Just before appearing for matriculation examination, Ramarathnam’s health deteriorated and he moved to Bangalore to his uncle’s place for medical treatment. Ill health interrupted his schooling for some time. Noticing his innate talent in music, well wishers helped Ramarathnam, undertake the first foundational steps that would start his long journey in the field of carnatic music. He started formal training under stalwarts like Ganakalasindhu D.Subbaramaiah at first, followed by Palghat Someshwara Bhavathar and L. S. Narayanaswamy Bhagavathar, a disciple of the great Nayana Pillai of Kanjeevaram.
It was Ramarathnam’s good friend, Palghat Ayyamani Iyer, a well known mridangam vidwan who had settled down in Bangalore, (also a classmate of Palghat Mani Iyer) that introduced Ramarathnam to the renowned violin maestro Mysore T.Chowdiah. After listening Ramarathnam’s music, Vidwan Chowdiah immediately accepted him as his disciple. From then on Prof. Ramarathnam settled down in Mysore and guru Chowdiah groomed him for nearly ten years, and he became a mature vocalist, under the gurukula system. During this time Ramarathnam came into close contact with the renowned musician’s Mysore Vasudevacharaya, Ariyakudi Ramanuja Iyengar, Chembai Vaidyanatha Bhagavattar, Maharajapuram Vishwanatha Iyer, Musuri Subramanya Iyer and Alathoor Srinivasa Iyer. From these giants he learnt many krithis, pallavis with dedication, and expanded his musical horizon.
Prof. Ramarathnam’s dedication to music and the hard work needed to accomplished the cherished goal of “Nadhopasaka” are best exemplified by the following verse.
“Music that is full of devotion (Bhakthi) and feeling (Bhava ) is the ultimate cherished goal. With this one can achieve the ultimate goal of being one with god.”
In order to accomplish this goal one has to work hard for decades with complete devotion and reverence to the art. To become an expert in this field, one should devote a lot of hard work, practice music as a form of yoga, and seek guidance from an able guru. The legends of Carnatic music have all followed this path. This rigorous training has allowed them to make their concerts spectacular and totally meaningful while making the listeners experience the extraordinary. Prof. Ramarathnam followed the rigorous training and meditation, with guidance from able gurus and legends and followed in their foot steps to accomplish the cherished goal of “Nadhabramha”. His greatest strength was his ability to absorb the best of knowledge from his gurus as it was handed down orally from guru to shishya, and mold them in to a rare blend of his own with attention to tradition and classicism.
Brought up in the tradition that traces itself to Saint Tyagaraja, Prof. Ramarathnam achieved the remarkable fete of bringing classical music close to lay listener, at the same time leaving the connoisseurs wanting for more. He was well known for his mastery and repertoire of compositions from pre-trinity to post trinity composers. He also took keen interest in popularizing the compositions of Mysore Sadasiva Rao. Known for building quick rapport with his audience, Ramarathnam's style of rendering and utterance are stately, slow, reposeful, abounding in languorous tonal elongations and immersed in concentrated expressions. Gifted with superb imagination, Prof. Ramarathnam was known for his ability to perceive the infinite freedom inherent to carnatic music and explore it courageously one phrase at a time, within the confines of the tradition deeply rooted in the carnatic system. His close contacts, discussions, lessons and influence of the music of legendary gurus helped him evolve a style his own, that is a fine blend of classicism & creativity. In Prof. Ramarathnam’s music one finds a harmonious blending of raga, bhava, tala and charm of a very rich tradition. His style deceptively simple but almost impossible to imitate.
Prof. Ramarathnam’s first concert was in the presence of the late Sringeri Sri. Chandrashekara Bharathi and an audience of thousands of devotees on the occasion of the consecration of the Sharadamba temple at Shankara Mutt in Bangalore, accompanied by Vidwan C.R. Mani on violin and Bangalore M.L. Veerabhadriah on mridangam. His most notable concerts include those at the Mysore Bidaram Krishnappa Prasanna Seetha Ramamandiram, Madras Music Academy, Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan, New Delhi, Bombay Sangeetha Sahitya Kalakshetra, concerts at Bangalore Gayana Samaja, Ramanavami and Aralikatte Ramamanidiram festivals in Mysore, Karnataka Gana Kala Parishat, Bangalore, to name a few. He has performed extensively over AIR including performances in the presence of invited audience, AIR South India relay programs, etc. He has performed to the accompaniment of leading artists including his guru T. Chowdiah, Palghat T.S. Mani Iyer, T.N. Krishnan, V. Govinda Swamy Naickar, Chalukudi Narayana Swamy, Anoor Ramakrishna, M. Chandrashekaran, T.K. Murthy, Kamlakara Rao, Vellore Ramabhadran, Umayalapuram Sivaraman, Guruvayur Dorai, etc. He has also given vocal concerts in the USA in Cleveland, Cincinnati, Dayton, Columbus, San Diego and San Jose.
Prof. Ramarathnam’s academic career started in 1945, when Guru T.Chowdiah started the Ayyanar College of Music in Mysore and appointed Ramarathnam as vice-principal. Ramarathnam served this institution for 20 years. With the opening of the Mysore University College of Fine Arts in 1965, he was appointed as the first principal and professor of vocal music, which he served with dedication and distinction until 1977. During his tenure, he nurtured the growth of the college into a premier institution. There he helped establish bachelors, masters and doctoral degree programs in music, dance and drama and thousands of students have benefited from these programs. He also served the Venkateshwara University, Benares Hindu University and Kerala University as chairman and member, board of studies and board of examiners.
As a professor and principal he spared no efforts to foster the creation of a dynamic environment for the study of theory and practice of vocal and instrumental music, Bharathanatyam and drama by enabling student interactions with leading personalities in the respective fields. The College of Music and Fine Arts, University of Mysore was the venue for many concerts, lecture demonstrations and discussions and performances with famous artists like T. Chowdiah, Semmangudi Srinivasa Iyer, D.K. Pattamal, M.L. Vasanthakumari, T.R. Mahalingam, Alathoor Srinivasa Iyer, Ramnad Krishnan, Emani Shankara Shastry, Chitti Babu, Papa Venkataramiah, Dr. V. Raghavan, Prof. P. Sambamurthy, Dr. Narayana Mennon, Sandhyavandam Sanjeeva Rao, Yamini Krishnamoorthy and her father Prof. Krishnamoorthy a professor of English and an expert in Bhratha’s Natya Shastra, Vaijayanthimala, Hemamalini, Kamala Lakshman, etc.
After retirement in 1977, he served as an emeritus UGC professor for three years from 1977-80 at the University College of Fine Arts, University of Mysore. During this period he researched and wrote an authoritative treatise on the Patronage and Contribution of the Mysore Wodeyars to Carnatic Music. The Karnataka Govt. Book Authority later published this research work in the form of a book.
Prof. Mysore V. Ramarathnam has been honored by many personalities and institutions. Noted among them are honors from His Holiness Sri Sringeri Chandrashekara Bharathi, and Pejavara Mutt Seer. Prof. Ramarathnam has received deep appreciation and recognition from the legends of his time for his scholarship in all aspects of music. He also received a number of titles. He was conferred the title of
· Sangeetha Kala Rathna when he presided over the 14th Musician Conference under the auspices of the Bangalore Gayana Samaja in 1983.
· Karnataka Kalathilaka from Karnataka State Sangeetha Nritya Academy in 1986,
· Sangeetha Rathna Mysore T. Chowdiah Centenary Memorial Award for his long lasting contribution to music, in 1994-95 from President of India K.R. Narayanan,
· Swaramuthy V.N. Rao Memorial Award from Governor of Karnataka in 2004
· Sangeetha Kala Sagaram from Bhairavi Fine Arts, Cleveland OH in 2005 as well as recognition from many leading sabhas.
Prof. V. Ramarathnam has trained a very large number of students. His distinguished disciples include Neelamma Kadambi, T.R. Srinivasan, T.M. Madhuranath (also a senior disciple of legendary T.R. Mahalingam), N. Nanjundaswamy, Dr. B.R. Shamachar, K.J. Venkatachar, Katapathoor Krishnamurthy, Prof. T.S. Rama, G.R. Jaya, Dr. Sukanya Prabhakar, Vijaya Murthy, Prof. R.N. Srilatha, Dr. Nagalakshmi, Prof. T.N. Padma, Prof. Nagamani Srinath, Dr. K. Vageesh – Director, AIR, Trichy, AIR Artists K.G. Kanakalakshmi, Chandrika and P. Rama, and his own son and daughter V.R. Subramanyam and Uma Prasanna & others. Many of them are well known musicians and performing artists of the AIR and Doordarshan.
Motivated by Poet Laurete Kuvempu, Prof. Ramarathnam composed his first krithi "Karunisu Pramatha Ganapathe" in the raga Todi set to Rupaka tala, He has composed more than 25 krithis in well known ragas in Sanskrit, Telugu and Kannada under the signature “RAMA” and has published them with chittaswaram along with rare krithis dear to him.
Prof. V. Ramarathnam has authored over 15 books, some of them in collaboration with his musicologist friend Dr. Sampath Kumaracharaya, Prof. M.V. Rathna and Prof. R.N. Doreswamy. These books deal with the theory and practical aspects of Carnatic music. Ten of these books have been published by the University Press, University of Mysore with some having been reprinted several times. Mr. D. V. K. Murthy, a famous publisher from Mysore has also published six books authored by Prof. V. Ramarathnam. Some of the important books published include:
1. Sangeetha Darpana – Prof. V. Ramarathnam University of Mysore, Prasaranga Publication, 1969
2. Karnataka Sangeetha Sudha - co-authors Dr. V.S. Sampathkumaracharya, University of Mysore, Prasaranga Publication, 1967
3. Sangeetha Ratna T. Chowdiah's Compositions – Published by University of Mysore, 1975
4. Sangeetha Shastra Parichaya Vols 1 and 2 – Co-Author R.N. Doraiswamy
5. Karnataka Sangeetha Krithirachana Sangraha Volume 1 - Published by Prof. V. Ramarathnam, 1992.
6. Pallaki Seva Prabhandham – Co-Authors M.V. Rathna, University of Mysore, Prasaranga, 1974.
7. Noukacharithram – Co-Author R.N. Doraiswamy, 1969.
8. Karnataka Sangeethadha Lakshya Lakshana Sangraha – Published by University of Mysore, Prasaranga.
9. Mysore Sadhashivarayaru – Published by Karnataka Sangeetha Nrithya Academy, Bangalore 1997.
10. Karnataka Sangeetha Deepeke – co-authored by Dr. V.S. Sampathkumaracharya- Published by D.V.K. Murthy, Mysore, 2000.
11. Keerthana Tharangini- published by D.V.K. Murthy, Mysore, 2000.
12. Contribution and Patronage of Mysore Wodeyars to Carnatic Music –Published by Kannada Book Authority, Bangalore, India
13. Apurva Vaggeya Kruthimanjari – Published by D.V.K. Murthy, 2004
14. Muthuswami Dikshithara Navagraha Krithigalu - Published by D.V.K. Murthy, 2004
15. Muthuswami Dikshithara NavaVarna Krithigalu - Published by D.V.K. Murthy, 2004
16. A Musician’s Reminescence – Released on December 24, 2006 as part of Prof. Ramarathnam’s 90 th birthday celebrations. Worldwide release in Cleveland 2007 Tyagaraja Aradhana Festival.
17. Apurva Vaggeya Kruthimanjari –Vol II – (to be published)