D. K. Pattammal

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Damal Krishnaswamy Pattammal
D. K. Pattammal in the late 1940s.
D. K. Pattammal in the late 1940s.
Background information
Born(1919-03-19)19 March 1919
OriginKancheepuram, Madras Presidency, India
Died16 July 2009(2009-07-16) (aged 90)
Chennai, India
GenresCarnatic music and playback singing
Years active1929–2009
LabelsHMV, EMI, RPG, AVM Audio, Inreco, Charsur Digital Workshop etc.

Damal Krishnaswamy Pattammal (About this soundpronunciation ; 19 March 1919[1] – 16 July 2009)[2] was an Indian Carnatic musician and a playback singer for film songs in Tamil. She along with her contemporaries M. S. Subbulakshmi and M. L. Vasanthakumari are popularly referred to as the female trinity of Carnatic Music. This trio initiated the entry of women into mainstream Carnatic Music. She has been appreciated all over the world by Carnatic music lovers.[3][4]

Early life and background[edit]

Pattammal was born in a Tamil Brahmin family in Kancheepuram of Tamil Nadu, India.[5] She was named as Alamelu, but fondly called "Patta" as a child prodigy.[5][6] Her father, Damal Krishnaswamy Dikshithar, who was deeply interested in music, inspired her to learn Carnatic music.[7] Her mother, Kanthimathi (Rajammal), although a talented singer herself, was not permitted to sing even for friends or relatives in line with strict orthodox tradition.[7] Despite her orthodox background, Pattammal sang and showed considerable music talent at an early age.[5]

She received no formal gurukula training.[8] As a child, Pattammal sat through the concerts, and on returning home, notated the kritis she heard,[9] and key phrases of ragas.[8] Her brothers D. K. Ranganathan, D. K. Nagarajan, and D. K. Jayaraman – later her vocal accompanists, helped her in this task.[8] She also sang simple devotional hymns and songs her father taught her.[5][10] Later, she received tuition from an unnamed Telugu-speaking musician, whom she called "Telugu vadyar" or "Telugu teacher".[5][10] He'd also offered to teach her Telugu and Sanskrit.[11]

Singing career[edit]

At age eight, Pattammal won first prize for singing Thyagaraja's "Raksha Bettare" in Bhairavi, at a competition conducted by C Subramanya Pillai (popularly known as Naina Pillai),[6] whom Pattammal admired deeply. According to Pattammal,[10] Naina Pillai would host Thyagaraja Utsavams (festivals dedicated to Tyagaraja) in Kancheepuram every year,[6] and was a veteran in the art of singing Ragam Thanam Pallavi.

DK Pattammal (right) in concert with her brother, D. K. Jayaraman; circa early 1940s.

In 1929, at age 10, Pattamal gave her first radio performance for Madras Corporation Radio (now known as AIR), and 3 years later, she gave her first public concert at Madras Rasika Ranjani Sabha in 1932.[6] One year later, she moved to Chennai to become a regular performer in concerts and gave her first performance at the Mahila Samajam (the Egmore Ladies Club), and won acclaim.[5] In 1939, Pattammal married R. Iswaran.[5] She quickly rose to stardom, and her musical career spanned more than 65 years.

D. K. Pattammal's knowledge was encyclopaedic;[12] she was considered as an authority on Muthuswami Dikshitar's compositions,[7] and is also known for her renditions of these.[2] She learnt authentic versions of these compositions from Ambi Dikshitar, a descendant of Muthuswami Dikshitar, as well as Justice T. L. Venkatrama Iyer, an authority on Dikshithar's compositions.[2] She popularised several Dikshithar's compositions in her concerts, and also sang Tiruppugazhs and Tevarams that she learnt from Appadurai Achari.[13] Pattammal also learnt many compositions of Papanasam Sivan, directly from the composer himself.[13] She went on to popularise these compositions of Papanasam Sivan, as well as those of Subramania Bharathiyar,[7] both in film and Carnatic music.

Pattammal started a few revolutionary trends in Carnatic music.[5] She was the first Brahmin woman to have performed this genre of music publicly. Brahmins ranked as the highest in the caste hierarchy prevalent in India in the early 20th century, and society considered it taboo for a Brahmin woman to perform on stage.

Pattammal was also the first woman to have performed Ragam Thanam Pallavi in concerts.[10] Ragam Thanam Pallavi, which was classed as a male stronghold, is the most difficult concert item in Carnatic music, as it calls for great skill and a high degree of concentration to handle the rhythmic complexities involved.[5] Pattammal went further to perform very complex Pallavis in intricate talas (rhythmic cycles); impressing and earning the respect of her male peers, connoisseurs and fellow-musicians.[5] Her singing of pallavis was technically perfect, and aesthetically pleasing.[12] For this reason, she became dubbed "Pallavi Pattammal".[6] She learnt a few pallavis and compositions from Naina Pillai, and several from Vidyala Narasimhalu Naidu, the nephew of Tirupati Narayanaswami Naidu, a prominent composer of javalis.[5][12] Today, many female Carnatic musicians perform Ragam Thanam Pallavi as the main item in their concerts.


Pattammaal was one of the earliest Carnatic musicians to sing in films, and was introduced in this medium by Paapanaasam Sivan.[7] Although she received many offers to sing for films, she only accepted those that involved devotional or patriotic songs, and declined offers to sing romantic songs. The first film Pattammaal sang in was Thyaagabhoomi (1939).[14] A scene, towards the end of the film, showed a group of freedom fighters marching in a procession, carrying the Indian National Congress party flag, with "Desa Sevai Seyya Vaareer" being sung by Pattammaal in the background.[15] The song, written by Kalki (R. Krishnamurthy) and tuned by Paapanaasam Sivan, highlighted the Freedom Movement and invited people to join.[15] The fame that the film and the song generated led to both being banned by the British government.[15]

Pattammaal popularised several patriotic compositions of Subramania Bharathiyar.[7] In Naam Iruvar (1947), her renditions of "Vetri Ettu Dhikkum Etta", and "Aaduvome Pallu-p- Paduvome", a remarkably prescient creation celebrating a free India, went on to be big hits.[7][15] In Raama Raajyam (1948), Pattammaal popularised Subramania Bharathi's "Thoondir Puzhvinai-p-pol", and she made his composition, "Theeradha Vilayattu Pillai", Vedhaala Ulagam (1948) a favourite with listeners. Pattammaal's singing, along with the dancing of Baby Kamala in the film, made the latter of these especially memorable. In AVM's Vaazhkkai (1949), where Vyjayanthimala was introduced to film acting, Pattammaal sang the nationalist poet's "Bharatha Samudhaayam Vaazhgave". Pattammaal also had the rare honour of performing at the foundation-laying ceremony of the Bhaarati Memorial at Ettayapuram.[2]

Pattammaal sang in other films including Mahatma Urangaar (1947), Pizhaikkum Vazhi (1948), Laavanya (1951). The last song Pattammaal sang in film was at the age of 80 for the Tamil film, Hey Ram (2000).[10] Ilaiyaraaja and Kamal Haasan carted recording equipment to her home and had her sing "Vaishnav Janato", a favourite of Mahatma Gandhi, for the film.[9]

Year Film Language Song Music Lyrics
1939 Thyagabhoomi Tamil Desa Sevai Seyya Vaareer Paapaanasam Sivan Kalki R. Krishnamurthy
1946 Tyaagayya Tamil Purandaradaasa Devara Nama Chittor V. Naagaiah Paapanasam Sivan
1947 Nam Iruvar Tamil Vettri Ettu Dhikkum R. Sudharsanam Mahaakavi Subramaniya Bhaarathiyar
Aaduvome Pallu Paduvome Mahakavi Subramaniya Bharathiyar
1947 Mahathma Utthangaar Tamil Kaana Aaval Konden Iru Vizhigalal S. V. Venkatraman & T. R. Ramanathan Papanasam Sivan
Kunchitha Paadham Ninainthu Urugum Papanasam Rajagopala Iyer
1947 Miss Maalini Tamil Sree Saraswathi Namasthudhe S. Rajeswara Rao & Parur S. Anantharaman Kothamangalam Subbu
1948 Raama Rajyam Tamil Enakkun Irupadham Ninaikka R. Sudharsanam Arunachala Kavirayar
1948 Vedhala Ulagam Tamil Thoondir Puzhuvinaipol R. Sudharsanam Mahakavi Subramaniya Bharathiyar
Theeradha Vilayattu-p- Pillai Mahaakavi Subramaniya Bhaarathiyar
1948 Pizhaikkum Vazhi Tamil Engal Naattukku Endha Naadu Eeedu Perinba Gnana Veedu G. Aswathama T. K. Sundara Vaathiyar
Kottai Kattathedaa T. K. Sundara Vaathiyar
Mudhalai Vaayil T. K. Sundara Vaathiyar
1949 Vaazhkkai Tamil Bhaaratha Samudhaayam Vaazhgave R. Sudharsanam Mahaakavi Subramaniya Bhaarathiyar
1950 Jeevitham Telugu Aandhra Yugakka Neevi Jayamuraa R. Sudharsanam
1951 Lavanya Tamil Pazham Bhaaratha Nannaadu S. V. Venkatraman Papanasam Sivan
Thanga Oru Nizhal Illaiye Papanasam Sivan
2000 Hey Ram Tamil Vaishnava Janato Ilaiyaraaja Krishnaswamy Iyer

Pattammal was one of the artists in Jana Gana Mana video album composed by A. R. Rahman which was released on 26 January 2000 to mark the 50th year of the Indian Republic. Pattammaal who, at 80, was senior-most among the rest of the other vocal artists in this video album.


Pattammal on a 2014 stamp sheet of India

Pattammaal has performed in all major states, sabhaas and venues throughout India, as well as numerous destinations around the world, including the United States, Canada, France, Germany, Switzerland, Sri Lankaa and other countries.[16]


Pattammal's style of singing attracted many students, foremost among them her younger brother D. K. Jayaraman, who sang with her in several concerts, and who himself received the Sangeetha Kalanidhi in 1990. A few of her other popular students include her daughter-in-law Lalitha Sivakumar,[17] Sushila Raman, grand daughter Gayathri SundaraRaman, Geetha Rajashekar,[18] her granddaughter Nithyasree Mahadevan,[19] her great-granddaughter Lavanya Sundararaman, and her Malaysian, Chinese student/adopted grandson Chong Chiu Sen (Sai Madhana Mohan Kumar) from Malaysia.[20]


Pattammal died of natural causes in Chennai on 16 July 2009 at 1:30 pm. She was survived by I. Sivakumar and I. Lakshmankumar,[2] as well as her grandchildren Rajguru, Gayathri, Nithyasree, and Charan. Her husband, R. Iswaran died on 2 April 2010, aged 95.

Awards and titles[edit]

D. K. Pattammal received several awards and titles throughout her career. Most notably these include:


  1. ^ Janani Sampath (15 March 2018). "Year-long celebrations to mark DK Pattammal's birth centenary". www.dtnext.in. Archived from the original on 27 March 2018. Retrieved 27 March 2018.
  2. ^ a b c d e "Front page: Pattammal passes away". The Hindu. 17 July 2009. Retrieved 11 April 2015.
  3. ^ Smt. D.K.Pattammal. Chennai Online. Archived 6 October 2006 at the Wayback Machine
  4. ^ "Chords and Notes". The Hindu. 4 August 2003. Archived from the original on 30 August 2009. Retrieved 11 April 2015.
  5. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k Lakshmi Ramakrishnan (April 1998), "Music with feeling", Frontline, The Hindu Group, 15 (8), archived from the original on 25 June 2009
  6. ^ a b c d e D Ram Raj (18 July 2009). "Enough if I get 100 discerning listeners". Daily News and Analysis. Retrieved 11 April 2015.
  7. ^ a b c d e f g "Pattammal passes away". Deccan Chronicle. 16 July 2009. Retrieved 11 April 2015.
  8. ^ a b c Gowri Ramnarayan (17 July 2009). "Elegance, not flamboyance, was her forte". The Hindu. Retrieved 11 April 2015.
  9. ^ a b Gowri Ramnarayan (August 2009), "Matriarch of music", Frontline, The Hindu Group, 26 (16)
  10. ^ a b c d e Asha Krishnakumar and N. Ravikiran (August 1999), "A lifetime for Carnatic music", Frontline, The Hindu Group, 16 (16), retrieved 11 April 2015
  11. ^ "The voice that touched the skies". The Hindu. 18 July 2002.
  12. ^ a b c d "Perfect and aesthetic". The Hindu. 23 March 2007.
  13. ^ a b "Dignity personified". The Hindu. 22 June 2001.
  14. ^ "A progressive film-maker". Frontline. The Hindu Group. 21 (14). July 2004.
  15. ^ a b c d Randor Guy (31 July 2009). "Memorable voice, evergreen songs". The Hindu. Retrieved 11 April 2015.
  16. ^ Elizabeth Sleeman (2002). The International Who's Who of Women 2002. London: Routledge. p. 438.
  17. ^ "Life time bond with music". The Hindu. 21 September 2007.
  18. ^ "Pattammal touch evokes nostalgia". The Hindu. 18 July 2002.
  19. ^ Sangeetha (31 July 2009). "Musical legacy – The Hindu". The Hindu. Retrieved 11 April 2015.
  20. ^ "This Chinese sings in Sanskrit". Rediff. 25 August 2005.
  21. ^ a b c d e f g "D.K.Pattammal". indiansarts.com. 12 September 2015. Archived from the original on 12 September 2015.
  22. ^ "`A momentous occasion for the music fraternity'". The Hindu. 26 June 2006.

External links[edit]

Official website