The CLEVELAND THYAGARAJA FESTIVAL was established in 1978 by ASIAN INDIAN immigrants who wished to start a Thyagaraja Aradhana. The 1960s and 1970s comprised the first substantial wave of Asian Indian immigration to Cleveland. Ramnad Raghavan who arrived in Cleveland in 1977 learned about an informal group of other Asian Indian immigrants who were known as the Cleveland Bhajan Group, many of whom knew how to play traditional Indian music. Raghavan wished to start a program where they could practice and refine their interest in the traditional carnatic music. The first festival was held on the 8th of April 1978.  It was organized by Raghavan, V.V. Sundaram, R. Balasubramaniam, and Gomathy Balasubramaniam who formed the Aradhana Committee to oversee the event. The first festival was held at a rented hall in a church in RICHMOND HEIGHTS.

After the first event, Prof. T. Temple Tuttle of CLEVELAND STATE UNIVERSITY suggested to Raghavan that the festival relocate to CSU’s campus. Ever since 1979, the Festival has been held at CSU’s Music Building. The festival began with less than a hundred people and has grown to over 8000 attendees who attended the 2019 Festival. The festival has been held on Easter weekend since 1987 in order to make it easier for local schools to attend. The festival has invited star musicians and dancers from India to participate. Besides having performers from India participate, performers from all over America and Canada have come to take part in the Cleveland Thyagaraja Festival. The annual event also has come to include competitions for both dancing and in music which many young people particpagte.  In 2007, the Aradhana Committee set up an educational program, Sustaining Sampradaya, that teaches children compositions that have been transmitted throughout the centuries by senior musicians in India. Besides the Sustaining Sampradaya program, the festival also offers a dance workshop for children. As of 2020,  V.V. Sundaram, R. Balasubramaniam, and Gomathy Balasubramaniam remain on the board of organization the committee and the festival ranks as the largest Indian classical music festival outside of India

Vinod Sardesai

Article Categories