DK Pattammal - A loving teacher and great human being

My journey in classical music was strengthened under the guidance of DK Pattammal. I met her personally about 17 years ago and the memories of her teaching me, speaking with me and blessing me are still alive in my heart. It was Pattammal’s love and affection that pulled me to her place again and again.

I hail from Andhra Pradesh am an avid carnatic music lover and learner. Having heard a lot about her, I started visiting her; travelling from Hyderabad. Whenever I met her, she used to warmly receive me and speak with me. Although I was not fluent in Tamil, I would try and convey in Tamil along with bits of Telugu and English. She would carefully listen to me and acknowledge with her everlasting smile. Personally, I experienced divine vibrations in her presence.

One day, having noticed my interest in music, she herself said to me – “You have been visiting me for quite some time now. You should never feel that your desire to learn music from me was not fulfilled. I will teach you music.” I do not have words to explain what I felt that moment. Thus started my association with Pattamal as her shishya.

As a teacher, I sometimes felt, that her patience was equivalent to that of the earth. She could measure the student’s depth, abilities and weaknesses. However the great thing was she used to get down to the student’s level and give them the helping hand to bring them up. In my case, she used to repeat the sangathis again and again, sometimes breaking them into parts, so that I could understand it and repeat it to her satisfaction. If I could not sing it properly, she would smile and repeat it again. Never in this process, did I notice strain or impatience in her.

I recollect one instance when, on one afternoon of my stay at her residence, she called me for teaching me a keerthanai. She was in her early 80s then. I noticed her wet hands and realized that she had just finished her lunch. I was a bit concerned that she would have to push herself to teach me. I asked her if I may come later but she refused. She told me that some visitors or students may come in later in the day and she would get busy with them. She insisted to me to start learning that moment. Having heard this, I could hardly refuse.

One day, while teaching Kalamaba dhyana keerthanai -“Kalalambike” in thodi, at Kamalalaya theertha vaibhavey she paused and narrated about one of her performances at the “Theppothsavam” in Thiruvarur Thyagarajeswarar aalayam also known as the Kamalaya Kshethram. In the pushkarini the boat (theppa) was arranged and the deities were decorated beautifully. Inside the same boat, her concert was arranged where she sang this composition. All the provisions from the microphones, speakers to the seating arranggements for the audience etc. were setup. The boat was moved all around the entire pushkarini and all the devotees had gathered around it. Women assembled in beautiful and colorful sarees and flowers clinging to their hair; children were playing around the area. Security was arranged to ensure that no mishaps would occur. The narration was so engrossing that I did not realize the time that passed by.

On another occasion, I was watching her teach “Varija Mukhi Neevu” – the Kshetrayya padam in Shankarabham to one of her students. Having taught the composition, she turned to me and asked – “Vaartha ellaam sariya irukkaa?” as if indicating me to correct her wherever the lyrics were being sung incorrectly. I was really taken aback by that question for she was still enthusiastic towards self-correction. I told her few corrections that I noticed and she gladly acknowledged them and noted it for future reference. Truly, Real Icons learn everyday till their last breath!

Pattammal would always tell me that Bhakthi is great and all the composers in our musical tradition have upheld that in their compositions. She would also frequently hail the greatness of her earlier generation of musicians, like Naina Pillai, Ariyakudi Ramanuja Iyengar and other stalwarts. She would also advise that not everything that we hear should be imbibed into our music. Only that which is suitable to us should be absorbed.

Her elaborate blessings in her sweet, sober tone always filled my heart with happiness and I think it is those blessings that are helping me today in learning and understanding music better. I’m fortunate to have had a loving teacher who was a great human being!

R V Panduranga Sharma