The monarch of all she sang

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The monarch of all she sang

No frills. No flamboyance. Just music, straight from the heart, sung the way it was meant to be. Music with a stately, measured, dignified gait of an empress. Not with an imperious air, but with the smile of a benevolent queen. Luminous and pure, that enveloped the listener in its silken splendour like the Kanjeevaram saree she always wore. D K Pattammal was well and truly the monarch of all she sang and her empire spanned generations, from the cognoscenti to the man on the street.For well over six decades, Pattammal held sway over the Carnatic music world, with her chaste, soulful and weighty music. Much has been said about Pattammal entering a traditional male bastion by coming onto the concert platform in an era when girls from conservative families did not cross the threshold, let alone sing in public. While it may be true, it must also be remembered that hers was a talent that could not be confined within the four walls of the house. Like a subterranean acquifer, it had to find an outlet somewhere and it was not long before the young Patta, enacting the role of Savithri in the mythological play Savithri Satyavan in a school drama caught the attention of a gramophone company representative in the audience, while singing a Tamil shlokam. An offer to cut a few records ensued, with these records catching the public fancy, launching the young Pattammal on her musical odyssey. The turning point came when, at a music examination, she had to face two stalwarts, Ambi Dikshitar, a descendent of the composer Muthuswamy Dikshitar, and Tiger Varadachariar. Impressed by her music, Ambi Dikshitar offered to teach her and thus began Pattammals lifelong tryst with Muthuswamy Diksitars compositions. As the rightful heir to Dikshitars legacy, Ambi Dikshitar taught her the songs in authentic format. The first two Dikshitar songs Pattammal learnt were Kanjadalayatakshi in Kamalamanohari and Balagopala in Bhairavi .Later, Pattammal also learnt Dikshitars compositions from scholar justice TL Venkatarama Iyer. The small stream soon became a torrent, voraciously lapping up compositions from a galaxy of composers. Thyagarajas Koluvamaregada in Todi, Adigisukhamu in Madhyamavati, Sitapate in Khamas, Shyama Shastrys Palinchu Kamakshi in Madhyamavati, Parvati Ninnu in the rare Raga Kalgada, Parakela Nannu in Kedaragowla, Subbaraya Shastrys Ninnu Vina Marigalada in Reetigowla, Papanasham Shivans Tattvam Ariya Tarama in Reetigowla, Eppadi Padinaro in Karnataka Devagandhari, Mysore Sadashiva Raos Saketha Nagaranatha in Harikambhoji, Thanjavur Ponnaiah Pillais Maya teetha Swaroopini in Mayamalavagowla, Amba Neelambari in Neelambari, Swathi Thirunals Pankaja Lochana in Kalyani, Paripahimam in Mohana, the songs of Subramanya Bharati, the list could go on. In her early years, Pattammal sang with a gay abandon, like a bird in the windstream, with her high pitched, ringing voice as can be seen in her initial recordings. Thyagarajas Entara Nitana, Dikshitars Rangapura Vihara in Brindavana Saranga come to mind in this context. In later years, however, Pattammals voice thickened, with a considerably reduced pitch. Perhaps, in a way this ideally suited her singing of Muthuswamy Dikshitars songs, which demand a rigorous control over speed to match the weighty text and the ragas which generally do not permit superficial gliding. Pattammals recordings of Srinathadi Gurugoho in Mayamalavagowla, Shri Guruguha in Devakriya, Guruguhaya in Sama, bear testimony to this. Innumerable others, notably Kamakshi in Bilahari, Dharma Samvardhini in Madhyamavati, Parvati Patim in Hamsadhwani, Soundararajam in Brindavana Saranga, Ranganayakam in Nayaki, the Navagraha Kritis have all been rendered by Pattammal in her unique style, with her stamp of authenticity and authority that stand out as examples for all times to come for their purity of notation and clarity of diction. Pattammals shlokam Ramam Lakshmana Purvajam rendered in Ragamalika and ending in Manirangu Raga followed by the evergreen song Mamava Pattabhi Rama will forever remain etched in the memory of music lovers.Another notable feature of Pattammals singing was her astonishing control over the laya (rhythmic) aspect of music. This again was forbidden territory for women, but with her characteristic simplicity, she elegantly surmounted the barrier with her Ragam-Tanam-Pallavis. Treacherous even to the seasoned practitioner, the RTP was like clay in her hands, which she moulded with childlike ease. Accompanied by her redoubtable brother D K Jayaraman and accompanied by the maestro Palghat Mani Iyer on the Mridangam and Tirupparkadal Veeraraghavan on the violin, Pattammal negotiated Pallavis like Devi Shri Tripurasundari, Kailasapathe etc with astounding ease. Shyama Shastrys Biranavara in Tishra Gati, Talli Ninnu in Viloma Chapu saw this brother sister duo indulging in mind boggling swara patterns. Pattammals music was never intended to stun the listener into silence. As the Upanishad says, like the Himalayas, it was just there. Serene, mighty, eternal. It was for the listener to stand at the foothill and soak in the grandeur and magnificence of this Paat-Ammal. Her Naan Oru Vilayatu Bommaiya resonates. The creator has taken back his plaything. That small spring that sprang up in Kancheepuram grew into a gushing stream and then into a mighty river, purifying and edifying all who came her way and has finally merged into the fathomless beyond.

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