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Jyothi Venkatachalam
Story provided by Abhyasa School of Dance

Come December and all roads lead to Chennai. This city jumps to life with the Margazhi Festival of Dance and Music popularly known as the December Season. The festival started in 1927 to commemorate the anniversary of Madras Music Academy. It was later adopted by other local organizations and institutions also known as Sabhas, to hold art festivals in different parts of the city. Today, this cultural extravaganza has more than 2,000 participants in more than 400 concerts. Among the Sabhas in the city of Chennai, Music Academy is considered the jewel. Artists of all hues always consider it an honor to perform at the academy. For fans, too, it is a sort of a fulfillment to visit the academy and hear artists of their liking performs.

The Sangeetha Kalanidhi title of the academy is by for the most prestigious award that artists can aspire to win. It attracts NRI’s and scholars from all over the world. This festival is held at a number of different venues such as upscale auditoriums, banquet halls of five-star hotels and school auditoriums.

The festival has performances in vocal, instrumental music, classical dances-solo and group performances, seminars, discussions and lecture demonstrations. Even upcoming or junior artist get a chance to perform with professional or senior artists. The season offers sumptuous treat to music and dance lovers.

December is the Tamil month of Margazhi, a time for devotion. It is believed that it was in margazhi (December-January) — when the red-hued star Thiruvathirai was in conjunction with the full moon — that Shiva as Nataraja, the Lord of Dance, danced his cosmic dance of creation — the ‘ananda tandavam’ — in the golden hall at Chidambaram. So, classical dance and Music has been a traditional form of worship of the divine from time immemorial.

The month-long extravaganza is marked by music lovers hopping from one sabha to another, attending concerts of their favorite artists. The women in their best Kanchivaram silk saris and gold jewellery, men in Veshti (spotless white south Indian dhotis) and kurtas add to the glamour of the season. Most of the sabhas arrange for a makeshift canteen for those rasikas who do not want to miss any concerts.

This year’s December season highlight from the classical dance point of view is the dance ballet presentation Manmatha or Manmudha-From Dust to Life, by Shree Bharatalaya. The institution was founded by K Soundararaja Iyengar, Sudharani Raghupathy (eminent Bharatanatyam dancer) and Madurai N Krishnan (vocalist-lyricist-music composer) in 1970.

Shree Bharatalaya has consistently maintained its reputation as a pre-eminent institution that has become one of the foremost centers of learning, and given the country many leading Bharatanatyam dancers.

According to the Hindu mythology Manmatha, Lord of Love or cupid was reduced to ashes and was resurrected — from dust to life to immortality, visible only to his beloved Rathi.

This production which is aimed at reviving folk arts as well as the tradition of Manmatha (who is worshipped in temples in several villages of Tamil Nadu even today), has adaptations from the traditional folk dances of Tamil Nadu and Theru Koothu (street theater) and some steps from modern dance. Of course, the traditional classical dance, Bharatanatyam, remains the thread in the garland.

Padma Shree Prof Sudharani Raghupathy is the artistic director of the production. She completed 60 years in the journey of dance in August 2007. She plays the lead role of Manmatha along with students of Shree Bharatalaya.

Jyothi Venkatachalam, director of Abhyasa School Of Dance, Club Tampa Palms, offers classes in Bharat Natyam, traditional folk dances, Indian percussion instruments (Mridangam, Dholak, Ghatam, Kanjira, Morsingh and Konakol). She can be reached at (813) 977-9039 or (813) 404-7899 or via e-mail at


Lavanya Dinesh

In the first part, we looked at some of the ingredients that constitute the raga which is exclusive only to the Indian classical music system. We are now going to delve into the origins of the raaga as well as its categorization and classification.

Graama/Moorchana – tried out by knowledgeable musical pioneers in the ninth century. This system rests upon the note and scale of the voice or sound of the musician. There are 3 graamas and 21 in use. Janya-janaka raaga classification denotes a parent raaga facilitating the emergence of a melodic offspring. Thaat classification is the most commonly used theory by practitioners of Hindustani classical music. There are 10 widely accepted thaats in use, out of which most ragas performed by musicians today are derived. They are Bilawal, Kalyan, Bhairav, Bhairavi, Kaafi, Kamaaj, Aasavari, Poorvi, Marwa and Todi thaats. Raaga-Raagini system – this is the most interesting theory with origins in ancient Hindu texts and treatises as also the beautiful and myriad manifestations of the Almighty. Raags in Indian music are personified, considered sacred and given demi-god status and are thus categorized into human-like groups and assigned familial relationships to one another. Raaga-raagini draws a parallel between the dynamic and the static, conveys the balance of male and female in nature. The six principal male ragas are Bhairav, Malkauns, Hindol, Deepak, Shree and Megh. They in turn have their female counterparts, raaginis namely Bhairavi, Dhanashree, Gauri, Maalvi, Triveni, Desi, Vibhas, Kalyaani, Kaushiki, Gandhaari and numerous others. There are many other offspring known as Putra ragas.

Rasa – sentiments, moods and emotions that ragas convey are central to understanding how a particular raaga can stir up unique feelings and create a certain atmosphere. The emotional quality is referred to as ‘rasa.’ Bharata Muni, a sage who lived about 2,000 years ago authored the much celebrated and revered text on Indian music, dance, drama and other performing arts called ‘Naatya Shaastra.’ This treatise enumerates 9 rasas or emotions called Nava Rasas. They are Shringara (love/eroticism), Haasya (mirth/humor), Karuna (compassion/pathos), Raudra (anger/terror), Veera (valor/courage), Bhayanaka (fear), Bheebatsa (disgust / grotesque), Adbhuta (wonder / amazement) and Shaanta (peace/serenity). For example, Raaga Bhoopali evokes Shaanta rasa while raaga Sarang conveys Veera rasa. Raaga Bhageshree is full of sensual, romatic references of Shringara, Marwa conveys Viraha rasa (an offshoot of shringaara) denoting longing and restlessness of separation from the beloved. The latter two rasas have inspired several compositions in various ragas with Lord Krishna, Radha and Gopikas as central themes.

There are seasonal ragas like Basanth heralding spring, Malhaar performed in the rainy season and many others.

Prahara – An adherence to the time theory in Hindustani classical music is integral to any vocal or instrumental performance even today. There are eight time-cycle divisions in a single day, each of which is known as a prahara. Each chunk of time, day or night, is allotted certain ragas.

Pahara 1, 6 a.m. to 9 a.m.: Hindol, Bhairav, Bilawal, Bhairav, Bhairavi, Lalit, etc.

Prahara 2, 9 a.m. to 12 p.m.: Aasavari, Todi, etc.

Prahara 3, 12 p.m. to 3 p.m.: Sarang family of ragas.

Prahara 4, 3 p.m. to 6 p.m.: Multani.

Prahara 5, 6 p.m. to 9 p.m.: Shree, Purya Shanashree, Kalyaan family of ragas, etc.

Prahara 6, 9 pm to 12 am: Marwa, Poorya, Bhageshree, etc.

Prahara 7, 12 am to 3 am: Malkauns and Kanada family of ragas.

Prahara 8, 3 a.m. to 6 a.m.: Raagas taken from 7th and 1st prahara are performed.

Raagas adopted from South Indian classical music into the Hindustani music repertoire need not follow strict time theories. Some of these are Hamsadhwani, Charukeshi, Salag varali, etc.

Lavanya Dinesh is an accomplished performer and teacher of Hindustani classical vocal music. Lavanya regularly performs at musical venues both in India and the US. She has three album releases to her credit. The artist has worked as a music critic and feature writer for The Times of India and Deccan Herald. She can be reached at

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