The Rocking Carnatic Music Sisters Duo!

In the Carnatic music concert scene, duo singing has a niche of its own. Every music festival has,at least,  two sets of duo singing or duo playing of an instrument to the delight of the audience.

We have had masters in duo singing in the past, such as the Alathur Brothers, B.V Raman & B. V. Lakshmanan. Female artists are also part of this trend of duo singing in Carnatic music, with performers like Brinda-Mukta, Radha-Jayalakshmi, continued by Bombay Sisters …

Here we throw a light on the sisters duo who spread the magic with their tunes!


Carnatic music

The well-known Carnatic vocal duo Brinda-Muktha were the torchbearers of the much-revered Dhanammal bani (style), steeped in classicism. Ms. Muktha was born in August 1914, to Kamakshi Ammal, fourth daughter of Dhanammal. The sisters received their initial training from their mother and later under Kancheepuram Naayana Pillai. While older sister Brinda learnt directly from the legend, Ms. Muktha learnt by merely observing their classes. Their aunt later taught them the nuances of the art, with Dhanammal supervising their training.

Though the sisters started performing together, they later gave solo performances. Ms. Muktha moved to Madurai following her daughter’s wedding. By then, Brinda had started performing with her daughter Vegavahini.

 Both Brinda and Muktha possessed tremendous breath control and used this strength of theirs as well as the depth of their voices shrewdly and to great effect. Their control of the volume of their voices was especially amazing. The honey dewed voice of Brinda perfectly blended with the somewhat rough voice of Muktha. When they sang together in the middle octave it sounded as if only one person was singing.

Padam-s and javali-s being their forte, none equalled them in their rendition, except members of their own family like aunt Jayammal and cousin Balasaraswati. Brinda-Muktha were so much identified with them that many people believed that they knew only padam-s and javali-s.

The bhava-laden compositions of Syama Sastry and Subbaraya Sastri received special attention as they were the precious property of their family, Dhanammal’s grandmother being Subbaraya Sastri’s disciple. The swarasahitya passages brimmed with a special beauty. Brinda sang the sahitya and Muktha the swara, simultaneously. This was repeated in the charanam with the roles reversed. This is not an easy feat as it requires tremendous concentration and the extraordinary effect that it produced on listeners had to be experienced to be believed. This was especially true of Marivere gati (Anandabhairavi), Janani ninuvina (Reetigaula), Sree Kamakshi (Vasanta) and Annasami Sastri’s Inkevarunnaru (Sahana). Syama Sastry’s compositions like Ninuvanaaga mari (Poorvikalyani), Ninne namminanu (Todi), O Jagadamba, Pahi Sree Giriraja sutey (both Anandabhairavi), Palinchu Kamakshi (Madhyamavati).

 Radha Jayalakshmi

carnatic music sisters duo

Radha and Jayalakshmi, popularly known as Radha Jayalakshmi, were a popular Carnatic music duo  whose timbre and ‘briga’-laden voice stood out in the worlds of Carnatic and film music. The person who does the playback singing is Jayalakshmi but was named as Radha Jayalakshmi in the cine field. Actually, Radha was her cousin and singing partner on the stage performances.

Musical career:

The Radha-Jayalakshmi duo came from the G.N. Balasubramaniam (G.N.B.) school of music and T.R. Balasubramaniam, one of the primary disciples of G.N.B., was their teacher.

 This Carnatic music sisters duo were trendsetters in the Carnatic music world after Brinda-Mukta of the Veena Dhanammal school of music. Like the Alathur Brothers, Radha and Jayalakshmi were cousins. Jayalakshmi had her roots in Srirangam while Radha’s family hails from Chengalpattu. But they were born in Chennai and both of them grew up together in the city. They started giving performances from the age of 14.

Jayalakshmi rendered a lot of semi-classical songs in films, for music directors including S.V. Venkatraman, K.V. Mahadevan, S.M. Subbaiah Naidu and Kunnakudi Vaidhyanathan. Her solo song, ‘Manamey Muruganin Mayilvahanam’, and the duet with Radha, ‘Thiruchenduril Porpurinthu’, continue to enthrall lovers of semi-classical songs.

The duo was awarded the 1981 Sangeet Natak Akademi Award in Carnatic Music – Vocal, given by the Sangeet Natak Akademi, India’s National Academy for Music, Dance and Drama Vidushi Jayalakshmi died in Chennai on 27 May 2014. She was 82.

Bombay Sisters

carnatic music sisters duo

The sisters, Saroja and Lalita are a prominent duo, who are known for their balanced approach to concert presentation. Brought up in Bombay with seven siblings and tutored initially by vidwan H.A.S. Mani, the sisters shifted to Madras in 1958 when Saroja got a fellowship from the Central College of Music, Madras. (Lalitha was to get hers later).

Not that singing together is easy. The synchronisation requires relentless practice, deep understanding and self control. Disciples of T K Govinda Rao, this popular carnatic music duo have graced the Carnatic music stage with distinction. They are known for neat renditions of songs and competent handling of improvisations. They have a large number of cassettes and albums to their credit and have performed globally. Through their Muktambaram Trust the sisters have been promoting many young artists in a big way.

Why do C. Saroja and C. Lalitha call themselves Bombay sisters when they have been Chennai residents for over 40 years?

Years ago, when we sang at his navagraha puja, Mouna Swamigal of Ambattur gave us that name as his blessing for our future success,” Saroja explains.

The sisters have won many accolades in the Carnatic Music world, to name a few –

  • Isai Peraringar Award, 2006; awarded by the Tamil Isai Sangam
  • Sangeetha Kalasikhamani, 2006 awarded by The Indian Fine Arts Society, Chennai
  • First women to be conferred the status of Asthana Vidushi by the Kanchi matha.
  • Sangeetha Kalanidhi Award for the year 2010 from the Madras Music Academy.

 Priya Sisters

carnatic music sisters duo

Shanmukhapriya and Haripriya, the renowned musical duo, popularly known as the ‘Priya Sisters’ have created impressive waves in the sphere of carnatic music in recent years. They are much sought after artists in the contemporary concert scenario are eminent Carnatic music singers. Their art form is characteristic of the G.N.B. style, with their sruti aligned, attractive, briga-oriented voices lending them ready support to leave an enduring impression on the listener. 

 They hail originally from Amalapuram in East Godavari District, Andhra Pradesh. Born to Smt.V.Lalitha and Sri.V.V.Subba Ram, Priya Sister started learning Carnatic music from their father, Sri V.V.Subbaram,who is a post-graduate in music and himself a disciple of Sri. Harikesanallur Vaidyalinga Bhagavatar (Son of Harikesanallur Muthiah Bhagavatar).  at an early age. In order to nurture their musical talent, their father shifted base to Chennai. Later they became the disciples of the renowned duo Radha and Jayalakshmi who were disciples of the legendary G. N. Balasubramaniam. They learnt under Radha and Jayalakshmi for five years and continued to learn from T. R. Subramaniam till his passing away.

Priya sisters gave their first performance in 1990 in the ‘Spirit of Freedom Concerts’ at New Delhi. The siblings were unaware then that their voice would be heard throughout the country and that the concert would pave the way for golden opportunities. Clad in modest salwar kameez, as they were too small to wear saris, they gave a performance that brought  the audience to their feet demanding encores.

Busy artists in the national and international circuits, Priya Sisters have traveled widely for concerts in India and abroad, touring countries.

Priya sisters have twice been the recipients of the ‘Best Female Vocalists’ awards of Sri Krishna Gana Sabha and the Indian Fine Arts Society, Chennai. They have also received the M.L.V. Memorial award. They have been conferred the titles ‘Sangeeta Sarada’ and ‘Gayani Sironmani’. Shanmukha Priya and Hari Priya have received the prestigious ‘Ugadi Purashkar 2000’ from the Madras Telugu Academy for their meteoric rise in the Carnatic Music World.


carnatic music sister duo

Ranjani and Gayatri are one of the rare few who have achieved enduring success in both violin and vocal music. After more than a decade as successful violinists of high calibre, the sisters’ foray into vocal music has brought them instant recognition and wide acclaim.

Ranjani and Gayatri began their music career as violin duet artistes even before they reached their teens. Through their intense training from Sangita Bhooshanam Prof. T. S. Krishnaswami, they quickly established themselves as top-class violinists of international repute. Their formal vocal training commenced under their mother, Smt.Meenakshi an accomplished Carnatic vocalist. Their musical values gained shape and direction under the watchful guidance of their father and mentor Sri. N. Balasubramanian.

It was their guru P.S. Narayanaswamy who insisted that the sisters enter the vocal kutcheri arena, just when they were peaking as violin accompanists and a brilliant lead violin duo. The sisters have given vocal concerts since 1997, after they became students of Padma Bhushan Sangeeta Kala Acharya P. S. Narayanaswamy. They have performed abroad widely in countries including the United States of America, Canada, Singapore, Malaysia, United Kingdom, Australia and the Middle East.

What are the qualities which make the sisters special to contemporary audiences?

They are known to offer a neat package in their concert, balancing the various aspects of Carnatic music in an aesthetically appealing fashion. They have appealing voices, Ranjani’s deeper and huskier than Gayatri’s softer, more pliable voice, but each complementing the other admirably, with Ranjani usually scoring in the lower reaches and Gayatri soaring high with great freedom.

Apart from singing, Ranjani and Gayatri also have won recognition for Carnatic music compositions. Most of the abhangs they sing at the end of their concerts have been set to music by the sisters. They have also set many other thukkada pieces, including bhajans.

 Ranjani and Gayatri have received multiple awards and recognitions throughout their career. In addition, various music personalities from all over India have recognised their talent. Some of the famous awards that the duo has fetched are – Lifetime Achievement award from Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan in 2013, Kalki Krishnamurthi Memorial Award (instituted by the Kalki trust in memory of the writer Sri. Kalki Krishnamurthy); Title of “Isai Peroli” from the Kartik Fine Arts, Chennai in Dec 2005 – these are just to name a few.

The Duo singing brings out many facets of this crafty art to the forefront. However, It needs great discipline and coordination from the angle of the performers. Though the whole exercise may seem effortless, talent has to be honed to perfection. The vocal duos in Carnatic music draw great strength from her partner’s complementary skills and support.

Our similar blog would give you an in-depth knowledge about the Carnatic Brothers music world. Take a look there too!

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What’s Next:

This year Sri Rama Navami falls on April 15. What else can bring joy to Lord Rama rather than remembering His beloved devotees?

Our next post explores the blessed citizens in the Rama Bhakthi Samrajyam

stay tuned


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One Response to The Rocking Carnatic Music Sisters Duo!

  1. anotherclosethippie says:

    Great review! 🙂


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