Music was not the main focus for V. Premalatha until she enrolled for an undergraduate course in music at Sri Sathguru Sangeetha Vidyalayam in Madurai. She does not regret missing admission to medical college by a narrow margin, as she now enjoys finding the treasures of music in manuscripts and documented texts.
During Premalatha’s early college years, teacher Sharada Gopalan encouraged her to pursue research in music and guided her through her post-graduation and the Junior Research Fellowship exam of the UGC. Securing the first rank in both her UG and PG, Premalatha instinctively enrolled for a PhD. It was under the stewardship of N. Ramanathan of Madras University that Premalatha took up research on music manuscripts. “In the process, I found and worked on an unpublished work, The Natyacudamani of Somanarya. I began with two manuscripts, found in Madurai and in Madras, and that led me to another 13 manuscripts, available at the libraries in Chennai, Thanjavur, Madurai, Tirupati and Mysuru. Some were palm-leaf manuscripts and the others were paper transcripts, written in Devanagari, Telugu and Grantha scripts”, she says. Premalatha’s critical edition of this book was published by National Manuscript Mission, New Delhi, in 2014.
While musicologist Ramanathan guided her at every step of her research work with a keen eye for details, Prof. R. Satyanarayana was her go-to mentor, who clarified the finer points patiently through handwritten postcards from Mysuru. “All my teachers intensified my interest in the search for manuscripts. Ramanathan sir also taught me how to prepare lessons for music courses. The peer interaction with other PhD students at the university kindled my curiosity in other areas of research.”
As part of her PhD coursework, Premalatha prepared a database of keywords seen in the journals of the Madras Music Academy from 1930 to 2009, which now helps many scholars find specific subjects of interest in the journals.
Soon after her PhD, Premalatha received the National Culture Fellowship, awarded by the Sangeet Natak Akademi, to carry out a research project on the survey and documentation of music manuscripts preserved in the Government Oriental Manuscripts Library, Chennai. Later, when she joined Sri Venkateswara University, Tirupati, as a faculty in the Department of Performing Arts, she completed the UGC - major research project, titled, ‘Research & Documentation Of The Music Manuscripts Preserved At The Oriental Research Institute, S.V. University, Tirupati’.
“Manuscripts are not dead materials; they open my eyes to something new every time I read them. I feel that every manuscript comes with a message and keeps the music of the past fresh and alive. It is fascinating to study the writings and documentations done decades, and even centuries ago,” she says, stressing that the study of music should be treated on a par with other streams of academics.
Premalatha is an associate professor and Head of the Department of Music, Central University of Tamil Nadu, Thiruvarur. As a research guide, she has so far helped 10 students complete their PhD. She feels that more responsibility is on her shoulders with the musicologist award from The Music Academy this year. “Unlike in the cities, students who take up music and research in places such as Thiruvarur and Tirupati are from modest backgrounds. Keeping their interests alive throughout the course is challenging. As a musicologist, while teaching the theoretical aspects of music and guiding students in their research, I am motivated to garner more projects for students, and take the available resources to the future generation,” says Premalatha.
V. Premalatha presents a lec-dem ‘Understanding the form, ’Thayam’ from unpublished Manuscripts’, tomorrow at The Music Academy.
Thayam is a form composed of swara phrases — it starts with a phrase, progresses, and ends with a mukhtayi. This lec-dem will focus on understanding the thayams based on notations in the manuscripts.