Road to Cultural Sustainability: Chennai Sangamam
Is it a new dawn for revival of traditional art forms?Some years ago in my hometown Chennai, a city in Southern India, the area came alive with people circulating colourful flyers and brochures during the month of January, when the harvest festival Pongal is celebrated. Posters and advertisement boards lined the roads depicting artistes and musical instruments. Streets, parks and beaches were being set up with stages, lighting and chairs. Loads of people dressed in scintillating attires and holding unusual instruments arrived by the bus-load. It was all for something called “Chennai Sangamam,” a week long open air festival. The word “Sangamam” in Tamil means “confluence” and the “Chennai Sangamam” was a “confluence of traditional art forms.”
Bharatanatyam, Open Festival – 2011
It was a unique festival which was initiated to preserve and revive endangered art forms of heritage in the neighbouring regions focusing on folk-music, art, dance, literature, culture and food. More than 900 performers came alive on the streets, parks and beaches in the evenings and the urban dwellers got a taste of the traditional art forms.
Local urban-dwelling people were very excited about this event, because for many of them they had never had the chance to witness traditional art forms like Oyilattam, Villuppaattu, Thappaattam, Kalarippayitru, Poikkaal Kuthirai Aattam, Therukkoothu, Karagaattam, Chendai Melam, to name a few. Most of them, myself included, had only heard about these art forms from the elders in the neighbourhood and village acquaintances, but here this festival was bringing it right to our door-steps. Given today’s fast paced life, people don’t have the time to travel and witness all the age-old art forms amidst their busy schedules. Thereby, this effort by the Tamil Maiyyam- a non-profit organisation in association with Department of Tourism and Culture, Tamil Nadu made it possible for us to experience it in the urban settings. The open spaces were filled with performances from evening until midnight. And the people would go and sit on the grass or sand to enjoy the shows while savouring delicious foods..
Chennai Sangamam, 2010 – Kuravan Kuraththi Aattam, Mylapore
They got to taste mouth-watering delicacies from different parts of the region like Madurai Jil Jil Jigardhanda, Thirunelveli Irruttukadai Halwa, Srivilliputhur Palkova, Manapparai Murukku, Kovil Patti Kadalai Mittai and Madurai Prema Vilas Halwa.
Many stalls were set up selling accessories, bangles were particularly popular in all colours possibly imaginable. They were made of wood and cloth. Other stalls sold clothes, keychains, items made of ivory and shells, bags, wooden articles and so on.
Following the success of the Chennai Sangamam for the past five years, similar festivals were initiated in the towns of Erode, Tiruppur and Kanyakumari. All of these festivals strive to ensure the protection and revival of various art forms, and are hence paving the way for Cultural Sustainability in the urban setting.
Divya Rajeswari Swaminathan (swaminathan[at]vie.unu.edu)