Cleveland Thyagaraja Festival
Credit: Jayla Salter
Performers on stage at the Cleveland Thyagaraja Festival at Cleveland State University, April 14, 2023.

CSU hosts Cleveland Thyagaraja Festival

The festival which runs through April 16 is the largest Indian classical music festival in the world outside India.

CSU is currently hosting the Cleveland Thyagaraja Festival, the largest Indian classical music festival held outside India. The event runs from April 5 to April 16 in the Waetjen Auditorium at Cleveland State University.

This is the 43rd year of the festival, which showcases Indian classical arts. Audiences are treated to a wealth of music and dance performances.

V.V. Sundaram, a founder of the Cleveland Thyagaraja Festival, explained the importance of having classical music and dance festivals in today's climate, where contemporary music and softer tones are more popular. Classical music has a different impression than it did. He stressed the importance of highlighting Indian classical music and dance, so we do not lose this art form. 

"It is open for anybody who is interested in understanding and appreciating Indian classical arts," Sundaram said. "You are welcome to come, absolutely welcome to come. In fact, we encourage."

Sundaram helped create the festival in 1978. It started in the basement of a church in Richmond Heights with 74 people and a one-event concert with a local musician.

Founders alongside Sundaram in 1974 were Ganga and Rajkumar, Roger and Jaya Natarajan, and Balu and Gomathi. 

The next generation working closely and volunteering to keep Indian classical music alive are Karthik Venkatraman, Gopi Sundaram, Shankar Sundaram, and Radhika Balu. 

Cleveland Thyagaraja Festival

Picture credit: By Jayla Salter

Picture caption: V.V. and Gopi Sundaram  after the evening concert at the Cleveland Thyagaraja Festival Cleveland State University  on April 13, 2023. Gopi Sundaram pictured left and V.V. Sundaram pictured on the right.

This year the festival features 112 programs over 12 days. More than 100 musicians and dancers came from India, with another 300 artists from the U.S. and Canada. Most of the artists were Indian or of Indian descent. 

According to organizers, 5,000 people attended the largest night of the festival on Saturday, April 8, at the Wolstein Center, including 1,200 children, many of whom took part in group productions, music competitions and dance competitions.

Before the event, organizers reached out to high schools in the area and students at Cleverland State to teach people about Indian classical music.

This year's festival featured more than 100 programs created to highlight the diversity of Indian art forms. Attendees were encouraged to engage with artists, many of whom welcome students wanting to learn more and take part themselves in a future festival. 

Although the Thyagaraja Festival focuses on Indian classical music and dance, all are welcome and encouraged to attend.

The festival is free and open to the public now through Sunday, April 16, in the Music and Communication Building’s Waetjen Auditorium. Events begin promptly at 8 a.m. and usually end at 10 p.m.

Next year's Cleveland Thyagaraja Festival opens on March 27, 2024.