Song of Surrender

Monday, 19 March 2018

The Pattammal century

An exciting slew of events has been planned to celebrate the centenary of one of Carnatic music's enduring icons starting on Saturday 17 March and culminating on her 100th birth anniversary on 19th March 2019. Sruti's inaugural issue proved an instance success as it had Sangita Kalanidhi DK Pattammal on the cover. She was in many ways a pioneer among Carnatic vocalists, and we called her a trail blazing traditionalist. It is no secret that in the conservative south Indian milieu of the first half of the twentieth century, women were expected to take care of home and hearth, not venturing out even to practise the arts. The performing arts, not considered very respectable in Victorian India, had just about emerged from the shadow of social stigma, and were now dominated by men. In a remarkable turn of events that so often surprise us in the melting pot that is India, it was the intervention of the headmistress of the convent school she went to in the temple town of Kanchipuram that prevented young Pattammal from going the way of many upper caste Tamil girls.

Pattammal was a fortunate exception to the social norms that kept women at home. Once her father Krishnaswamy Dikshitar became convinced that her musical talent should be displayed on the concert stage, there was no stopping her. She not only became the equal of men in areas the few women already performing had hitherto been allowed to enter, but stormed the exclusive male bastion of ragam-tanam-pallavi singing and complex swaraprastaram.

Born in Kanchipuram on 28 March 1919, Damal Krishnaswamy Dikshitar Pattammal was over 90 when she breathed her last on 16 July 2009, her death bemoaned by the lifelong admirers of her sonorous rendering of unadulterated traditional Carnatic music, austere in intent and execution, crystal clear in enunciation, faithful to its creators in word and spirit, soaring in its adventurous exploration of the most complex rhythmic variations.

For all her immaculate pathantara, Pattammal’s early schooling in her chaste music was at best vicarious, learnt from the great gurus of her day by indirect assimilation Ekalavya-style rather than through gurukulavasa, which her gender at any rate ruled out. Her virtual mentor Kanchipuram Naina Pillai’s impact led to her mastery of ragam-tanam-pallavi at a time when women singers were expected to confine themselves to song-rendering in a demure, proper manner. The brief tutelage with Ambi Dikshitar that came later meant that she would one day become synonymous with the Muthuswami Dikshitar oeuvre. Graduation through adulthood and marriage to direct learning from Papanasam Sivan gave her a command over Tamil compositions poignant in the visible bhakti of her exposition of those moving lyrics.

For a woman of orthodox upbringing, Pattammal took many a daring step in her youth, especially in her courageous espousal of the nationalist cause through song. She did not shy away from lending her voice to film songs either, provided the songs were based on classical music and had high meaning. They were usually of patriotic content. She gave new life to some of the best creations of poet Subramania Bharati in this genre.

Pattammal and her brother D.K. Jayaraman were a rare combination on stage, creating vocal excellence in a role reversal that meant the younger brother had to sing in a kind of falsetto to support the elder sister’s deep voice. It is only when Jayaraman started to perform solo that the real depth and range of his voice came into prominence.

While son Sivakumar is a mridanga vidwan, his marriage to Palghat Mani Iyer’s daughter resulted in the passing on of extraordinary musical genes to the next generation. Granddaughter Nithyashree Mahadevan is the best known among the musicians from the Pattammal lineage.

Pattammal was a much loved, respected teacher too. Many frontline musicians belonging to the Jayaraman school had the good fortune of learning from Pattammal too, especially after Jayaraman’s premature death. Vocalist Vijay Siva and violinist R.K. Shriramkumar are perhaps the most prominent of them.

Pattammal remained a loving and devoted teacher almost until the end. She listened to and appreciated good music of all kinds, including film music, jazz and opera, and even watched cricket, but her views on Carnatic music remained unwaveringly traditional, classical.

Much of what you read here formed the substance of a documentary on Pattammal's life that preceded the formal launching of the DKP centenary celebrations by M Venkiah Naidu, Vice President of India on 17 March 2018 at the Narada Gana Sabha. The outstanding feature of the film was Pattammal's magnificent voice which reverberated around the hall. It was difficult to resist the temptation to ask the question, "Will we ever hear another quite like that?"

Friday, 16 March 2018

VV. Subramanyam

Birthdays & Anniversaries

VV. Subramanyam is a musician who, even his worst detractors will admit, has reached regions beyond mere technique and dwells in them. As a probable corollary, he is not very facile with the world of everyday interactions. His refusal to accept anything less than perfect lies at the root of his musical achievements and that same attitude perhaps underlies what is seen as his somewhat intractable disposition towards men and matters.

A complex personality, Subramanyam has one consuming passion – music; and this has led him into deep explorations of religious belief and spiritual techniques. His is a world of mysterious connections, of kundalini yoga and mantra sastra, and, above all, nada – that all pervading, primal sound energy mentioned in esoteric philosophical traditions.

Born at Thoattuvay in Kerala on 16 March 1944, Vadakkencheri Veeraraghava Subramanyam (VVS), is among the great Carnatic musicians that verdant green country has produced.

Among VVS’s earliest memories are concert tours with his guru Chembai Vaidyanatha Bhagavatar. One of them stands out clearly: a visit, when he was barely ten, to Poomuli Mana in Kerala – a household where prosperity wafted through the air like cool fragrances. An old, orthodox namboodiri in that household murmured “Saraswati kataksham” whenever he looked at the boy VVS, convinced that he was blessed by the goddess. During that visit VVS also remembers a little girl offering him a flower as devi prasadam – Saraswati’s blessings. It all fits with his worldview: a world where the divine is as much a matter of experience as normal sense experiences.

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Wednesday, 14 March 2018

Bharatanatyam guru honoured

The queen receives Chamundeswari Pani

Guru  Chamundeswari with Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth

Chamundeswari Pani, senior Bharatanatyam artist, choreographer, guru and producer of several dance dramas in the UK,  was invited to a reception at the Buckingham Palace on
14 February 2018, ahead of the London Commonwealth Heads of Government meeting to be held in April.

The reception is held to recognize the achievements of "those in the Commonwealth diaspora from across the UK who have made a notable contribution to the wider community."

Chamundeswari, a disciple of Dandayudapani Pillai, left India 30 years ago for the UK after marrying  Col.Pani, a doctor in the British Army.

S R G Rajanna

                                                               Birthdays & Anniversaries


Zia Mohiuddin Dagar

Birthdays & Anniversaries

14.3.1929 - 28.9.1990
One of the foremost presentday practitioners of dhrupad, Umakant Gundecha has an interesting name for Seattle, USA. He calls the city “Dhrupad Nagari” meaning “City of Dhrupad”. For, true to its reputation of providing a vibrant blend of cultural activities that draw upon its rich ethnic diversity, Seattle is home to a large number of practitioners of the Dagarvani style of dhrupad.

It all began with the visit by an eminent rudraveena maestro from India, the late Zia Mohiuddin Dagar, who came as a visiting faculty member more than three decades ago at the invitation of Robert Garfias who headed the University of Washington’s (UW) Ethnomusicology programme in the mid 1970s. Over a period of four years spread over the mid-to-late-1970s, the ustad, a representative of the 18th generation of the Dagar family of musicians, trained several students in the art of dhrupad. He also taught khayal to beginner vocalists and trained instrumentalists who specialised in playing Indian stringed instruments such as the sitar, surbahar, violin and sarangi. Fred Lieberman and Daniel Neuman who succeeded Garfias at the ethnomusicology department at UW also actively supported the visiting artist programme. Over the years, musicians interested in learning dhrupad moved to Seattle from states such as Pennsylvania, Michigan and California.

Mohiuddin Dagar groomed two disciples of Indian origin, Shantha Benegal and the late Prabha Rustagi, both committed to learning dhrupad.

                                               To read full story, visit and buy Sruti 347