Legends of our Land – Veena Dhannammal (1867-1938)

Veena Dhannamal is considered as an avatara of Sangeetha Saraswathi. She enthralled the audience with her soulful music on the veena and would take them to great heights of divine musical bliss.

Veena Dhannamal’s music was the epitome of the Tanjore-style veena music. Her fame in this style was second to none.

Coming from a family of musicians and performers, Veena Dhannamal learnt the initial nuances of music from her grandmother Kamakshi, then a well-known Raja Nartaki. She also learnt music from Subbaraya Shastry, the son of the famous Shyama Shastry, the music composer. She also learnt from her mother Sundaramma and Annaswamy Shastry, the son of Subbaraya Shastry, Thus she was gifted with the best education in music. Though her uncle Appakannu and sister Roopavathi were violinists, Veena Dhannamal was the only one who took to playing the veena.

Lessons in veena were imparted to her by Alagasingarayya, Saathnoor Panchanada Iyer and Mylapore Baaladaasa (a blind musician).

With devoted practice and dedicated efforts, Veena Dhannamal blossomed into a veena virtuoso. “If the veena was made for her, Dhannamal was born for the veena.”

There was nobody who was not mesmerized by her playing.

All the krithis or the compositions of Shyama Shastry became very popular through her great musical flourishes. The strings of her veena brought out the expressions of these compositions with great aesthetic feeling.

Another unique feature of her music was the rendition of Pada and Javalis, both on the veena. She also sang along with her sister Roopavathi. They were very popular as a singing duo.

Several sangeetha sabhas hosted her concerts; but she enjoyed most the glorious concerts at the houses of connoisseurs, that were part of her artistic life. One such memorable series of concerts was the Ullasamu Sallapamu programme, every Friday, along with Dharmapuri Sri Subbarao. This was organized at her residence for several years. The soulful music of the veena was a grand treat to the neighborhood of Veena Dhannamal.

This musical virtuoso contributed immensely to the culture and tradition of the veena. She was the queen of music amongst the musical fraternity and an icon to her music lovers. She reached the abode of Sri Krishna, her favorite deity, at the age of 60.


This is a translation of one of the articles from Hiriya Hejjegalu (in Kannada), the noteworthy work of Prof. S. K. Ramachandra Rao, published by Ananya. The book presents pen-portraits of the great legends in the field of music of our land, who made the country proud.

(Readers who are interested in purchasing Hiriya Hejjegalu can contact Drishti on 080-23377466 or Ananya Sangraha on 080-23440409.)