Guru Kataksham

It is indeed a moment of great pleasure to sit down and write about my Guru on the auspicious Guru Poornima day. DK Pattammal amma remains, without a shadow of a doubt, one of the most illuminating torch bearers of Carnatic music history. Her influence on me is beyond quantification. For what set her apart was her innate humaneness and down-to-earth nature.

I can fondly remember my first tryst with Pattammal amma at the ‘Tambaram Sri Aiyappa Samaj’ where she was the chief guest of the evening festivities. Her appreciation of my rendition of the ‘Shubapantuvarali’ raga will remain etched in my memory. At the end of the concert, she hugged me and asked me who my then guru was. Uncontrollable tears rolled down my cheeks at the thought at of my late guru Mr. NR Seethapathy. It was at this time that Pattammal amma consoled me and offered to take me under her tutelage.

Where does one start learning with a guru like DK Pattammal amma and her wealth of knowledge? You hang on to every word attentively for there is deep wisdom that encompasses an array of life experiences in every lesson. Apart from these, amma often took a particular interest in krithis that I wanted to learn simply because I liked them and went about practicing them with me. The Krithis ‘Sri Subramanyom’, ‘Mina Lochana’, ‘Yuktamukadu’ and ‘Ikanannu’ will always hold a special place in my heart. Another noteworthy incident that springs to my mind happened on the eve of my concert at the Music Academy. With heavy rains lashing the city, amma forbade me from making the trip to her house and instead taught me the entirepallavi ‘Kamala Vadhani, Kamala Dhalanayani (Mishra thirupata) ’ over the telephone. Such was her dedication towards the finer nitty gritties of professional Carnatic singing. Also, Pattammal amma had a fine eye at selecting songs for the occasion. She often impressed upon me, the importance of singing Ranganayakam, Ranganayaki songs that celebrated togetherness at marriage ceremonies as opposed to songs like ‘Yeti Janmamu’ that questioned existence. Such tips, however small they seem, went on to leave a lasting impact.

It was during these rigors of Carnatic music training that Pattammal amma became more than just a maestro of the fine arts in my eyes. She would almost always force feed me lunch at her place reminding me of hunger pangs that would otherwise strike during the return journey from Kotturpuram to Tambaram after a class in the afternoon. In one such occasion Pattammal amma put an unidentifiable delicacy into my mouth and asked for my review. The Potato halwa was as sweet as Pattammal amma’s rendition of Muthuswami Dikshitar’s compositions. These post-singing lunch sessions brought Pattammal amma down to earth from her musical citadel as a human with innate childlike likability’s. Her description of the Iyengar traditions – from the importance of the ‘4 time’ namaskarams (referring to the four vedas) to her soft corner to the Iyengar Puliyodharai endeared her. Incidentally, after Pattammal amma graced my wedding reception with another of her spellbinding musical performance, she took back something other than audience adulation… the Puliyodharai gravy.

Reading the many letters that amma wrote to me and allowing nostalgia to take over, I can’t help but think that lady luck did indeed smile upon me on that day at the Aiyappa samaj because not everyone gets blessed with a teacher who continues to inspire you at every step of your professional and personal life.

“Guru Kataksham Paripoornama irukkatom ma” Amma’s catchphrase continues to ring in my ears…

Smt Jayanthi Rangarajan