Harikatha or Harikatha Kaalakshepam is an art form that is a beautiful mix of storytelling, poetry, music, drama, dance, and philosophy. There are many legendary artistes who have kept audiences enthralled with their presentation of Hindu mythological stories. One such shining star left us this month leaving a void as one of the last authentic performers of the art. Thanjavur TR Kamala Murthy was a performer true to her art and one who had a way with her stories. Anyone who listens to her stories is enraptured by her mesmerizing voice that was soft in narration and equally strong in timbre.
Born in Thiruvaiyaru town of Thanjavur district in the state of Tamil Nadu in 1932, she was brought under the care of her grandfather in Chidambaram from a very young age. She received her training in music and Harikatha from stalwarts like Raja Bhagavathar, D. Annaswami Bhagavathar, Embar Vijaya Raghavachariyar, Venkatasubramania Sastrigal and Swaminatha Athreyan all of whom were key to shaping her artistic talents.
Kamala Murthy, who in her younger days was known as Kamalamba gave her first Harikatha performance at the age of eight at Chidambaram at Dikshithar’s house. She was presented with a vaira oosi pattu pudavai (full skirt) by Dikshithar as appreciation. She went on to give performances at various stages and there has been no looking back since then.
Her performances always had a touch of humor in the typical Thanjavur style and were filled with mesmerizing ragas rendered in her unique style. The ragas ranged from Kedaragowla, Suratti, Sahana, Nattakurinji to the core ragas of Harikatha such as Kapi, Anandabhairavi, Huseini, Mand and Jonpuri. She used the chipla or castanets to set the rhythm for her performances and has a voice that ranged from high to low with ease. Her masterpieces included Vatsala Kalyanam, which was also her debut theme, Siruthonda Nayanar Charitram, Nandan Charitram, Sati Sulochana and Neelakanta Nayanar Charitram.
Kamala Murthy was honored with the Sangeet Natak Akademi award and was also a Tagore Fellow. She received the Music Academy’s TTK award and was also given the title of Kalaimamani by the Tamil Nadu Eyal Isai Nataka Manram in 1978.
Acclaimed as one of the finest Harikatha artistes of all time, her stories will remain immortal in the minds of her listeners and fans.