Girija Ramaswamy is a versatile musician who has made a mark in Carnatic music as a Harikatha artiste, vocalist for Bharatanatyam, cutcheri singer and dedicated teacher. A graded artiste of Doordarshan and All India Radio in vocal classical, Girija has been active in the music and Bharatanatyam field for over four decades. She is at present a lecturer in music at the Tamil Nadu Govt. Music College. Her unflagging enthusiasm has been the key to her success.
Girija Ramaswamy mother played a big role in shaping your music.
Girija Ramaswamy come from a musical family, and without a doubt, it was her mother who made her the musician she is today. Her grandmother used to sing beautifully. Although she never took it up as a profession, she had great interest and knowledge in Carnatic music. Her mother Savithri Srinivasan learnt Carnatic music from the Music College in the 1960s, passing out with distinction. She used to practise regularly even after Girija Ramaswamywas born. She was well versed in Telugu and could write poetic lyrics at a moment’s notice.
Girija Ramaswamy learnt many things about life from her mother. Her mother was very active till her demise . She constantly pushed Girija Ramaswamy to further growth and learning. There was no question of rest. In fact, she would say that our end should be the only time we take rest – once and for all! That motivation has kept Girija Ramaswamy going all these years. She is always looking for new ways to kindle Girija Ramaswamy interest and learning.
What was Girija Ramaswamy early exposure to music?
When she was about three years of age, she was practising a kriti in Mayamalavagowlai and she started identifying the swarams. Realizing that she had a talent in music, Her mother decided to teach her Carnatic vocal. At five, Her mother decided to train her in Harikatha and she requested Sri Saidai Tevaram. T. Natarajan (her Tevaram teacher) to teach . At first Vaadyar said Girija Ramaswamy was too young to learn Harikatha but at her grandmother’s and mother’s insistence, he finally agreed. The first two stories she learnt were the Kannapa Nayanar Charitram and Karaikal Ammaiyar. Along with her mother She has also learnt tevarams from him. Besides learning continuously from her mother, She took part in a lot of competitions in tevarams, padavarnams, padams, keertanams and so on. She acquired an extensive my pathantaram. She can only thank mother’s strict mentoring for that.
Her guru bhakti towards her mother was more than her relationship to her as mother
Girija Ramaswamy first performed on stage
She was seven and her family wanted to arrange her arangetram. They were not sure how to go about the arrangements but her vaadyar told them to hold my first concert at the Sankara Math nearby. She was so tiny then and was almost lost in the big crowd there. One of the chief guests Vaidyasubramaniya Iyer presented her with a silver lamp which She still light in her puja room everyday. She started performing everywhere and was known as Baby Girija. For her second performance arranged in Alwarpet, She remembered her mother coming late for her performance as she was in the taxi behind her . She cried and refused to sing until She saw her!
Girija Ramaswamy received many awards and titles at a young age.
The first title She received was ‘Kala Rathnam’ from Pudukotai Sri Santananda Swamigal. Theb she received the title ‘Naavanmai Mikka Nallisai Selvi’ from my guru in 1970. In 1978, she received the second prize for classical music from All India Radio. It was presented by Lalgudi Jayaraman sir. IShe received these titles at a young age but at no point did it give make her proud. Her mother believed that as she grows as an artist, she must become more and more humble. W
When she was about 13, she won the Padavarnam competition and the judge was none other than Brindamma.She remember her saying to her with a twinkle in her eye, “Girija, people say that only she is capable of singing padavarnams but today she has proved otherwise’. She treasures her words of encouragement.
She was the first artiste to record Harikatha for Doordarshan. It was for fifteen minutes and they did not have a TV in those days. She peeped through a neighbour’s window to watch that broadcast!
In 2000, She received the Kalaimamani title for her music for vocal accompaniment for Bharatanatyam.
Girija Ramaswamy sung for Bharatanatyam
In 1980, Mr. Sankaran from the sabha recommended her name to Dr. Vyjayantimala Bali to sing . At that time she did not know what a Bharatanatyam repertoire consisted of. However she chose the padavarnam ‘Atimohamkonda’ in Mohanam. She remembers this varnam very well because it requires so much breath control and is so slow paced that when she was young,
For Vyjantimala’s performance, she sang ‘Sumasayaka’ in Kapi, which she learnt directly from her. In 1981, She got married and moved to Calcutta for a few years. On her return, She joined the Padma Seshadri school to teach music, slokas and Sanskrit. Mrs. YGP asked her to sing for Madhuvanti Arun. From then on, She sang for many dancers –Dr. Padma Subrahmanyam, Krishnakumari Narendran, Rhadha, KJ Sarasa, Dr. Saraswathi Sunderesan, Parvati Ravi Ghantasala and Shobanato name a few. At one time, She sang solely for Sarasa Amma’s school which had many performances. The only time she took a break was for her Harikatha performances. She was happy to receive the Sudharani Raghupathy Endowment award from Natyarangam in 2012 for her music for Bharatanatyam.
Girija Ramaswamy in Padma Seshadri school for many years.
She loved teaching. So many children have passed out having learnt music from me. She has learnt so much herself from teaching those children. Mrs. YGP often said, ‘Girija, you may be a great performer but let me tell you the satisfaction you will get from training and moulding the lives of children is unparalleled.’ She was absolutely right.D
Girija Ramaswamy philosophy in life is simple. She was not ambitious in her musical career because She believes that opportunities will come to them if they are dedicated to their art form. When they come, She believes they must take each performance as an exam and excel. This way, they can focus on the process rather than the result. It makes life so much more satisfying and stress free.