Cultural gateway of Southern India, Chennai (pop. 6.5 million), formerly known as Madras, is commended for a 6,000 years old musical tradition. Music has been passed down through generations with the Gurukulam method, consisting of music teachers hosting students in their home to transfer music knowledge and practice as a way of life. In recent years, the Gurukulam method has been progressively institutionalised into academies involving young people from an early age, notably to learn the manufacturing of traditional music instruments, an industry which contributes US$6.4 million of the estimated 20 million generated by the current creative economy.
Known for Carnatic music–an Indian classical vocal music subgenre–Chennai organises a two-month Music Season, touted to be among the largest music festivals in the world, with audiences and artists coming across India to participate in 1,500 performances spread all over the city's public spaces. Chennai's music scene is closely linked with the creation of social cohesion in urban life. The Chennai Sangamam event has been set to regenerate ancient villages and engage artists from rural zones, and the Urur-Olcott Kuppam Margazhi festival focuses on using music as a tool for unity bridging different communities and cultures.
The Chennai government intensifies efforts, along with the music industry's public and private stakeholders, to strengthen international recognition and outreach of the local artists and music events, including the Music Season through the “Enchanting Tamil Nadu” campaign. In 2016, the Chennai International Centre was established to further promote culture for socio-economic change. The city also offers various awards, scholarships and grants to encourage and facilitate the development and emergence of world-class artists through international exchange and mobility.
As a Creative City of Music, Chennai envisages:
Situated on the Coromandel Coast of the Bay of Bengal, Chennai, formerly known as Madras is most commonly referred to as the cultural gateway of Southern India.
In 1639, the British East India Company established a settlement in the fishing village of Madrasapattinam and built Fort St George in 1653. This area, which later came to be known as George Town was granted municipal charter in 1688 by James II, making it India’s oldest municipality.
Being one of the two main subgenres of Indian classical music, Carnatic sangeet is said to have taken its roots in the Vedic age, and is thus referred to as the Music of the Gods.
The Cholas (850 C.E. to 1300 C.E.) who were one of the three “Crowned Kings of Tamilakam”, along with the Chera and Pandyas, governed the area which covers the present day city of Chennai. The Cholas provided conditions amenable for the development of arts. The Chola kings, especially Rajaraja Chola I, were great connoisseurs of music and dance. Music enjoyed royal patronage and later became popular in the cities of the kingdom. December (the Tamil month of Margazhi) music festival or the Margazhi Music Season is a carnival of Carnatic sangeet. A one of a kind festival, the Margazhi music season encapsulates the entire city of Chennai in the celebration of its musical heritage. The festival consists of concerts that showcase all sorts of Carnatic music compositions and improvisations.
The architecture of Chennai is a representation of the various political entities that governed it. The city has a variety of buildings and structures that are either in the form of Chola and Pallava traditional temple architecture or in the Indo-Saracenic style from the colonial era.
Chennai being the first major British settlement in the Indian subcontinent have various structures such as utilitarian warehouses and walled trading posts along the coastline.
The Chepauk Palace (official residence of the Nawab of Arcot), the Madras High Court, Government Museum, Egmore and the University of Madras are the other major Indo-Saracenic structures in the city.
The Agraharam style or the Temple style consists of traditional row houses usually surrounding a temple. These are built in the conventional Tamil style, with four wings surrounding a square courtyard, and tiled sloping roofs. Historically and culturally significant localities such as Mylapore and Triplicane have a number of these houses that date back to the 18th and 19th centuries.
Apart from music and dance, language and literature is an extremely significant aspect of the culture of Chennai. Tamil literature has had a rich literary tradition spanning over two thousand years. These consist of medieval literature, Vijayanagara and Nayak period literature and modern Tamil literature.