A Harikatha artist par excellence

As I entered Mela Raja Veedhi in Tanjavur, a stoic silence prevailed. I am never at a loss for words whenever I pass through the palace area reminiscing about great personalities and incidents connected with it. But that day, my heart was heavy as I was returning after paying my last respects to the great Harikatha exponent T.R. Kamala Murthy. As I approached Baloba lane, I asked my nephew to slow down where Kamala Murthy had lived. Memories of Mami raced through my mind; it was difficult to accept the passing away of the favourite, lovable, precious daughter of Tanjavur. When I entered the house on the outskirts of Tanjavur that morning, it was the first time that I was not welcomed with the trademark greeting of “Ram, Ram” in that deep voice of hers. The small gathering of local artists including Mythili Kannan, T.K. Ramachandran, and Veenai Ramdas, who were there to pay their last respects, were all in tears as they narrated their personal experiences with Kamala Murthy. She was an embodiment of bhakti and had regaled innumerable rasikas with her gripping stories.

Born in 1932 in Tanjavur, Kamalamba, was an intelligent child who could grasp anything she heard at the first instance, she was an ‘ekasantagrahi’. She moved to Chidambaram with her maternal grandfather at a very young age. Raja Bhagavatar, who taught music in the neighbourhood, heard the eight-year old Kamalamba sing the compositions that he was teaching his student. Impressed with her talent, he decided to groom her in the art of kathakalakshepam. He taught her the nirupanam for Vatsala Kalyanam—the first story that is taught to beginners of the art. Kamalamba learnt it in no time and was able to reproduce it with her own charm. Her maiden performance saw her perform the same story at a Dikshitar’s house in Chidambaram for which she was rewarded with a ‘vaira oosi’ pattu pavadai with lines and lines of zari. Kamala Mami used to fondly recall the incident with a lot of laughter saying that the pattu pavadai had attracted her attention more than the appreciation of the audience at that tender age… read more