Come March and San Diego will be harmonizing to the beat of Indian classical music as roughly 70 world renowned artists flock here to play, sing and dance to traditional Karnatik and Hindustani music at the six-day, 6th Annual Indian Classical Music and Dance Festival.The intention of this festival is to bring the ancient and resplendent tradition of Karnatik music to Southern California “to create an environment of learning” says Shekar Viswanathan, president of IFAASD.

Celebrating the quaternion artistic legacies of: the late Bharat Ratna Ravi Shankar, the bicentennial anniversary of Kerala’s Maharaja Swati Tirunal, a patron to arts and the mohiniyattam dance style, the centennial anniversary of K.P. Kittappa Pillai, who contributed to the development of Karnatik music and bharatnatyam dance, and  Sangita Kalanidhi Pinakapani, a medical doctor and vocalist who received one of the highest awards in Karnatik music. The significance of Shankar’s influence between the Karnatik and Hindustani styles of classical music and its introduction to the West will be omnipresent at the festival.

Dubbed as the “global ambassador of India’s cultural heritage” by many, Shankar introduced music from the Karnatik South to Northern India where some of the ragas were popularized. In turn, he also popularized North Indian music in the South and connected Karnatik and Hindustani musicians to the West (per Viswanathan).

A few of the must-see events during the festival are: March 22: Ajoy Chakrabarty, a Hindustani classical vocalist, has composed a special performance in the late maestro’s honor entitled “Ravimalika” which will consist of many melodies Shankar liked. March 23, a felicitation ceremony with honorary guests San Diego mayor Bob Filner and Council President Pro Tem Sherri Lightner, will pay respect to Hindustani classical vocalist and sister-in-law to Shankar, Lakshmi Shankar. She will be joined on stage with Karnatik veterans such as vocalists Trichur Ramachandran, Gayathri Venkatraghavan and N. Ramani amongst other cherished artists who will sing and imitate many of the late maestro’s compositions.The homage to Ravi Shankar will end in a spectacular grand finale on March 24, as some of Shankar’s past students engage in a flute and shehnai jugalbandi showcasing a contrast of styles between similar instruments. The Southern style will be distinguished from Northern style, which has blends of Persian and Islamic influence.The dance portion of the festival will feature three bharatanatyam performances and one mohiniyattam performance. An item which is sure leave an enduring image for dance buffs is the March 20 presentation of Kalidas’ “Celebration of Sringara Rasa” often knows as the queen of all rasas due to the range of complex emotions and expressions dramatized throughout the performance. The program is choreographed by Radhika Shurajith, (director of the television show, Thaka Dhimi Tha).

On March 24, Gopika Varma, a leading artist of the mohiniyattam style will present “Dance of the Enchantress,” the mystical ocean churning tale from the ancient Hindu epic Bhagvata Purana. A daily platter of performances from famed artists and their accompanists will continue to entertain music enthusiasts. Other festival highlights include a lecture demonstration from legendary Karnatik percussionist, Trichy Sankaran and Trichy Thayumanavan, Karnatik music vocalist duos, the Malladi Brothers and the Trichur Brothers, noted South Indian flutist Mala Chandrasekar and expressions in dance by Leela Samson, just to name a few.

For the untrained ear, such Indian classical music may seem daunting, but the festival is not reserved for music aficionados. Although Karnatik music is not limited to spirituality, it is likened to a state of divinity. Rather than wondering about the utility of improvisational exchanges and intricate timing of notes one can simply close one’s eyes and soak in the blends of melodies demonstrated through the magical lilts and drones of vocals, and instruments such as the flute, veena, violin, mridangam, kanjira and tabla which will be showcased at this must see event.Karnatik music with its emphasis on vocal music primarily sung in Tamil, Telugu and Kannada, is an art form which was once dependent on the patronage of royal houses and is now ablaze in popularity thanks to private institutions and non-profits such as IFAASD whose events garner thousands of attendees on a yearly basis.
March 19– March 24. David and Dorothea Garfield Theater, 4126 Executive Dr., La Jolla. Tickets, $30. www.indianfinearts.org/concerts/6th-annual-ravi-shankar-memorial-concerts.