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Friday, September 6, 2013

Parassala B Ponnammal

had the fortune of listening to this great artist some 8 concerts each one still vivid in memory for really chaste classical music Get me a pair of white stone studded ear drops and a colorful attire-then I would sing like her” said ten year Ponnu pointing to the adolescent M S Subbalekshmi. MS’s performance was a great inspiration for her. .
Even at 82 Parassala B Ponnammal maintains the same enthusiasm and spirit. With seven decades of experience behind she still practices for the forthcoming Navarathri Mandapam concert. “I am tense. I am glad. I am blessed and I am honored” was her mixed reaction, when approached.
“I am tense because it is a very serious affair. I am performing since seven decades and I have not been so tense. For the first time in 177 years Navarathri Mandapam will echo the musical notes of woman. The trust unanimously selected me for the historical event. I am glad because my master Semmangudi Sreenivasa Iyer had rendered at the Mandapam for 59 years without any break! What an achievement! I am invited to such a reverent place makes me feel that I am blessed” she said.
Sixty seven years ago, she won a gold medal in a music competition held in connection with the birth day celebration of Sree Chithira Tirunal. The judges, Harikesanallur Muthaih Bhagavathar and Semmangudi Sreenivasa Iyer, unanimously decided to elect her as the winner. How can the doyens’ judgment go wrong?
She proved to be one of the best musicians Kerala has ever seen. But she always maintained a low profile.
Born to R. Mahadeva Iyer and A. Bhagavathi Ammal, in 1924, in Parassala, she was initiated into music by Paramu Pillai Bhagavathar. “I took part in the competition unexpectedly which changed the course of my life,” remembers Ponnammal. It was Amma Maharani who gave prize to the little Ponnammal. “When we were in Adoor Vaidyanatha Iyer heard me singing and came forward to teach me. I was only seven then. His song was full of graces, and hence I refused to learn under him initially. Hearing M S revealed what pure music. I agreed to learn under Vaidyanatha Iyer. It was his training that fetched me gold medal in this competition” remembers Ponnammal with gratitude.
Harikesanallur Muthaih Bhagavathar, met Ponnammal’s father after the competition. He said: “Your girl is highly talented. Let her join the Music Academy. She is sure to earn good reputation and would be an asset for the music world.”
“My father was in a dilemma. The family was settled in Parassala. In those days girls were not sent to far off places for higher studies. The Bhagavathar sent a messenger with an admission card. We were really in a fix. My mother and I moved to Thiruvananthapuram. Soon Muthaih Bahgavathar solved our problem by transferring my father to Thiruvananthapuram. That was indeed a great relief” she said and continued: “That is Ponnammal.. She sings very well” –this was how I was introduced by Muthaih Bahgavathar to every body.”
She hardly attended the first year course. Three days later she was admitted to the second year. She was the first lady to pass ganabhushanam and ganapraveena. She joined the Academy as the first lady teacher and became the first lady Principal. She served all the three Academies and retired in 1980 after a meritorious service of 38 years. “Today I am invited to sing at the Navarathri Mandapam. I am really honored.”
“I started giving concerts for wedding ceremonies, and temple festivals. Gradually I became popular outside Travancore. In 1940 Trichi AIR invited me for a concert. I was paid Rs. 25. It was hiked to 45 and then to 60. In fact, it was Trichi AIR which prefixed my name with Parassala, to avoid confusion with another singer with the same name,” said Ponnammal.
She has been singing for AIR Thiruvananthapuram since its inception. The responsibility as a teacher then Principal almost tied her down to Kerala. She has given only a few concerts outside Kerala. Otherwise she would be as popular as M S or DK Pattammal. However she harbors no regret.
Recorded in 1965 Guruvayoor Puresa Suprabhatham rendered by Ponnmmal is very popular. It was especially composed for Guruvayoor Ekadesi by Jnananda Saraswathi. The composer presented her a long citation an encomium she still cherishes. She was conferred the title of Gayakaratnam in 1996. “Princess Karthika Tirunal presented this to me.”
Trisivapuresa Suprabhatahm, Meenambika Sthothram, Sree Padmanabha Sathakam, Ulsava Prabhandam, Kuchelopakhyana tarangini, Navarathari Kriti, Navavarana kriti, Ramashtapathi, compositions of K C Keasva Pillai and Irayimmen Thampi, are some of her renowned renditions.
Shenkottai Devanayakom was carried away by her mellifluous voice. He married her in 1949. But he is not alive to witness her historical achievement. The family support is always there. “I miss my sister who recently passed away. She was the real driving force.”
As she served all the Music Academies, she has plenty of disciples, who are great musicians today. Neyyantikara Vasudevan, Palai Ramachandran, Kumara Kerala Varma, Palkulangara Ambikadevi, G. Seethalekshmi, and Mangad Natesan are a few to name.
“What I am today is only because of the blessings of the God, my gurus, support received from my family and the encouragement offered by the music lovers” said Ponnammal who is the recipient of State Academy Award and Fellowship.

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