24 July, 2021

Grace Notes From Travancore

At 92, Carnatic exponent Parassala Ponnammal finds fans in the current generation

Photograph by Hareesh Nampoothiri
Grace Notes From Travancore

Parassala B. Ponnammal was only 16 when she got a grade as a sin­ger with All India Radio. That was in 1940, when India had just a handful of broadcast stations and the one nearest to her house was at Trichy by the Cauvery, over 400 km from her village in the kingdom of Travancore. Teenaged Ponnammal went on to perform at weddings as a Carnatic vocalist, before her career took a curious turn.

By 1942, soon as she topped a three-year course from Swathi Thirunal Music Academy in Thiruvananthapuram, Pon­nammal got her first job: as a teacher in the city. From then, the artiste pocketed several firsts alongside a rising profile, but all under the shadow of a strange irony spanning seven decades. Tamil Nadu, and its capital Chennai, where Carnatic flourished after Independence, totally igno­red Ponnammal after the Trichy milestone.

It was only in 2009, when the musician was 85, that the prestigious Madras Music Acad­emy inv­ited her for a concert. This year, the 92-year-old was conferred with a Padma Shri. “People say this should have come to me...

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