The Telugu, Tamil and Kannada communities in Stoke-on-Trent recently came together to commemorate the 176th Pushya Bahula Panchami Day. The day, which falls in late January or early February each year, marks the punyatithi (anniversary of demise) of the revered South Indian saint-composer Thyagaraja, known as a guru in Carnatic music.
Carnatic music is one of the two major branches of Indian classical music and singing, the other one being Hindustani music. Thyagaraja, along with Shyama Shastri and Muthuswami Dikshitar, are regarded as the trinity of Carnatic music. As such, the day holds a special meaning for every student of the art form.
At the event – which saw a turnout of over a 100 people – the ancient Carnatic tunes echoed in the hall decorated with traditional yellow and orange garlands, bringing the rich musical heritage alive through young voices.
“Among the 25 individual performances, many were young performers, aged no more than ten or twelve,” Hema Manjunath, who was the compere of the day, told iGlobal.
For the young students the annual event is a way to showcase their talent and progress as they climb up the skill ladder of traditional Carnatic compositions.
“Music connects them to their heritage, and keeps it alive,” explains Manjunath, talking about the importance of such events in the diaspora today.
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“Back in India, Thyagaraja Aradhana is done along the banks of the river Kaveri and thousands of devotees attend the music festival from all over the world,” she added.
Of the 2,500 pieces of songs and composition created by Thyagaraja, five are known to capture his genius the most – the Pancharatna Kritis. These were sung by a chorus of more than a dozen seasoned singers accompanied by instrumentalists. The musical event was followed by a pooja offered to the revered musician as well as traditional prashad (food offering) of Sukku Paal (hot milk with dry ginger powder) and bhojan (full meal)
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“Years back Dr Krishna Banavathi started hosting monthly events at home. They would meet up to sing devotional songs, bhajans and kirtans. One time, the event fell on the same day as Pushya Bahula Panchami so they decided to use the opportunity to pay tributes to Thyagaraja. That’s how it all started,” recollects Manjunath.
As the event continues to grow, so too does the connection it forges to the musical heritage of India, especially for the diaspora youth who are showing increasing interest after seeing their own friends performing on the stage each year.