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Timeless melodies of a living legend Gowri Kuppuswamy

By B. Sreekantswamy

Sa Re Ga Ma… Pa Da Ni Sa… the pitch of reverberating musical notes rendered in chorus that make for the common impression of any music teacher’s house has fallen silent. But, mention music, the talk that follows, lasts for over two hours, albeit with short breaks and the help of interpreters. For a musician, what inspires the most is connoisseurs who swoon over ‘raga’ and ‘tala’ in sync with the performance of a vocalist. No matter whether the audience is a mix of amateur or accomplished music buffs, what allows the music to flow, is the common rhythm of the cognoscenti.

Till two years ago, when Covid-19 pandemic altered the life of people to a larger extent, Dr. Gowri Kuppuswamy, a renowned vocalist, taught students interested in Karnatak Classical music at her flat in Jayalakshmipuram in city. Though age took a toll on her health, what kept her going was her passion for initiating the uninitiated into the field of music.

When Star of Mysore Correspondent visited her flat on a cozy evening, the 92-year-old Gowri Kuppuswamy greeted with a smile on her face, firmly seated on a cane chair. It was her penchant for music again that had prompted Gowri Kuppuswamy to share her views at this rickety age, with music topping the chart of questions that followed later. 

For Mysureans, especially those having a taste for music, Gowri Kuppuswamy is a known name, who for over five decades was a vocalist in demand, performing at three concerts in a day. Be it any occasion — cultural event or marriage, Ganesha festival or any auspicious occasion, Gowri Kuppuswamy was the first choice. Such was the power of her soothing voice that transcended music lovers into a different world. It was a mix of classical music and Bhavageethe with only Rashtrakavi Kuvempu’s poetries finding life in her melodious voice, the few lines of which she also sang.

For record, Gowri Kuppuswamy was born on Aug. 3, 1931 to R. Natesan and Balakujam couple in Pudukkottai district in Tamil Nadu. Having an inclination towards music as a child, it was her upbringing at her maternal grandparents home in Pudukkottai that naturally ingrained music in her.

Gowri Kuppuswamy was 15 when she got married to Kuppuswamy on June 3, 1946 at Pudukkottai. Kuppuswamy was working as a scientist in Bengaluru, before he got a job in the newly founded Central Food Technological Research Institute (CFTRI), Mysuru, in 1950.

It seems to be divine intervention, as Mysuru, which had produced doyens of music, percussionists and composers like Mysore Vasudevacharya, Mysore Varadacharya, Veene Seshanna, Piteel Chowdiah a violinist of repute (grandfather of  late actor M.H. Ambarish) to name a few, got a new addition in Gowri Kuppuswamy, who goes on to set a new precedent in the field of music.

As said, owing to age and diminishing energy, Gowri Kuppuswamy cannot speak at one go, with her son and daughter-in-law adding on her behalf, recollecting whatever they have heard from her, to the perfection.

Gowri Kuppuswamy with her son Dr. M. Hariharan and daughter-in-law V.S. Rama Hariharan at their flat in Jayalakshmipuram.

Gowri Kuppuswamy reminisces how Piteel Chowdiah, who heard her singing, coaxed her to perform at Bidaram Krishnappa Sri Rama Mandira, Shivarampet in the city. A known name already, Chowdiah was smitten by the mellifluous voice of Gowri Kuppuswamy. He encouraged her further and since then there was no looking back for Gowri Kuppuswamy.

Wadiyars, the royal family of Mysore, during whose rule, stalwarts in music were produced under their patronage, were also quick to notice the talent of Gowri Kuppuswamy.

As she recalls, “I have sung at the marriage of Gayatri (referring to late Gayatri Devi, the eldest daughter of Jayachamaraja Wadiyar). I have presented concerts in most of the ceremonies of royal family including their marriages.” Her tryst with music got a deeper connotation, when she joined University College of Fine Arts, Manasagangothri, as a lecturer in Vocal Music since its inception in 1967.

How it happened is another interesting story, as Gowri Kuppuswamy vividly remembers. “I was summoned by the then Vice-Chancellor of Mysore University Prof. D. Javaregowda (Dejagow), who was keen on having me as a faculty. From PUC to MA in Music, I taught many students, till I retired in 1992, after 25 years of service.”

After having read till here, many may be wondering, why does the suffix ‘Kuppuswamy’ follow in each and every mention of Gowri and the answer is worth it. Kuppuswamy was not just a spouse,  but also a great pillar of support to his wife.

“From preparing the notes for the concert including the timings and arranging transport, with required wherewithal, all was handled amicably by Kuppuswamy. The attention to details by Kuppuswamy was often evident, when he used to remind his wife of stretching of the timing of a rendition by bit,” recalls her son Dr. M. Hariharan (who retired as Special Officer, Government of Pondicherry), who spoke the words of his mother, along with his wife V.S. Rama, a former student of Gowri Kuppuswamy.

Kuppuswamy passed away at the age of 87 on Oct. 1, 2010. Since then, Gowri Kuppuswamy has been living with her son in Pondicherry, but often travels down to Mysuru to stay for a few months here, as she feels indebted to the city for giving her everything.

Learnt Kannada

Gowri Kuppuswamy, a Tamilian by birth, deserves a standing ovation, for how she picked up the smatterings of Kannada and perfected in the language of the land, which she made it her home after her native Tamil Nadu. It is evident with the musical notations — written in Kannada, still preserved by Rama, who was her student in early 80s.

“I was learning music under the tutelage of Amma (Gowri Kuppuswamy), when she sought my hand for her son,” chuckles Rama, who has etched in her memory every details of Amma.

Music Masters

Gowri Kuppuswamy still recalls names of ‘Kalaimamani’ Kolkata K.S. Krishnamurthy, ‘Kalaimamani’ late S. Kalyanaraman,  ‘Sangeetha Kalanidhi’ Padma Bhushan late M.L. Vasanthakumari and ‘Sangeetha Kalanidhi’ Padma Bhushan R.K. Srikantan from whom she learnt music and fine tuned her prowess in vocal in different stages of life.


The concerts include Ganapathi festival at 101 Ganapathi temple, Agrahara, Mysuru, where she performed for 25 years, Chowdiah Smaraka Ramotsava Samiti, Mysuru, Nada Brahma Sangeetha Sabha, Mysuru, Gayana Samaja, Bengaluru, Malleshwaram Sangeetha Sabha, Bengaluru, Ragalaya, Bengaluru, Hubli Sangeetha Sabha, Hubballi, Music Academy, Madras, Annamacharya Sangeetha Samiti, Tirupati, Rasika Ranjani Sabha, Calicut, Cochin Sangeetha Sabha, Ernakulam, to name a few.

For over 50 years, Gowri Kuppuswamy enthralled music buffs on radio as she regularly performed from Mysuru, Dharwad, Madras and Pondicherry Stations of All India Radio (AIR) besides performing on TV from Tashkent (USSR), Singapore and Trivandrum.

Gowri Kuppuswamy was awarded Ph.D degree for her thesis ‘A Comparative Study of the Scales of Karnatak and Western Music’ by Arizona University, USA, way back in 1982 and was conferred Hon. Doctorate by Karnataka State Dr. Gangubai Hangal University for Music and Performing Arts, Mysuru, on March 7, 2017.

Gowri Kuppuswamy was recently chosen for the one-time Sangeet Natak Akademi Amrit Award-2022 (Karnatak Music) which she is yet to receive from the President of India.

Author of Books

She has jointly authored 45 books with Dr. M. Hariharan including The Ragas of Tanjore, Tillana (in Tamil), Purandaradasar  Sahityangal (Tamil), Purandaradasara Kritigalu (Kannada), Music of Indian Art and Archaeology (English) to name a few. While three more books are ready to go to print.


Gowri Kuppuswamy’s daughter Dr. Radhika Prabhakar, who is Pathologist in Singapore, was a Bharatanatyam dancer, who had performed for a charity show of Ganabharathi in Kuvempunagar. Radhika’s husband Dr. K.S. Prabhakar is a Nephrologist at Jeddah, Saudi Arabia.

The post Timeless melodies of a living legend Gowri Kuppuswamy appeared first on Star of Mysore.

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