Mysore's historic 8th Cross Ganesha Music Festival quietly and brilliantly eases into an online edition in COVID-19 era
On 23 August, when TM Krishna’s mellifluous ‘Endullu Peddala’ in Raga Shankarabharanam filled his fans’ homes, history of a sort was made for Mysuru's 8th Cross Ganesha Music Festival. TMK was among the first stalwarts to lead the heritage festival into the digital world.
In the Indian ethos, the Ganesh festival — observed over 10 days — is a significant religious and spiritual celebration; music concerts play an important part in upholding its traditions.
A case in point is the 8th Cross Ganesha Music Festival, conducted by the Sri Prasanna Vidya Ganapathi Mandali Charitable (SPVGMC) Trust for the past 59 years at Mysuru’s 8th Cross Road in VV Mohalla. The heritage music festival is so called because the concerts are held at a cross road in VV Mohalla; the road is closed to vehicular traffic for 10 days, while footpaths are kept open for pedestrians. Beginning as a platform for Carnatic music, the festival has also incorporated Hindustani music, leading to many jugalbandis — in which artistes from both genres play together as a sort of evolution of fusion music.
Among the notable musicians to have performed at the festival are Chembai Vaidyanatha Bhagavathar, KV Narayanaswamy, S Ramanathan, GN Balasubramaniam, Prof TN Krishnan, RK Srikantan, Madurai Mani Iyer, Balamurali Krishna, Lalgudi Jayaraman, T Chowdaiah, TR Mahalingam, ML Vasanthakumari, TN Seshagopalan and MS Gopalakrishnan.
Present generation artistes such as Sudha Raghunathan, Abhishek Raghuram, Bombay Jayashree, Saket Raman, Nithyasree Mahadevan, Mysore Nagaraj and Manjunath, Sikkil Gurucharan and Ravikiran are regulars here, while Hindustani music proponents Hariprasad Chaurasia, Gangubai Hangal, N Rajam and Rajiv Taranath have given memorable performances at the festival.
There is no charge for the concerts. Till recently, most of the audience would be seated on the ground while others occupied vantage positions around the trees that have not been disturbed over the years. What captivates the musicians and the audience is the homely atmosphere, resulting in strains of melodious music flowing amidst life that goes on in the nearby shops and walkways uninterrupted.
With congregations banned due to the COVID-19 pandemic, this year the SPVGMC Trust had to come up with an innovative way to keep the tradition going. The Trust’s honorary secretary, Sri Himanshu, planned and introduced an online version of the music festival with his team. In the absence of rasikas thronging the Ganesha pandal, the team brought the concert straight into their homes; fans could stream the performances on Facebook and YouTube.
On 23 August 2020, when Vidwan TM Krishna’s mellifluous ‘Endullu Peddala’ in Raga Shankarabharanam filled his fans’ homes, along with Akkarai Subhalakshmi on violin, Vidwan Arunprakash on mridangam and Vidwan N Guruprasad on ghatam, history of a sort was made for the 8th Cross Ganesha Music Festival. TMK was among the first stalwarts to lead the heritage festival into the digital world.
TMK straightaway jumped to Ragam-Thanam-Pallavi (RTP) in Raga Anandabhairavi, displaying his penchant for breaking with tradition (usually, RTP is sung somewhere in the middle of a concert, after about an hour or so).
His performance was followed by Vidwans Sikkil Gurucharan, Vivek Sadasivam, Rithvik Raja, Vignesh Ishwar and Saket Raman, all of whom gave vocal recitals with their accompanying artists. Then came recitals by Vidwan JB Sruthi Sagar on flute, Vidushis Akkarai sisters on violin, Vidwans Heramba and Hemanta on a flute duet.
On the final day of the festival — Tuesday, 1 September — Vidwan Saket Raman along with L Ramakrishnan on violin and Vijay Natesan on mridangam gave a memorable concert in which he sang all the krithis composed by the Vaggeyakaras from Mysuru such as Mysore Vasudevacharya, Veene Sheshanna, T Chowdiah, Mysore Sadashiva Rao and Mysore Lingaraju, to name a few. The last song he performed, ‘Kayou Shree Gowrie Karuna Leheren’ composed by Basavappa Shastry in 1881 for Maharaja Chamaraja Wodeyar, was the erstwhile anthem of the Mysore Royal Family, the Wodeyars; it is rarely sung, and the rendition was a masterpiece. The song is a tribute to Shri Chamundeshwari Devi, the deity of Mysore Maharajas, and marked a fitting culmination to the 8th Cross Festival’s programme for the year 2020.
For the festival, which is readying for its Diamond Jubilee celebrations in 2021, this was a momentous edition. The concerts were pre-recorded in a studio in Chennai and played on YouTube/Facebook between 6-8 pm. Rasikas around the world have been able to tune in to this year’s programme, as opposed to the 300-400 people who would have otherwise comprised the live audience.
Quality music is now available all around the world on one’s smartphone. A few years ago, when I wrote an article on the festival for Churumuri, so many rasikas who are away from VV Mohalla nostalgically recalled how much they missed the yearly programme as their life circumstances had taken them away from their roots. Now they have a chance to reconnect and listen to the music again.
Further, the live concerts were not feasible for the elderly or ill to sit through in entirety. This digital edition means they can enjoy the music they would have otherwise missed, from the confines of their home. Even for other concertgoers who were inconvenienced by the lack of public transport post-10 pm (which is when most concerts at the festival would end), this online version has proved a boon.
Most importantly, some of the great Devaranamas like ‘Krishna Nee Begane Baro’ in Raga Yaman, or ‘Ramanama Payasakke’ in Ananda Bhairavi, which have the power to move you to tears, can be heard repeatedly courtesy the YouTube videos. Connoisseurs can listen to the RTP in Mohana in its entirety; younger music aspirants can learn and practise the nuances of leading singers by listening to their videos and adopting their technique. In short, the advantages are numerous.
One drawback, however, is the missing rapport such as an artist establishes with his/her audience in a live concert. Musicians draw inspiration from their fans when they perform live. Perhaps this can be compensated partly by having video chats between the artists and a select audience for a short duration, and to receive song requests.
The future of music as well as any performing art will move online as we face a post-COVID world. We will have performers sitting in different places and playing or singing a song together for their audiences all over the world. This has already started in some places.
It won’t be surprising if in its Diamond year, Mysuru’s 8th Cross Ganesha Music Festival will have, say — Abhishek Raghuram singing from Boston, with violin virtuoso HK Venkataram playing from Bengaluru, mridangam artiste Umayalpuram K Shivaraman from London, and Sukanya Ramagopal on ghatam from Chennai — all performing together Saint Thyagaraja’s Pancha Ratna Krithi ‘Entharao Mahanbhavulu’ in Sri Raga to an audience scattered all over the globe. To arrange such a programme won’t be a challenge to Himamshu and his band of enthusiasts at the SPVGMC Trust. If what we have seen over the decades is an indication, turning the impossible into a reality isn’t a stretch for this intrepid team.
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