (vocal) and Ranjani and Gayathri (vocal duet).
Over 950 people enjoyed an elaborate South Indian vegetarian feast cooked by 113 local families on Day-1, which many consider a ritual offering to the Saint. Lunch, dinner and snacks were served (included in the admission) during the three days so that the attendees did not have to leave the premises for food.
As the songs were being performed on stage, their meanings were projected on a large screen; in all, 150 different Kritis were performed. All children were photographed and their performances video recorded.
Each child received a token gift and a certificate. CTU’s annual magazineTyagaraja Vijayam bearing articles by experts and local enthusiasts was released. CTU also released Scribbles, which is a children’s magazine with Tyagaraja compositions and Sri Vishnu Sahasranama Stotram and Hanuman Chalisa verses, all handwritten by children in various Indian language scripts.
The entire program was held at the Hindu Temple of Greater Chicago,Lemont, Illinois. The admission prices were kept low thanks to sponsorship by Nagamani and Vidhyasagar family and contributions from Patrons ($1000 and above), and Annadhatas ($500). Many corporate sponsors provided matching contributions.
The Utsavam was supported in part by a grant from the Illinois Arts Council, a State Agency. You can visit www.ChicagoTyagarajaUtsavam.org for more details.
See Photo gallery of this event