With seven decades of blissful musical experience
behind her, this octogenarian and Carnatic vocalist has been reckoned as one of
the best musicians of Kerala. Fascinated by the nightingale of Carnatic music,
the legendary M.S. Subbulakshmi, it was just a matter of time for Ms.
Parassala Ponnammal to fine-tune her musical prowess.
Born in 1924, her initiation into music came, when she started learning music from Mr. Paramu Pillai Bhagavathar. She was also good in learning Sanskrit, but due to the fortunate intervention of a music teacher in the form of Mr. Ramaswamy Bhagavathar, the young Ponnammal was able to win the confidence of her parents to pursue music as her main subject of interest.
It was a turning point of sorts, when the young Ponnammal started training under Mr. Vaidyanatha Iyer, and during the course of her training, she won a gold medal in a music competition, held to mark the birthday celebration of the former Maharaja of Travancore, Sree Chithira Thirunal. Following the event, Ponnammal's exceptional talent caught the attention of one of the judges of that musical competition, Mr. Harikesanallur Muthaiah Bhagavathar, who eventually convinced Ponnammal's father to allow her to join the Swathi Thirunal Music Academy, which was started around that time. At the music academy, Ms. Ponnammal joined for the three-year Gayika course. In 1942, she passed the course with distinction and later she became the first woman to pass the Ganabhooshanam course from the music academy. In between her studies, at the age of 18, she joined the Cotton Hill Girls' High School as teacher.
In 1952, Ms. Ponnammal joined the Swathi Thirunal Music Academy as teacher and became the fist woman to do so. It was in 1970; Ms. Ponnammal was appointed the Principal of the RLV College of Music and Institute of Fine Arts. She served there, till she retired in 1980. Ms. Ponnammal used to sing for the All India Radio, Thiruvananthapuram, since its inception and has been an A grade artiste for the last 50 years.
Ms. Parassala Ponnammal's outstanding classical vocal renditions include Guruvayur Puresa Suprabhatham, Trisivapuresa Suprabhatahm, Ulsava Prabhandam, Navarathri Kriti, Meenambika Sthothram, and also compositions of Mr. Irayamman Thampi and Mr. K. C. Kesava Pillai.
Awards and recognitions bestowed on Ms. Ponnammal underline the exemplary musical acumen of Ms. Parassala Ponammal and among them include the title of Gayakaratnam (Singing Jewel) conferred on her in 1965 by princess Karthika Thirunal of the erstwhile Travancore royal family. She is also the recipient of State Academy Award and Fellowship.
Ms. Ponnammal made history recently when she recently performed at the famed Navarathri Mandapam in Thiruvananthapuram, thus becoming the first woman to do so in the 177-year-old history of the annually held navarathri music festival. The music festival was started at the initiative of the erstwhile Travancore royal family and is considered by musicians all over India as an honour to perform in the event.
Even at the age of 82, Ms. Parassala Ponnammal has not lost even an iota of her singing capabilities, as was evident during her recent performance at the Navarathri Mandapam. She may be one of the few personalities in the genre of classical musicians in Kerala, who could be looked up on and emulated by the younger generation in understanding the value and significance of devotion and utmost commitment to one's subject of interest.