Each year, around Easter Holiday weekend, The State of Ohio declares1 certain days as – “Saint Thyagaraja Days”, being dedicated to the enjoyment and nurturing of a uniquely South Asian – Indian tradition, the celebration of the classical music compositions of Saint Thyagaraja2.
During this week-long period, the City of Cleveland is witness to an inimitable ‘show’ of people of Indian descent walking down the main thoroughfares leading up to Euclid Avenue and Cleveland State University (that has played host to the main celebration for several years).
Now in its 37th year in the U.S., the Aradhana or ‘the act of glorifying’, is a “one of a kind” in that it is the single largest gathering of Indian classical musicians (vocal and/or instrumental), dancers, critics, fans, ardent followers, neophytes and curious cultural warriors at a single location. For instance, it is fascinating to see over a 100 participants perform at the same time on stage as part of the singing of the “Pancharathna Kritis” of Saint Thyagaraja.
However, it is not simply the size, or the variety that makes this ‘act of glorifying’ so special.
I believe it is the sincere love for the art, the principled dedication to culture and unmitigated devotion to tradition that sets this apart from many other ‘Indian cultural experiences’ that one can savor around the country. Clearly, the small but superbly proficient members that put this together each year, and have done so for the past thirty-six, are true heroes… ’Cleveland’ Balu, ‘Cleveland’ V. V. Sundaram and ‘Toronto’ Venkataraman and their extended family and friends are legends needing no encomiums here. They will live on through this wonderful tradition that they have established in this Country and the minds and hearts of fans of this music forever.
Over a dozen years ago, we were enlisted to participate and assist the organizers through an ardent connoisseur of the arts and Aradhana volunteer, Dr. G. Venkatadri of Buffalo. He felt that as a Firm, we could make a significant difference by ensuring smooth processing of the Visa petitions filed to bring the artists each year. Beginning with the Aradhana, the Artists embark on a whirlwind tour of the Country to bring the joys of Indian classical music to several cities where organizers roll out smaller versions of Cleveland’s ‘Grand’ Aradhana.
The Firm takes this honorable task very seriously. I cannot begin to describe the excruciating attention to detail and document preparation that goes into ensuring every petition is approved as filed and ‘on time’ for the grand event. For example, most famous artists have stage names that are not what shows up on their passport. Several have names that will not fit on a standard form/application. The running challenge in the Office is to find a name that has seven letters (John Doe/Hare Ram).
All in all, each year brings us in contact with a fascinating mix of the top-most classical artists from India. We have enjoyed this wonderful association and look forward to serving in the years to come.
Published with permission from the Cleveland Aradhana.
1 The Governor’s Office, through resolution, designates the period – “Saint Thyagaraja Days”. This is mirrored by a proclamation by the Mayor of Cleveland and felicitations from the State’s two Senators. In years past, the occasion was also marked by having it ‘read into the record’ on the floors of the U.S. House and Senate.
2 Tyagaraja, (born May 4, 1767, Madras Presidency [Tamil Nadu], India—died Jan. 6, 1847, Madras Presidency [Tamil Nadu]), Indian composer of Karnatak songs of the genre kirtana, or kriti (devotional songs), and of ragas. He is the most prominent person in the history of southern Indian classical music, and he is venerated by contemporary Karnatak musicians. Tyagaraja. 2014. Encyclopædia Britannica Online. Retrieved 24 February, 2014, from http://www.britannica.com/EBchecked/topic/611423/Tyagaraja