Chembai Sangeetholsavam is an annual Carnatic music festival which is being held in Guruvayur. This festival is conducted by Guruvayur Devaswom which is similar to the Thyagaraja Aradhana at Thiruvaiyaru. This music festival is being conducted as a symbol of homage to Chembai Vaidyanatha Bhagavatar who was one among the titans of Carnatic Classical Music.
HistoryFor nearly 60 years, this festival was conducted by Chembai on his own in the temple town. All the great Carnatic Musicians were invited by him to perform in the temple town. With the passage of years, the scale of the festival rivaled the Thiruvaiyaru Thyagaraja Aradhana which was being recognized as one among the most important festivals of homage paid to Saint Thyagaraja. After his death in the year 1974, the Guruvayur Devaswom decided to take charge of the music festival which was then renamed as Chembai Sangeetholsavam in his remembrance.
Chembai Vaidyanatha BhagavatarChembai Vaidyanatha Bhagavatar was a Carnatic music singer from Palakkad. He was known by his village name Chembai, or simply as Bhagavatar. Chembai was noted for his powerful voice and majestic style of singing. His first public performance was in 1904, when he was nine years old. Between 1913 and 1927, he performed at many different music festivals and sabhas for the first time, notably including the Madras Music Academy. He had composed some 155 kritis in Malayalam, Tamil and Sanskrit under the mudra Lalita dasar and requested Chembai to set them to music and popularize them. Chembai accepted the invitation and set the kritis to classical music, and got them published under the name Lalita Dasar Keertanaigal. He made it a practice to sing these kritis in most of his concerts. Chembai had many students, including K. J. Yesudas and many noted musicians like T. V. Gopalakrishnan, P. Leela, the Jaya-Vijaya twins and many others. Chembai died on 16 October 1974, at the age of 78, due to cardiac arrest. Chembai had been conducting a music festival in his native village right from 1924 onwards. This is now continued by his family and now it is continued by Chembai Sreenivasan and Chembai Suresh (C. A. Subramanian). The concerts are called Chembai Ekadasi Music Festival and held annually in February–March in the same village.
The FestivalThis music festival is held every year for about 12 to 15 years. This festival is being culminated on the Guruvayur Ekadasi day. Nearly 2000-2500 musicians used to participate in this festival every year and all the musicians sing 5 favorite songs of Chembai and also the Pancharatna Kritis of Thyagaraja. The festival is getting more popular year after year and the scope of which is increased from three days at the time of inception to nearly 12 to 15 years at present. This festival is being held during the month of November every year. A vast gathering of musicians and rasikas assemble to pay homage to the late Chembai Vaidyanatha Bhagavathar who was one of the leaders of Carnatic Traditional Music.
CelebrationsIt can be said that the Tiruvaiyar where the famous Aradhana festival is held every January to honor the memory of Saint Thyagaraja is almost transplanted to Guruvayur. A highlight of this utsavam is the group singing famous Pancharatna Kritis by Saint Thyagaraja on the day of dasami by many leading musicians and it marks the grandeur of the occasion. Likewise, a similar group concert marks the end of the festival on the night of Ekadasi. This concert includes five of Chembai s most favorite songs which are Vadapiganapatim (Hamsadhwani) Rakshmamsaranagatam (Natta), paavanaguru pavanapuradeeswara (Hamsanandi) Mamava sadaajanani (Kanada) and Karuna Cheivan entu thamasam Krishna (Yadukula kamboji). The entire audience gathered on the occasion will be joining in the chorus when the last mentioned song is sung with devotion and fervor. This music will reverberate the hall by sending everyone to ecstasy.