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Kalamandalam Gangadharan
- Vaidyanathan, Chennai

October 20, 2006

Kalamandalam Gangadharan, the renowned Kathakali singer was born to Puthenmadathil Sankara Pillai and Parvathiamma on 26th June, 1936. In his childhood days, he used to hear Nagaswara kutcheries in temples with great interest. His uncle encouraged this interest in him. With his uncle's help, he started learning vocal music at the age of 10 under the guidance of Kadakkavur Velukutty Nair. Velukutty Nair was the music teacher for the then famous drama singer and artiste Vaikkom Vasudevan Nair.

While studying music under Velukutty Nair, Gangadharan acted in some dramas and also sang in them. Interestingly, he portrayed female characters at that time. Gangadharan learnt vocal music up to Tenth Standard. After that he got into a dilemma, whether to continue music or carry on with his academic studies. Fortunately, at that time Kerala Kalamandalam announced the next batch for admission. With the blessings of his uncle, Gangadharan joined Kalamandalam. During that time, he was not interested in Kathakali music because he was not impressed by the Thekkan (Southern) Kathakali singers. Initially, he was under the guidance of Kalamandalam Sivaraman Nair and Kalamandalam Neelakandan Nambeesan. He started taking interest in Kathakali music only after hearing the music from these two blessed musicians. Gangadharan feels proud that he was the first student who completed the course of Kathakali music successfully.

Gangadharan also got the unique opportunity to train under the great Kathakali musician Mundaya Venkita Krishna Bhagavathar for three months, when Nambeesan had gone for a foreign tour. It is interesting to note that Gangadharan joined Kerala Kalamandalam at the age of 17 as a student and after completing his course successfully, he joined as Kathakali music teacher at the age of 24 in the same institution and retired as Vice Principal in 1991.

He remembers that after becoming Asan in Kalamandalam, his first student was Venmani Haridas. After that it is history that Gangadharan Asan moulded many students into famous Kathakali singers like Hyder Ali, Sankaran Embranthiri and Subramanian to name a few. In his career, he has trained nearly forty students. But he emotionally remembers Raveendran, Venmani Haridas and Hyder Ali. As per Gangadharan Asan's view, during his time in Kerala Kalamandalam, Vinod, an upcoming Kathakali vocal artiste, was one of the best students Asan moulded. Vinod also imbibed the unique style of rendering padams like his guru. Vinod was not the last student of Gangadharan at Kerala Kalamandalam, but he was the best student Asan created.

Talking about his 'Singidi' (assistant) singers, he very much enjoys the company of Kottakkal P D Namboothiri because P D has the unique quality to emulate a Ponnani Bagavathar (lead singer) as well as has the ability to sing on the same 'brigas' as a Ponnani Bagavathar. During the golden period of his being the Asan in Kalamandalam, he enjoyed the company of Nambeesan and Unnikrishna Kurupp. He also remembers the occasion when he sang 'Singidi' for the Kathakali Gana Gandharvan, Cherthala Kuttappa Kurupp.

Gangadharan studied Kathakali music in a dedicated way in a strict manner. Hence after his completing the course from Kalamandalam, he become popular for singing 'aattapradhana' stories i.e. Bali Vadham, Bali Vijayam, Ravanolbhavam, Kirmeera Vadham, Kalkeya Vadham, Bakavadham etc. It is this uniqueness which gave name and fame to Gangadharan. He is of the opinion that a person who can sing the ‘aattapradhana’ stories can easily sing the 'chittapradhana' stories like Nalacharitham, Irayimman Thambi stories, Harichandra Vijayam, Karnasapadham, Duryodhanavadham etc.

Gangadharan has been bestowed with many prestigious awards like Kalamandalam Fellowship, Kerala Sangeetha Nataka Academy Award, awards and mementos from various Kathakali Clubs from Kollam, Trissur, Irinjalakkuda etc. Above all, Gangadharan remembers the appreciation he got from the great Carnatic musician Semmangudi Srinivasa Iyer, when he visited Kerala Kalamandalam. Gangadharan had an opportunity to sing Raga 'Dwijavanthi' for Semmangudi. After hearing the uniqueness of his singing, Semmangudi felt very happy and expressed his appreciation. For Gangadharan, this was the most prestigious award in his life.

Kalamandalam Gangadharan lives with his wife Sathiyamma, two sons and one daughter at Velinallur, Kottarakkara, Kerala. He teaches Kathakali music at the Pakalkury Kathakali Vidyalayam, near his home-town.