23 June, 2021

Southern Swareshwari

Pattammal’s triumph was that of artistic excellence over prejudice

Southern Swareshwari

Among the temporal deities with a place in the sanctum of Carnatic music, Damal Krishnaswamy Pattammal will always remain an admired icon. Her mastery of the classical idiom was outstanding, the range of her repertoire unequalled and the characteristically husky voice enunciating the lyrics with astonishing clarity almost monarchical. Yet she was more than music. She was one of half a dozen women of her generation who freed Carnatic arts from the caste and gender prejudices that held them captive. She was not a rebel like the young M.S. Subbulakshmi, nor a fighter like Veenai Dhanam or Balasaraswathi, nor even a campaigner like M.L. Vasanthakumari and Bangalore Nagarathnamma. But she identified with the cause that propelled them all and, in her own quietly determined way, helped bring about a revolution in the Carnatic universe in the ’40s and ’50s.

She was the only Brahmin in the revolutionary brigade; all the others rose from the “entertainment caste”. To realise what that meant, we must remember that Pattammal...

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