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 (pronunciation) (19 March 1919 – 16 July 2009),[1] popularly known as D. K. Pattammal or DKP, was an Indian Carnatic musician and a playback singer for film songs in Tamil. Pattammal, 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.[2][3]

Early life and background

Pattammal was born in a Brahmin family in Kancheepuram of Tamil Nadu, India.[4] She was named 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] Her parents initiated her into devotional singing.[1]

Pattammal did not receive formal training in a systematic manner beginning with the basics.[1] She also did not receive regular gurukula training; in accordance with those times, women, especially from conservative families, were constrained from attending gurukula training.[1][7] She initially received tuition from an unnamed Telugu-speaking musician, whom she called "Telugu vadyar" or "Telugu teacher",[1][4][8] who also taught her Telugu and Sanskrit.[9] She later learnt music from her mother, some disciples of C Subramanya Pillai (popularly known as Naina Pillai), as well as Rajalakshmi, daughter of Veena Dhanammal.[1] Pattammal also learnt from Ambi Dikshitar, a grandson of prolific composer Muthuswamy Dikshitar.[1] Pattammal subsequently continued learning compositions of Dikshitar from musicologist and former Supreme Court judge, T. L. Venkatarama Iyer.[1] She also studied directly under Papanasam Sivan, a prolific Tamil composer.[1]

As a child, Pattammal sat through Carnatic music concerts, and on returning home, notated the kritis she heard,[10] 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][8] There was no radio or recorded music which was available in those times.[1]

After she married R. Iswaran in 1939,[4] Pattammal continued her pursuit in music while fulfilling the domestic duties of a traditional housewife, getting up as early as 4am to begin her day.[1]

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,[8] 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, Pattammal gave her first radio performance for Madras Corporation Radio (now known as AIR).[5] In 1933, at age 13, Pattammal gave a full-length public concert at Madras Rasika Ranjani Sabha; she is considered the first woman from a Brahmin-caste family to do so.[1] In the same year, her music was first captured in recording discs by the Columbia Company, as it was then known.[1] 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] She quickly rose to stardom, and her musical career spanned more than 65 years. In 1936, she gave her maiden performance at the Madras Music Academy.[1]

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.[12] 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.[12] 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,[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.[8] 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).[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 Pattammal in the background.[15] The song, written by Kalki (R. Krishnamurthy) and tuned by Papanasam 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]

Pattammal popularised several patriotic compositions of Subramania Bharathiyar.[6] 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.[6][15] In Raama Raajyam (1948), Pattammal popularised Subramania Bharathi's "Thoondir Puzhvinai-p-pol", and she made his composition, "Theeradha Vilayattu Pillai", Vedhala 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 Vaazhkai (1949 film), where Vyjayanthimala was introduced to film acting, Pattammaal sang the nationalist poet's "Bharatha Samudhaayam Vaazhgave". Pattammal also had the rare honour of performing at the foundation-laying ceremony of the Bharathi Memorial at Ettayapuram.[12]

Pattammal 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).[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.[10]

Year Film Language Song Music Lyrics
1939 Thyagabhoomi Tamil Desa Sevai Seyya Vaareer Papanasam Sivan Kalki R. Krishnamurthy
1946 Tyaagayya Telugu Purandaradaasa Devara Nama Chittor V. Naagaiah Papanasam Sivan
1947 Nam Iruvar Tamil Vettri Ettu Dhikkum R. Sudarsanam Subramania Bharathiyar
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. Sudarsanam Arunachala Kavirayar
1948 Vedhala Ulagam Tamil Thoondir Puzhuvinaipol R. Sudarsanam Subramania Bharathiyar
Theeradha Vilayattu-p- Pillai Subramania Bharathiyar
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. Sudarsanam Mahaakavi Subramaniya Bhaarathiyar
1950 Jeevitham Telugu Aandhra Yugakka Neevi Jayamuraa R. Sudarsanam
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 Lanka 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, Aishwarya Srinivas [20] and her Malaysian, Chinese student/adopted grandson Chong Chiu Sen (Sai Madhana Mohan Kumar) from Malaysia.[21]


Pattammal died of natural causes in Chennai on 16 July 2009 at 1:30 pm. She was survived by her two sons I. Sivakumar and I. Lakshmankumar,[12] 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, including:

Year Honour Honouring bestowed or presented by Ref
"Gana Saraswathi" (title) Tiger Varadachariar [22]
"Sangeetha Samragni" (title) Bharath Kalachar
Aparajitha Award BHEL Ladies Welfare Society, Bhopal
"Isai Arasi" (title) Madras Citizens Felicitations Committee, Writers' Circle Vidwat Sadas Scholar Assembly (Chennai)
"Tiruppugazh Mamani" Vadapazhani Tiruppugazh Sabha, Chennai
1957 President's Award Government of India
1960 Deva Gana Sudha Varshini LIFCO Award, Chennai
1961 Sangeet Natak Akademi Award Sangeet Natak Akademi
1970 Sangeetha Kalanidhi Madras Music Academy
1971 Padma Bhushan Government of India
1973 Isai Per Arignar Tamil Isai Sangam
1976 Sangeetha Kala Sagara Visaka Music Academy, Vishakapatnam
1978 Sangeetha Kalashikhamani Indian Fine Arts Society, Chennai
1991 Distinguished Service Award Rotary Club of Madras
1992 Gayaka Rathnam Swati Tirunal Sangeetha Sabha, Tiruvanantapuram
1992 Fellow of Sangeet Natak Academi Swati Tirunal Sangeetha Sabha, Tiruvanantapuram
1994 Avinashi Lingam Institute for Home Science and Higher Education for Women
1994 Manoranjitham Award Manoranjitham, Coimbatore
1994 Bharathi Award Vanavil Panpattu Mayyam
1994 Sangeetha Rathna T. Chowdiah Memorial National Award, Academy of Music, Bangalore
1995 Sangeetha Rathna Wisdom Star of India Award
1995 Nallisai Nayaki Tamil Nadu Nallisai Mandram
1996 Sangeetha Kala Rathnam Sankara Mutt, Kanchipuram
1996 Rasika Ranjani Sabha Award Rasika Ranjani Sabha, Mylapore, Chennai
1997 Desiya Kuyil Hindu Vidyalaya
1997 Sangeetha Sarva Bhowma Academy of Indian Music and Dance,Rajalakshmi Fine Arts, Coimbatore
1997 Sangeetha Samrat Bharatiya Vidhya Bhavan, Coimbatore
1997 Raja Sir Annamalai Chettiyar Birthday Award Raja Sir Annamalai Chettiyar Birthday Award
1998 Kala Rathna Rasika Ranjani Sabha, Mylapore Chennai
1998 Stree Rathna Award Bharatiya Vidhya Bhavan & Director K Subramaniam Memorial Trust, Chennai
1998 Isai Narkalaignar Sankaradas Swamy Ninaivu Mandram,Chennai
1998 South Indian Cultural Association South Indian Cultural Association
1998 Kalidas Samman Government of Madhya Pradesh
1999 Desiya Isai Arasi Tamil Nadu Nalvazhi Nilayam
1999 Lion Award Lioness Council Lion's Club International
1999 Padma Vibhushan Government of India
1999 Swati Puraskar Kerala Sangeeth Natak Academy, Government of Kerala
2003 Gottu Vadhyam Narayana Iyengar Birth Centinary Award Gottu Vadhyam Narayana Iyengar Birth Centinary Award
2003 Sangeetha Sagara Rathnam Rajalakshmi Fine Arts, Coimbatore [11]
2004 Probus Award of Excellence Probus Club of Madras, Scroll of Honour International Women's Day
2005 Sivan Isai Selvi Papanasam Sivan Rasikar Sangam, Chennai
2005 Life Time Achievement Award Gayana Samaj Centenary Award, Gayana Samaj Bangalore
2006 Sangeetha Vidyanidhi Andhra Music Academy
2006 Sangeetha Saraswathi Award Guruji Viswanath, founder of Manava Seva Kendra [24]
2008 Layakala Nipuna Pazhani Subramaniya Pillai Memorial Centinery Award,Percussion Arts' Centre, Bangalore


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