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On capacity evenings -- getting rarer by the organisers' own admission -- 9,000 music lovers sit under the Mandali's pandal. The Fort High School event is an old Bangalore institution. The new-generation Bangalorean, who has read so much about Vasantha Habba and other more glamorous cultural events, has probably never heard of this feast of traditional music.
 

Feature
 
Raga festival in 'beer city'

 

Ramanavami music festival
April 2 to May 8
Fort High School grounds
Bangalore


April is to Bangalore what December is to Chennai -- a time to catch top-class classical musicians live. The season also provides an opportunity for the e-Bangalorean to discover the city's traditional face 

   

April is Bangalore's music season, thanks mainly to Sree Ramaseva Mandali. This month is to Bangalore what December is to Chennai, a time to listen to a wide variety of live classical music concerts. Junior and senior artistes visit the city from various parts of the south, and perform at a venue hallowed by memories of yesteryear's masters.

Sree Ramaseva Mandali conducts its annual festival at Fort High School in Chamarajpet. This year's festival spans 36 days, and features some of the biggest names in Indian classical music. 

E-Bangalore's priorities are now so distant from this world that its newspapers and magazines devote more space and attention to a single rock concert than to an entire month of Indian music. Perhaps summer is a good time for the e-Bangalorean to discover the city's traditional, and nearly obscured, face.

Sree Ramaseva Mandali is an old Bangalore institution. The new-generation Bangalorean, who has read so much about Vasantha Habba and other more glamorous cultural events, has probably never heard of this feast of traditional music. New economy jobs and working hours that stretch into the night have meant that young people can't find the time or the energy for concerts on weekdays.

On capacity evenings -- getting rarer, by the organisers' own admission -- 9,000 music lovers sit under the Mandali's pandal. On lean days, the audience can be less than 50.
 
Chamarajpet, once a calm residential locality with coconut trees and tiled houses, is today the hub of the city's cargo transport business. Older patrons find it hazardous to take a walk to the concert, and music lovers in the more remote extensions complain about poor transport. Smaller music organizations like Ananya (Malleswaram), Odukkathur Math (Ulsoor), Devagiri Sangeetha Sabha (Banashankari) and BTM Cultural Academy (BTM Layout/J P Nagar) invite well-known artistes to their festivals, which means many music lovers wait for a concert to happen in their neighbourhood instead to avoid the bother of catching buses to traffic-choked Chamarajpet.

Putting the Fort High School festival together takes a lot of time and co-ordination, but the Mandali has, over the years, established some practices to make things simple.

"Two or three of us go to Madras every December to finalise the artistes. We listen to a lot of musicians there, and it's easy for us to invite them in person, rather than call or write letters and wait for their reply," says S N Varadaraj, general secretary of the Mandali, who, along with his brother Ram Prasad and a board of trustees, does all the backstage work.

The Mandali's policy is to reserve 60 per cent of the slots for Karnataka artistes. Of the two sessions in the evening, the one beginning at 5.15 p.m. is reserved for younger artistes. The established performers begin their concerts at 6.30 p.m.

Talking to The Music Magazine, Varadaraj remembered the efforts of his father, S V Narayanaswamy Rao, who founded the Mandali in 1939. Rao was 14 when he organized the Mandali's first music festival, with a budget of Rs 5. His love of music, and his sustained organizational efforts, soon made the Mandali a household name and drew celebrity musicians from all over India. T Chowdaiah and T R Mahalingam stood solidly behind the Mandali, and M S Subbulakshmi loved the atmosphere so much she came 35 times in as many years to sing here.

Getting money has been particularly difficult this year because most regular donors have just contributed to earthquake relief. Banks, government institutions and private companies chip in each year and keep the festival going, says Varadaraj. "The cost of organizing the concerts runs into several lakhs, and we manage somehow, with no profit or loss."

Every year, the Mandali gives out about 6,000 passes to sponsors, advertisers and government officials. Pandal and furniture hire costs go up by about 20 per cent every year, but the Mandali still offers two concerts a day for a season ticket of Rs 50.

"Can you believe it -- that comes to less than a rupee for a concert!" says Varadaraj. The season ticket for a sofa is priced at Rs 300. Midway through the concert schedule, the Mandali draws a line. Music lovers have to exchange their season tickets for passes, and the second round of concerts, after April 20, are priced slightly higher for casual visitors.

The festival opens on April 2 with a saxophone concert by Kadri Gopalnath. A sample of the artistes slated to perform this season: Bombay Jayashree, Sudha Raghunathan, Hyderabad Brothers, Aruna Sayeeram, R K Srikatan, P Unnikrishnan, Vidyabhushana, K S Gopalakrishna, Kunnakudi Vaidyanathan, Yesudas, U Shrinivas, Rajkumar Bharathi, T N Krishnan, Rudrapatnam Brothers and T N Seshagopalan.

S R Ramakrishna

Visit the Mandali's website


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