5 Carnatic Music Festivals That You Should Not Miss

5 Carnatic Music Festivals That You Should Not Miss
Sudha Raghunathan performing at a sabha, Photo Credit: Shutterstock

Immerse yourself in the world of divine and devotional music

Nikita Nikhil
May 02 , 2020
08 Min Read

South India is a land of rich cultural and musical heritage. It’s the diversity which sets them apart and music that brings them together. The harmonically-rich ragas and nuanced talas from this part of India are legendary. Carnatic music, layered with violins, flutes, gamakams and talams, is a timeless piece of art. We have prepared a list of five Carnatic music festivals which will transport you to another world. 

Chembai Sangeetholsavam

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Culminating in the Guruvayur Ekadasi, this festival is held as a dedication to Chembai Vaidyanatha Bhagavathar, an exceptionally talented Carnatic musician. According to local legend, Chembai was an ardent devotee of Krishna and used to conduct a music festival in the temple town where he would invite all interested folk to sing at the gathering. After Chembai’s demise, the small-scale event was taken over by the Guruvayur Devaswom board. Around 2,000-2,500 singers of all age groups participate in the festival held at the Melpathur Auditorium. Do not miss the group concert which marks the end of the festival. Held on the night of ekadasi, all performers come together to sing five favourite songs of Chembai, along with the ‘Panchratna Keerthis’ of the Carnatic world. The latter, a set of five songs written and formatted by musician Thyagaraja Bagavathar, is sung as a chorus by over 150 artists, and is sung over several hours. 

Where: Guruvayur, Chennai
When: November – December

Thiruvaiyaru Thyagaraja Aradhana

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In the Carnatic music world, you’ll come across various finely-calibrated compositions by Thyagaraja along with Muthuswamy Dikshidhar and Shyama Sastri. They are often referred to as the Trinity of Carnatic Music. Out of the three, it was Saint Thyagaraja who started creating compositions from the age of 13 and introduced various techniques into the world of Carnatic music. The Thiruvaiyaru Thyagaraja Aradhana Music Festival is an annual celebration to commemorate the existence of Thyagaraja. Sitting in front of the place where the saint was laid to rest, a group performance of the Thyagaraja-composed Pancha Rathna Keerthana sets the vibe of the place.

Where: Thiruvaiyaru, Tamil Nadu
When: January

Swathi Sangeethotsavam

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The Swathi Sangeethotsavam is a ten-day musical extravaganza held as a tribute to king Swathi Thirunal who was a music connoisseur with more than 400 compositions in Carnatic and Hindustani music. It is held in the beautiful Kuthiramalika Palace in Thiruvananthapuram. The concerts organised here are free and open to all. Renowned singers and musicians from all across the state participate in the fiesta, to pay homage tot he great composer, making it one of the finest music spectacles in Kerela.

Where: Thiruvananthapuram, Kerela
When: January 

Purandara Dasa Aradhana

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This festival takes place at the Vithala Temple at Hampi and is celebrated in the memory of the medieval poet and composer Purandara Dasaru who is also known as the ‘Grandfather of Carnatic music’. Many famed yesteryear musicians such as R.R. Keshavamurthy, Chintalapalli Ramachandra Rao, Swaramurthy V.N. Rao, Bellary Brothers, Anoor Suryanarayana, and H.R. Seetharama Shastry are known to have performed at this gala. A sight not to be missed is the synchronised tapping of the laps by both the musicians and the listeners, while singing highly structured ragas.  

Where: Hampi, Karnataka
When: January/February/March

Marghazi Kucheri Festival 

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This is one of the biggest local fests of Chennai. Held between mid-December and mid-January, the city's musical institutions (sabhas) resonate with Carnatic music. The line-up features A-list singers like Sudha Raghunathan, Bombay Jayashree, Priya Sisters, T M Krishna, Sanjay Subrahmanyan, Sikkil Gurucharan, Padma Subramanian, Shashank Subrahmanyan, Malladi Brothers, Roja Kannan as regulars. Also, the Marghazi isn’t just limited to music, the season also witnesses a plethora of other cultural performances like Nama Sangeerthanams, Harikathas, bhajans, drama recitals, theatre productions, Hindustani music, classical dance forms, and folk art forms

Where: Chennai, Tamil Nadu
When: Mid-December to mid-January

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