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Veena Dhanammal

Profile

Carnatic musician, who specialized in singing and playing the veena simultaneously, Dhanammal was born in Thanjavur in 1868 (there is debate about the year), and died in 1938.

Lineage

Dhanammal was the daughter of Sundarambal, a well-known singer. Sundarambal was the adopted daughter of Thanjavur Kamakshi, a dancer and singer in the court of King Sarabhoji (Serfoji) 2. Kamakshi’s grandmother Pappamal was also a dancer in the Thanjavur court.

 

Thanjavur Kamakshi learned from Subbaraya Sastri, son of Syama Sastri, one of the Carnatic Musical Trinity.

Gurus

In the beginning, Dhanammal learned from her mother and grandmother. Later she learned kritis from Sattanur Panju Iyer. She learned to play the veena from Alagiyasingarayya, and was taught Kshetrayya padams by Walajapet Padam Balakrishnadas.

Characteristics of her music

Playing the veena without a plectrum and no accompanying instruments, Dhanammal brought out the nuances through prolonged plucking of the main strings. She would keep the pitch of the strings a notch higher to match it to her singing. 

Repertoire

Her vast repertoire included compositions of Musical Trinity, Tamil and Telugu compositions, rare varnams, Kshetrayya padams and javalis.

Contemporaries

Thirukodikaval Krishna Iyer (violinist), Thiruppamburam Swaminathan Pillai, Thiruppamburam Natarajan Sundaran Pillai, Dharmapuri Subbarayar, Mridangam Narayanaswami Appavu, Thiruvaduthurai T.N. Rajarathinam Pillai (nadaswaram), Thiruvottiyur Tyagarajan, Sarva Sastrikal, and Konerirajappuram Vaidyanatha Iyer (vocalist).

Descendants

Four daughters: Rajalakshmi, Lakshmiratnam, Jayammal and Kamakshi. The eldest two were vocalists and performed together. Jayammal performed on the tabla and Kamakshi played the violin. Jayammal’s daughter was the famous Bharatanatyam dancer T. Balasaraswati. Jayammal’s son T. Ranganathan was an accomplished mridangam player. T. Viswanathan was accomplished on the flute.

 

Kamakshi’s daughters were the prominent Carnatic vocalists T. Brinda and T. Mukta. Their younger sister Abhiramasundari was a well-known violinist.

 

Dhanammal's students included Maharani Sethu Parvathi Bai of Travancore.