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D.K. PATTAMMAL (1919-2009)

Damal Krishnaswamy Pattammal was a Carnatic singer. She was born into a conservative Brahmin Dikshitar family and given the name Patta. The family was deeply religious, and Patta remembered her father’s recitals of Sanskrit prayers that were almost like raga recitals themselves. Although Patta showed promise, she was not allowed to become the disciple of a maestro (in those days all male). Her only access to music was the Thyagaraja festival, organized by the impresario Naina Pillai. She enlisted her brothers to help her, and later they also became her accompanists. Lacking the basic training given to professional singers, she spent her whole life devising workarounds for the gaps in her knowledge, and it was her own boundless talent that made such a feat possible. She gave her first performance at the age of ten and her first radio performance at the age of thirteen. Her headmistress, impressed, allowed her to take a part in a musical play, and she came to the notice of Ambi Dikshitar, a descendant of Baluswami Dikshitar, brother of Muthuswami Dikshitar. He taught her, then she learned from T.L. Venkatarama Iyer, an authority on Dikshitar kritis. She mastered the Raga Thanam Pallavi, traditionally sung by men. Songs by Subramanya Bharati and Papanasam Sivan, rendered by her, became widely popular. She also began to sing for film scores, first for Thyaga Bhoomi, then others, including Naam Iruvar.

She married R. Iswaran and had two sons, I. Sivakumar and I. Lakshmankumar. She sang patriotic songs over All India Radio on the eve of Independence. She was a recipient of several awards including the Sangeet Natak Akademi Award in 1961, the Sangeeta Kalanidhi from the Music Academy in 1970, Padma Bhushan in 1971, and Padma Vibhushan in 1998. She became a Fellow of the Sangeet Natak Akademi in 1992.
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