By any yardstick, Chennai Sangamam,  which has completed its third successive year now, is an unmitigated success.  The  reasons are not far to seek.  Government patronage is one, of course, but there are several other contributory factors.

The concurrent music season, flaunted over the years  as a major cultural event in Chennai for the month,  has all but meandered into a routine that only the die-hard music aficionadoes follow meticulously, and still do the rounds. And it gives an uncomfortable feel of being elitist. The Sabha culture not only appears to be a dampener for the established names, but scarcely encouraging for new talent.  The Marghazi month, which even till about thirty years ago,  saw small musically inclined groups moving round in the early hours of the day, blending natural voice with live instruments, has alas been replaced by electronic output from speakers, which scarcely provide for the pleasure of the original; and thankfully their decibel-level is restricted by statute.

The other factor is the religious and spiritual travel that takes place in the November to January period; even the most devout seeker will agree that over the past years, temples have become not just crowded, but commercialised.   The HR&CE has to clearly have an agenda for this for the future, so that the devout can have ready access at all times to these monuments, most of which are heritage structures.

Chennai Sangamam now gives the silver lining in this milieu.  Eminent musicians are willing to step out of the Sabha culture, and this by itself will ensure a revival.  More important, the folk arts brought in from the rural areas,  strikes chords in the heart of all Chennaites from the grassroots upwards, especially so for the residents of the city who are all but nauseated with the peurile gyrations of various heros and heroines on the screen, not to speak of the kind of ludicrous music and lyrics that are thrown up through the films,  far removed from the timeless  classical and folk music that is Tamilnadu’s legitimate pride; that folk dancers and musicians from as far as Rajasthan and Punjab became part of the event,  enriches it all the more.

Tourist-savvy Singapore, for instance, presents a grandiose event through the month, packaged as ” Christmas in the Tropics “.  Dubai, with thicker purses, has its annual event running about the same time, which it first commenced from 1996, and touts it internationally as the Shopping Festival, sees a fall in its popularity purely because purchasing power globally has plateaued.   Chennai, does not have to go through such a regimen – the elements are already there, and only requires to be organised with a will.

One has to improvise year by year, no doubt.  The food stalls that were put up, including the ones by the star hotels, should not nudge each other, and provide for sufficient space one to the other, rendering greater access. As Lin Yutang said, patriotism is nothing but the love of foods one had as a child,  and the enormous popularity of the culinary embellishments on offer, bore testimony to this.  

Other steps in marketing too, could be taken, without having to incur too much additional cost – The ubiquitous autos,  60,000-plus in number, and the entire community of auto-drivers,  could well be inducted into the Sangamam, with their vehicles’  black tops and the yellow of the bottom half, used for presenting the highlights and  venues.

This has been no mean achievement – Chennai has now firmly established an annual event and permanent feature,  that, in its calendar, has overtaken every other, in striking the right chords with one and all.