News & Notes

A joyful art festival

San Diego Festival 2024

One doesn't need an excuse to attend an arts festival, especially in the sun-kissed city of San Diego. I have been to the Indian Fine Arts Academy of San Diego's annual festival several times before. This year was different because it was the first time I was going after the pandemic. I could not attend all the events and will not be able to mention them all. The festival was woven into a taught set of programs spanning four weeknights and a weekend. The programming and curation were exceptional, as you will see if you browse their website. (

The day I got there was the second day of the festival. I was treated to a lovely lecture demonstration about the Melattur Bhagavata Mela tradition by N. Srikanth and his team of musicians. Their music was as beautiful as his dance, and the unique history of the tradition and how it came to Melattur was shared in an intimate and fond manner. We all left wanting to be at Melattur. This was followed by a violin concert by Maestro V.V. Subramanian and his son V.V.S. Murari, with their two violins blending into a single stream of exquisite beauty.

Two more evenings brought us informative and informal lec-dems. One about Palghat K.V. Narayanaswamy by R.K. Shriramkumar, who walked the audience through the life of KVN with pictures and music clips while explaining what made the singer's music unique and brought out the bhava in each of his presentations. Gowri Ramnarayan, too, wove a moving portrait of the life of Pt Ravishankar and his development as the best-known musician from India, as well as how he brought the music of India to the world stage. Each day's lec-dems were followed by an energetic concert of youthful exuberance by Ramakrishnan Murthy and a soulful tribute to the late maestro Kumar Gandharva by Indrani Mukherjee, respectively.

These weekday evenings were a festival of their own. Every lecture was tightly presented in less than an hour. The awards and speeches made by the glitterati who attended each night were crisp and to the point. These included the Indian high commissioner and the Mayor of San Diego, as well as a number of other dignitaries. One definitely got the sense that, in its 17th year, this festival had arrived. Indeed, as the Mayor pointed out, there was also something uniquely American about this Indian arts festival, which was taking place in a city bordering Mexico and being held at a Jewish community centre. Local youngsters sang the US and Indian national anthems.

The weekend highlights included local students and teachers' music and dance presentations. Innovative, imaginative, sincere, and joyful words come to mind when I reflect on them.

C.M. Venkatachalam's students presented an array of songs, with younger students presenting four songs, which included a Kabir Das bhajan, a Tiruppughazh set by Lalgudi Jayaraman, and the familiar Purvi tillana. The advanced students added the formidable Chaturdasa Ragamalika and the majestic Sagar Sayana Vibho of M.D. Ramanathan.

A remarkably quick reshuffle of the stage brought on the students of Revathi Subramanian, who began their presentation with the navaragamalika varnam. Notable pieces included N.S. Santhanagopalan's remarkable 41-raga compilation of Tyagaraja kriti pallavis in Desadi tala.


The San Diego festival is truly a community event that seeks to involve local children, teachers, and artists as an integral part of the festival offering. The local participation is evident in every aspect of this festival. The community comes together to make everyone attending this festival feel welcome and even celebrated. Kudos to the organisers who have made an art of inclusivity and community effort.


No festival of this kind would be complete without good food and vendors. The food is no longer home-cooked as it was in the festival's early days. However, when you walk into the food hall, there are volunteers to make you feel welcome, and each day's menu is carefully planned to be as delicious as it is filling. The hall has stalls with lovely colourful sarees, costume jewellery, handicrafts, and other artefacts on sale. The attendees seem to patronise the vendors while conversing with friends and other attendees. A joyful buzz fills the building.

The marquee events included concerts by Vijay Siva, R.K. Shriramkumar, Sudha Ragunathan, and T.M. Krishna, as well as dance performances by N. Srikanth and Aswathy, Odissi by Arushi Mudgal, and Mohini Attam by Aswathi Nair.

Honorees included mridangam maestros Mannargudi Easwaran and Tiruvarur Bhaktvatsalam, Gowri Ramnarayan, Vijay Siva, R.K. Shriramkumar and K Harishankar of Narada Gana Sabha, who received the Vidhya Nidhi award. B. Roger Natarajan and Jaya Natarajan, Shasho Pottathil, Shri Shrivas and Vanitha Suresh were this year's Samaja Seva Rathna award recipients.


Photos & article


Shankar Ramachandran