The many facets of Charumathi Ramachandran’s music

Charumathi Ramachandran   | Photo Credit: K. V. Srinivasan

There is something unassuming and charming about Charumathi Ramachandran. She speaks with a childlike candour. Her musical journey though not much talked about is marked by many highs.

“I was perhaps three years old when my mother recognised my talent. Now I am 67 and I still want to learn more,” says Charumathi.

Alamelu Viswanathan, her mother from Kumbakonam, had indeed foresight when she decided to put her daughter through the grind of training in Carnatic music. Alamelu was a disciple of Maharajapuram Viswanatha Iyer, who was their neighbour. Besides vocal, she also mastered veena and violin before she turned 14. That was also when she married K. Viswanathan, a filmmaker and exhibitor (Chitra talkies). He was director K. Subramaniam’s brother. Semmangudi Srinivasa Iyer, Shanmugavadivu, M.S. Subbulakshmi, T. Brinda and Muktha, D.K. Pattammal, Lalithangi, Ayyasami Iyer and their young girl, Vasanthi were all part of their lives.

“My mother continued her artistic pursuits even after marriage. She even acted with my father as the hero in one of his brother’s movies. We are seven siblings, the first being Baby Saroja, the child star of Thyagabhoomi.”

Charumathi’s rigorous training began early and among the first few compositions she learnt were ‘Paridhana Michhithey’ (Bilahari) and Syama Sastrigal’s Kamakshi Swarajathi. “When I turned 12, my mother put me under M.L. Vasanthakumari’s tutelage. She groomed me by giving me opportunities to sing along with her on stage. “The rest, as they, say is history.”

(From left) Charumathi with husband Trichur V.ramachandran and daughter Subhasree at a performance

(From left) Charumathi with husband Trichur V.ramachandran and daughter Subhasree at a performance   | Photo Credit: K.N. Muralidharan


Fifty three years of professional concert singing has taught her to be a composer as well. “I started composing for various sahityas such as ‘Om Namo Narayana’ (lyrics by Ambujam Krishna in Raga Karnaranjani) and ‘Payumoli’, of Bharathiyar in Manjkhamaj, Kalyana Vasantham, Amrithavarshini, Sama and Sindhubhairavi were also part of my learnings. The last two were approved by my guru M. L. Vasanthakumari. She sang and recorded them too.”

In the 1990s, Charumathi started putting together operas such as ‘Sri Krishna Madhuri’, ‘Bhaktha Meera’, and Tyagaraja’s ‘Nauka Charitramu’. “These were big shows with live music. Musicians young and old, acted and sang. In ‘Krishna Madhuri’, my husband Trichur Ramachandran played Tukaram while I played Tukaram’s wife. My daughter who was 15 donned the role of Meera. Ashok Ramani was Purandaradasar, Sriram Gangadharan, Lord Krishna, T. M. Krishna was Arjuna and Unnikrishnan as Jayadeva. We also had wight dancers for the raas to my Ragamalika Kesa Pasa Drutha, Rasa Krida poetry from Narayaneeyam.”

Charumathi has always been associated with laya — talas, Ragam Thanam, Pallavis. “Apart from providing vocal support for her concerts, I started singing for my sister, Lakshmi Viswanathan’s dance performances.”

The couple in the musical opera 'Krishna Madhuri'

The couple in the musical opera 'Krishna Madhuri'  


Composing pallavis became her preoccupation at one point. “I studied Sanskrit, Tamil and Hindi and kept adding to my knowledge of ragas to be able to compose. In 1971, I was awarded the gold medal by Madras University for B.A. in Music (Queen Mary’s college). For the 50th year of Indian Independence, I presented a special pallavi in raga Desh at the Music Academy and other sabhas. For ending the Ragamalika swaras, I brought in four Southern languages and Hindi — Bharatha Desam Namadhu Desam (Tamil), Bharath Desh Hamara Desh (Hindi), Bharatha Desam Nammude Desam (Malayalam), Bharatha Desa Namma Desa (Kannada) and Bharatha Desamu Mana Desamu (Telugu).

Charumathi was also awarded a gold medal for pallavis by the Music Academy. She presented new pallavis in different ragas and talas. She is credited with developing pallavis for the 72 Melakarta Talas. Sri Manicka Mudaliar, who wrote this, enhanced it through the treatise Sangita Chandrikai, where the 72 thalas had the names of the 72 Melakarta Ragas. “I took the letters of each Mela and used the Katapayadi formula (following the alphabetical syllables of Sanskrit), composing padams, javalis, varnams and tillanas came along the way. I have also composed Hindustani taranas that have only bols. I sang these in Sindhu Bhairavi and Brindavani. A few years ago, while I was going through the ancient system of 108 talas, I composed a pallavi in Nandi tala using Raga Varamu.”

“I have used major and minor ragas such as Thodi, Kalyani, Saramathi, Varamu, Sree, Saveri, Keeranavali and Vijayanagari. I have completed 108 new Pallavis.” These were unveiled at my lec-dem at the Music Academy this year. My disciples Subhasree, Ashwin and Samyuktha were part of the presentaion. I would like to publish them next year, hoping it will be useful to the next generation.”

Charumathi Ramachandran with guru MLV and mother Alamelu Vishwanathan

Charumathi Ramachandran with guru MLV and mother Alamelu Vishwanathan  


Charumathi has started the Charu Shree Musik Academy along with her husband, Ramachandran and daughter, Subhasree. It offers classes, conducts performances, workshops and does considerable research work. She was also selected for a Performance Project by the Ministry of Culture in 2015. The project was on ‘Kashi To Rameshwaram — a musical journey with Muthuswamy Dikshitar through all the temples across India showcasing the 72 kshetra kritis of the composer.

“I assumed the role of a guru 37 years ago. Each artiste has something different to offer. I am respected for my aesthetic and innovative creative endeavours.”

She has been conferred the GNB Award for her contributions to the world of music by the Indian Fine Arts Society this Season (2018). “This honour is important to me. I have been nurtured by this organisation for many years. I have sung along with my Guru, given solo concerts and lec-dems in this old sabha, which has single-minded devotion to classicis,” says the veteran.

She feels she could have studied anything. “I was and am a voracious reader. I am a writer too and have published a novel The Second Mahatma in 2000. I am working on my second novel, which I plan to release this year.”

Her belief in the Divine, family and music keeps her going. “Be happy. Life is short. One needs to be content with what one has. Count the blessings every single day,” she smiles.

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Printable version | Apr 14, 2021 5:29:29 AM |

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