DK Pattammal, or Patta, as she was known as a child prodigy, was catapulted into a special league after singing on radio at the age of 10. Pattammal (christened Alamelu) had no formal training in classical music since it was a taboo for Brahmin girls to perform before audiences then. Therefore, Patta would sit through concerts, memorise the songs and render them on returning home.
Patta followed up her radio concert in 1929 with her first public concert three years later at Madras Rasika Ranjani Sabha. There was no stopping DKP thereafter, as she formed a special trinity with contemporaries MS Subbulakshmi and ML Vasanthakumari in demolishing many myths concerned with Carnatic form of music.
Though initially reluctant to allow her to sing before audiences, her father Damal Krishnaswamy Dikshithar subsequently allowed Patta to pursue her “devotional interest in music” and the family shifted to Chennai from Kancheepuram, where she was born. Pattammal, who learnt by listening to great stalwarts of her time, had in an interview explained how the turning point of her life came when she was eight years old. She won the first prize at a competition conducted by C Subramanya Pillai (popularly known as Naina Pillai), who used to host Thyagaraja festivals in Kancheepuram every year. The orthodox Brahmin girl rose to become one of the icons of Carnatic music by scaling many bastions, which in those times were considered to be exclusive male prerogative.
“I got the first prize for singing Raksha Bettare in Bhairavi. Naina Pillai was impressed and that was a real turning point in my life,” she had said.
Her melodious voice inculcated a strong mastery over nuances of Carnatic music and she left behind a lasting legacy by her renditions of Muthuswami compositions by Muthuswami Dikshitar, Subramanya Bharati and Papanasam Sivan. A strict disciplinarian, she never allowed any form of dilution in order to attract the masses. “It is enough if I get a hundred discerning listeners. I will not lower my standards to reach out to a thousand or more,” she had once remarked. Her rendering of intricate pallavis with consummate ease earned her the sobriquet of “Pallavi Pattammal”.
Pattammal performed throughout India and around the world, including the US, Canada, France, Germany, Switzerland and Sri Lanka. She was conferred the Padma Vibhushan in 1998 and the Padma Bhushan in 1971.