In early 2015, in an article in the blog Kafila titled “Caste, Class And The ‘Classical’", environmental activist Nityanand Jayaraman set out some of the aims of the arts festival he was helping organize. Noting that there were around 2,000 fine arts performances in the relatively pleasant months of December and January in Chennai, he wrote: “Over the years, arts and artists have confined themselves to elite ghettos, which is what the sabhas (or performance theatres) have become. With all this comes the inescapable caste trap."

The inaugural 2015 Urur Olcott Kuppam Margazhi Vizha—vizha is festival; Margazhi is the period from mid-December to mid-January; Urur Olcott Kuppam is a fisherman’s colony—was an attempt to upend the status quo and bring classical forms to an audience often unfairly cut off from them, while also trying to do away with the often arbitrary distinctions between “folk" and “classical". Music and dance performances were held on stages set up on the Besant Nagar beach, free for the public. The whole enterprise was crowdfunded and volunteer-driven.

This month, the festival is back for its second edition.

The festival’s inclusionary bent has been strengthened by the idea of giving something back to the fisherfolk who joined the rescue and clean-up efforts during last year’s Chennai floods. “During the floods, something unbelievable happened," the festival’s conceptualizer and famed Carnatic music vocalist T.M. Krishna said over the phone. “For those five or six days, we all forgot our addresses and helped each other irrespective of where we were from. We felt that the festival should address that."

While a curtain-raiser performance by Krishna has already taken place, there will be paraiattam, Bharatanatyam and villuppaattu performances, and a session by singer-songwriter Raghu Dixit, from 20-28 February. One of these performances is at West Mambalam, one of the several areas in the city that suffered during the floods. The schedule also includes a beach clean-up, which might serve as a reminder, if any were needed, of how the people of Urur Olcott Kuppam and so many other “invisible" neighbourhoods came forward in the wake of the floods to make Chennai livable again.

To contribute to this festival, visit www.ketto.org/urur-vizha. For the schedule, click here

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