Chennai, also known as Madras, is considered to be the gateway to the south and the capital city of the Tamil Nadu state. It is located along the coast of Coromandel off the Bay of Bengal, the second largest port in India. Although Chennai is as much a part of India as any other city, the culture and festivals in Chennai are distinctly different from any other place in the country.
The dichotomy of both modern and traditional aspects of Indian culture is reflected in Chennai’s diverse people. Although it is a modern, cosmopolitan city, Chennai’s culture is a rich mix of conventional and traditional ways evident in their popular music, dance, and other art forms of the Tamil Nadu.
Chennai is known for its various classical music shows that are usually showcased every December in the five week-long Music Season during the Tamil season of Margazhi. The Music Season is considered to be the world’s largest cultural event and the most festive period in Chennai with performances or kacheries of traditional Carnatic music performed by hundreds of artists throughout the city.
The Kalakshetra (Place of the Arts) is a cultural center located near the beach in the southern part of the city where the famous classical official Tamil Nadu dance called Bharatanatyam is performed. The city is also famous for its theater scene, including English theater, with performances ranging from political satires to mythological-themed dramas. The notable personalities in the Chennai theater scene are Indira Parthasarathy, Pammal Sambanda Mudaliar, Cho Ramaswamy, and many more.
The Metroplus Theater festival together with their partner Evam, a prominent English theater company based in Chennai, collaborated to bring theater performances every year during July and August. Other theater companies such as Madras Players, Stray Factory, Theater Y, Theater Nisha, ASAP Productions, Still Water Productions, and so on also stage plays throughout the year, too.
There are also the culfests, which are festivals organized and sponsored by schools and colleges in Chennai. These festivals provide a solid platform for the youth to get involved and participate in the Chennai culture and art scene, subsequently attracting viewers from across the country. Some of the major culfests in Chennai are IITM’s Saarang, Loyola’s Down Sterling, SSN College of Engineering’s Instincts, Guindy College of Engineering’s Techofes, MCC’s Deep Woods, MIT’s Mitafest, and ACT’s Kalakrithi.
The popularity of western or internationally-influenced bands can also be predominantly featured in these festivals. The June Rock Out, organized by the Unwind Center, is a professional event where performers are already established bands.
Chennai is the base of the Tamil movie industry where about one hundred Tamil movies are produced in a year, complete with soundtracks. It is the third largest revenue generating movie industry in India that follows Bollywood and Telugu Cinema.
Most popular festivals in Chennai are associated with religion. Since most of the population is Hindu, they celebrate national holidays and festivals such as the Diwali, Durga Puja, Dussehra, Holi, and Ganesh Chaturthi. Pongal, is a five-day celebration in January that is considered as the state festival.
The Dance Festival, held at Mammalapuram, is a celebration of traditional dances such as Bharatnatyam, Kuchipudi and Odisi. The Vellankani Festival, the most celebrated one in the city, commemorates the legend of Portuguese sailors who were saved from a storm by a divine light. Other cultural festivals in Chennai that are dedicated to Hindu deities and saints such as Kavadi, Kanthri, Chitirai, and Arubathimoovar are also celebrated.