M D Ramanathan was born on May 21 1923 to Shri. Devesa Bhagavathar & Smt. Seethalakshmi Ammal in Manjapara, Palghat District, Kerala. Shri. Devesa Bhagavathar was a musician and a violinist. MDR's grandfather Shri.Venkatesha Bhagavathar was also a musician and his paternal uncle was a vainika. Born in a musical family, MDR was naturally initiated into Carnatic Music at a very young age. MDR's first public concert was at the age of 9, when he sang at a Devi Temple in Pudukodde, in the presence of learned pundits & music scholars. He pursued his academics along with music and subsequently graduated with Honors in Physics from Victoria College, Palghat. During his college days, he performed and participated in Tyagaraja Aradhanas & other temple festivals. Though his father was not too keen on him pursuing a career in Music, MDR was determined to engage in a career as a Carnatic Musician.
After his graduation, MDR moved to Madras to further his knowledge in Carnatic Music. He joined Kalakshetra in 1944 as the first and only student of the Sangita Shiromani course under the able guidance of Smt.Rukmini Devi Arundale and Shri. Tiger Varadachariar.
MDR was offered a lecturer post in Kalakshetra after his graduation. From the 1950's he started performing in all leading Sabhas in India. He continued working for Kalakshetra and was offered academic positions in other presitigous institutions. He refused those offers as he felt indebted to Kalakshetra, for they took care of his Master in his last years. Moreover, he enjoyed the parental affection & regard of Smt. Rukmini Devi and the musical ambience in Kalakshetra.
In 1964, he received the Kerala Sangeetha Nataka Academy Award. He also received the Padmashri, Sangeetha Nataka Academy Award, Sangita Kala Nipuna & Sangita Choodamani in the seventies. He taught many students, most of whom have pursued an active career in Music education. Some of his students include M.V.Narasimachari, Jaya Pasupathy, Sriram, Subramanium & Radha (his niece), Jayalakshmi Kesavan, P.P. Ramakrishnan and many more.
He was well versed in Tamil, Malayalam, Telugu, Sanskrit and English. Apart from composing more than 300 kritis in carnatic music, he also composed operas like "Varada Bhaktha Vijayam", 'Sundara Ramayanam", and music for a Kalakshetra feature presentation "Buddha Avataram".
He was principled in life and was dedicated to his "Tiger Mission", to propogate/share the teachings of his great guru all through his life. He had a good sense of humour and was known for his honesty, sincerity and good character. He passed away on April 27, 1984.
More on M D Ramanathan
The Hindu Article by Rama Varma