By breaking barriers, D. K. Pattammal emerged a pioneer in the field of Carnatic music, dominated by men. Damal Krishnaswamy Pattammal, is the member of what is known as 'Female Trinity of Carnatic Music', with M S Subbalakshmi and M L Vasanthakumari as the other members.
Born on March 2, 1919 to Damal Krishnaswamy Dikshitar and Rajamal, in the temple town of Kancheepuram, the young Patta was considered a uniquely gifted child. Her career is unique in the sense that her foundations were not structured by a formal music tuition, learning 'Sarala Varisai', 'Janata Varisai', Geetham and Varnam, step by step.
Her talent flowered even as she learned to sing slokas at home from her music loving father and avidly listened to the musicians who came and performed at Kancheepuram. She received tuition from a Telugu Vaadhyar who volunteered to give her music lessons.
It was the recognition and support from her school headmistress Ammakutti Ammal that enabled Pattammal to appear for a government examination in music conducted at Madras even before she reached her teens. Though such stalwarts as Prof. Sambamurthy, Tiger Varadacharya and Sri Ambi Dikshitar were examiners, Pattammal was reportedly not in the least nervous in singing "Sri Subramanyaya Namaste" in Kambhoji and "Naa Jeeva Dhara" in Bilahari. Her performance resulted in an offer by one of the examiners, Sri Ambi Dikshitar, a scion of the Muthuswamy Dikshitar family, to give her instructions.
But, after some initial lessons, she had to return to Kancheepuram. Pattammal had also attended the summer school for music run by Prof. Sambamurthy and she even participated in a few variety programmes given by the summer school. When she was 14, she gave her first public performance at the Mahila Samaj in Egmore and won acclaim. She moved to Madras in 1933 to become a regular performer in the concert circuits.
Her father not only encouraged her but also instilled in her a sense of discipline and diligence as also a respect for purity in diction. Even as she matured as a performing artiste, Pattammal was diligence and dedication personified, reaching out to different sources to enrich her repertoire.
In 1929, D. K. Pattammal gave her first ever radio performance. It was then called AIR Corporation, she adds with amazing accuracy. That same year, she married Iswaran, a music devotee himself. Far from curbing her talent, he encouraged her to make it her career. Even now, he looks at her proudly and declares: "Please note that Pattammal and Rukmini Devi were the two pioneers in music and dance. Until they came on the scene, Brahmin girls were not allowed to perform in public."
Trained by eminent scholars later, such as Koteswara Iyer, Appadorai Acharyan and Vaidyanathan among others, 87-year-old Pattammal firmly believes that a true musician must share knowledge with disciples. She trained her own brother the late D. K. Jayaraman, has groomed son Sivakumar and grand daughter Nithyashree - all musicians of repute.
She took lessons from V. C. Vaidyanathan, a disciple of Ariyakkudi Ramanuja Iyengar, N. S. Krishna Swamy, Kanchi Kamakshi Ammal and Prof. P. Sambamurthy. She learnt Dikshithar krithis from Ambi Dikshitar and Justice T. L. Venkatarama Aiyar. She sought Velur Appadorai Achari for Thevaram and Tiruppugazh verses and for learning padams, she went to Rajalakshmi Ammal, daughter of Veenai Dhanammal. She approached Papanasam Sivan for learning his compositions.
She lost her father in 1940, but, within a few months gained another guiding spirit, Sri Iswaran,an engineer known to the family. Sri Iswaran gave up his career to provide moral support and manage Pattammal's career. Happily, he is still around. The long career of Pattammal as a musician has been a quiet revolution in the sedate world of Carnatic music.
Not only did Pattammal manage to shed the binding coils of orthodoxy in taking to concert music, she dared venture into a musical area as pallavi singing, hitherto considered a male preserve. Her mastery enabled her to command the respect of senior artistes and she came to be known as "Pallavi Pattammal"
Displaying a strong adherence to tradition and chastity of expression in rendering Tamil, Telugu and Sanskrit compositions, her music has the beauty and grace of Kancheepuram silk woven on the wrap of classical tradition and woof of disciplined innovation, in exposition. Her concerts are as much an aural treat to the connoisseurs as object lessons to the young students of music.
In her earlier years, Pattammal had, through constant practice and concentration, earned a reputation for her emphasis on laya. She handled very unusual and intricate rhythmic cycles, with consummate ease of command. Music for Pattammal meant a laya vidya and she has been an outstanding exponent of strict adherence to the pitch and unerring observance of rhythm with voice culture and clarity of expression.
But as she herself stated "When I was 50, I lost interest in the excitements of `laya'. I began to feel that `bhaava' was more important. As I sang more and more, I felt the power of the content deep within me. `Entraiku Varumo Sivakripai' was not a string of words; it expressed my devotion through the melody. I wanted to communicate its melting quality to the listeners." Her music in later years accorded due place to `bhaava'.
She is one of those who popularised Tamil compositions, those of Sivan and Subramania Bharatiyar. Similarly her name has become almost synonymous with Dikshitar kritis. Pattammal has a unique place of honour in the world of Indian music. Known not to sacrifice her Virtuosity and chastity of expression, at the altar of popularity, Pattammal stands even today as an out standing example of a music tradition not given to vocal gymnastics for catering to popular tastes. She has pursued music as an art and as a science, and not as a means to acquire fame, honour and wealth.