D. K. Pattammal

Damal Krishnaswamy Pattammal

D. K. Pattammal in late 1940s.
Background information
Born (1919-03-28)28 March 1919
Origin Kancheepuram, Madras Presidency, India
Died 16 July 2009(2009-07-16) (aged 90)
Chennai, India
Genres Carnatic music and playback singing
Occupation(s) singer
Years active 1929–2009
Labels HMV, EMI, RPG, AVM Audio, Inreco, Charsur Digital Workshop etc.

Damal Krishnaswamy Pattammal (i// 28 March 1919 – 16 July 2009)[1] was a prominent Carnatic musician and a playback singer for film songs in many Indian languages. She along with her contemporaries M. S. Subbulakshmi and M. L. Vasanthakumari were (and still 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.[2][3]

Early life and background

Pattammal was born in a Brahmin family in Kancheepuram of Tamil Nadu, India.[4] She was named as Alamelu, but fondly called "Patta" as a child prodigy.[4][5] Her father, Damal Krishnaswamy Dikshithar, who was deeply interested in music, inspired her to learn Carnatic music.[6] 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.[6] Despite her orthodox background, Pattammal sang and showed considerable music talent at an early age.[4]

She received no formal gurukula training.[7] As a child, Pattammal sat through the concerts, and on returning home, notated the kritis she heard,[8] and key phrases of ragas.[7] Her brothers D. K. Ranganathan, D. K. Nagarajan, and D. K. Jayaraman – later her vocal accompanists, helped her in this task.[7] She also sang simple devotional hymns and songs her father taught her.[4][9] Later, she received tuition from an unnamed Telugu-speaking musician, whom she called "Telugu vadyar" or "Telugu teacher".[4][9] He'd also offered to teach her Telugu and Sanskrit.[10]

Singing career

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),[5] whom Pattammal admired deeply. According to Pattammal,[9] Naina Pillai would host Thyagaraja Utsavams (festivals dedicated to Tyagaraja) in Kancheepuram every year,[5] 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.[5] 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.[4] In 1939, Pattammal married R. Iswaran.[4] She quickly rose to stardom, and her musical career spanned more than 65 years.

D. K. Pattammal's knowledge was encyclopaedic;[11] she was considered as an authority on Muthuswami Dikshitar's compositions,[6] and is also known for her renditions of these.[1] She learnt authentic versions of these compositions from Ambi Dikshithar, a descendant of Muthuswami Dikshithar, as well as Justice T. L. Venkatrama Iyer, an authority on Dikshithar's compositions.[1] She popularised several Dikshithar's compositions in her concerts, and also sang Tiruppugazhs and Tevarams that she learnt from Appadurai Achari.[12] Pattammal also learnt many compositions of Papanasam Sivan, directly from the composer himself.[12] She went on to popularise these compositions of Papanasam Sivan, as well as those of Subramania Bharathiyar,[6] both in film and Carnatic music.

Pattammal started a few revolutionary trends in Carnatic music.[4] 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.[9] 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.[4] 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.[4] Her singing of pallavis was technically perfect, and aesthetically pleasing.[11] For this reason, she became dubbed "Pallavi Pattammal".[5] 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.[4][11] Today, many female Carnatic musicians perform Ragam Thanam Pallavi as the main item in their concerts.


Pattammal was one of the earliest Carnatic musicians to sing in films, and was introduced in this medium by Papanasam Sivan.[6] 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 Pattammal sang in was Thyagabhoomi (1939).[13] A scene, towards the end of the film, consisted of a group of freedom fighters marching in a procession, carrying the Indian National Congress party flag, with "Desa Sevai Seyya Vareer" being sung by Pattammal in the background.[14] The song, which was played by Papanasam Sivan and written by Kalki R. Krishnamurthy, highlighted the Freedom Movement and invited people to join.[14] The fame that the film and the song generated led to both being banned by the British government.[14]

Pattammal popularised several patriotic compositions of Subramania Bharathiyar.[6] In Nam Iruvar (1947), her renditions of "Vettri Ettu Dhikkum", and "Aaduvome Pallu Paduvome", a utopian creation celebrating a free India, went on to be big hits.[6][14] In Rama Rajyam (1948), Pattammal popularised Subramania Bharathi's "Thoondir Puzhvinapol", while she popularised his composition, "Theeradha Vilayattu Pillai", in Vedhala Ulagam (1948). Pattammal's singing, along with the dancing of Baby Kamala in the film, made the latter of these especially memorable. In AVM's Vazhkai (1949), where Vyjayanthimala was introduced in film, Pattammal also sang his "Bharatha Samudhaayam Vaazhgave". Pattammal had the rare honour of performing at the foundation-laying ceremony of the Bharati Memorial at Ettayapuram.[1]

Pattammal also sang in other films including Mahatma Urangaar (1947), Pizhaikkum Vazhi (1948), Lavanya (1951). The last song Pattammal sang in film was at the age of 80 for the Tamil film, Hey Ram (2000).[8] Ilaiyaraaja and Kamal Haasan carted recording equipment to her home and had her sing "Vaishnav Janato", a favourite of Mahatma Gandhi, for the film.[8]

Year Film Language Song Music Lyrics
1939 Thyagabhoomi Tamil Desa Sevai Seyya Vareer Papanasam Sivan Kalki R. Krishnamurthy
1946 Tyagayya Tamil Purandaradasa Devara Nama Chittor V. Nagaiah Papanasam Sivan
1947 Nam Iruvar Tamil Vettri Ettu Dhikkum R. Sudharsanam Mahakavi Subramaniya Bharathiyar
1947 Nam Iruvar Tamil Aaduvome Pallu Paduvome R. Sudharsanam Mahakavi Subramaniya Bharathiyar
1947 Mahathma Utthangaar Tamil Kaana Aaval Kondengumen Iru Vizhigal S. V. Venkatraman & T. R. Ramanathan Papanasam Sivan
1947 Mahathma Utthangaar Tamil Kunchitha Paadham Ninainthu Urugum S. V. Venkatraman & T. R. Ramanathan Papanasam Rajagopala Iyer
1947 Miss Malini Tamil Sree Saraswathi Namasthudhe S. Rajeswara Rao & Parur S. Anantharaman Kothamangalam Subbu
1948 Rama Rajyam Tamil Enakkum Irupadham Ninaikka R. Sudharsanam K. Devanarayanan
1948 Vedhala Ulagam Tamil Thoondir Puzhuvinaipol R. Sudharsanam Mahakavi Subramaniya Bharathiyar
1948 Vedhala Ulagam Tamil Theeradha Vilayattu Pillai R. Sudharsanam Mahakavi Subramaniya Bharathiyar
1948 Pizhaikkum Vazhi Tamil Engal Naattukku Endha Naadu Eeedu Perinba Gnana Veedu G. Aswathama Madurai G. Sundara Vaathiyar
1948 Pizhaikkum Vazhi Tamil Kottai Kattathedaa G. Aswathama T. K. Sundara Vaathiyar
1948 Pizhaikkum Vazhi Tamil Mudhalai Vaayil G. Aswathama T. K. Sundara Vaathiyar
1949 Vazhkai Tamil Bharatha Samudhaayam Vaazhgave R. Sudharsanam Mahakavi Subramaniya Bharathiyar
1950 Jeevitham Telugu Aandhra Yugakka Neevi Jayamuraa R. Sudharsanam
1951 Lavanya Tamil Pazham Bhaaratha Nannaadu S. V. Venkatraman Papanasam Sivan
1951 Lavanya Tamil Thanga Oru Nizhal Illaiye S. V. Venkatraman Papanasam Sivan
2000 Hey Ram Tamil Vaishnav Janato Ilaiyaraja 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. Pattammal who was 80, is the most senior among of the rest of the other vocal artists in this video album.


Pattammal has performed in all major states, sabhas and venues throughout India, as well as numerous destinations around the world, including the United States, Canada, France, Germany, Switzerland, Sri Lanka and other countries.[15]


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,[16] Sushila Raman, Geetha Rajashekar,[17] her granddaughter Nithyasree Mahadevan,[18] her great-granddaughter Lavanya Sundararaman, and her Malaysian, Chinese student/adopted grandson Chong Chiu Sen (Sai Madhana Mohan Kumar) from Malaysia.[19]


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

Awards and titles

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


  1. 1 2 3 4 5 "The Hindu: Front page: Pattammal passes away". The Hindu. 17 July 2009. Retrieved 11 April 2015.
  2. Profile – Sangita Kalanidhi D.K.Pattammal
  3. "The Hindu : Chords and Notes". The Hindu. 4 August 2003. Retrieved 11 April 2015.
  4. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 Lakshmi Ramakrishnan (April 1998), "Music with feeling", Frontline, The Hindu Group, 15 (8)
  5. 1 2 3 4 5 D Ram Raj (18 July 2009). "Enough if I get 100 discerning listeners". Daily News and Analysis. Retrieved 11 April 2015.
  6. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 "Pattammal passes away". Deccan Chronicle. 16 July 2009. Retrieved 11 April 2015.
  7. 1 2 3 Gowri Ramnarayan (17 July 2009). "Elegance, not flamboyance, was her forte - The Hindu". The Hindu. Retrieved 11 April 2015.
  8. 1 2 3 Gowri Ramnarayan (August 2009), "Matriarch of music", Frontline, The Hindu Group, 26 (16)
  9. 1 2 3 4 Asha Krishnakumar & N. Ravikiran (August 1999), "A lifetime for Carnatic music", Frontline, The Hindu Group, 16 (16), retrieved 11 April 2015
  10. The Hindu : Friday Review Bangalore / Tribute : The voice that touched the skies
  11. 1 2 3 4 The Hindu : Friday Review Chennai / Tribute : Perfect and aesthetic
  12. 1 2 The Hindu: Dignity personified
  13. A progressive film-maker
  14. 1 2 3 4 Randor Guy (31 July 2009). "Memorable voice, evergreen songs - The Hindu". The Hindu. Retrieved 11 April 2015.
  15. Sleeman (2002), p438
  16. The Hindu : Friday Review Chennai / Columns : Life time bond with music
  17. The Hindu : Pattammal touch evokes nostalgia
  18. Sangeetha (31 July 2009). "Musical legacy - The Hindu". The Hindu. Retrieved 11 April 2015.
  19. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 D.K.Pattammal
  20. The Hindu : Karnataka / Bangalore News : 'A momentous occasion for the music fraternity'


External links

Official website

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