Seetha (Seethamma to her family) was born in Adachani, a village in the district of Tirunelveli District (demarcated at that time as Madras Presidency, British India) to Pumpu Ganapathy Iyer and Meenakshi Iyer.
Under encouragement of her parents, she started learning Carnatic music at an early age locally from Kodaganallur Subbiah Bhagavatar and later under Gottuvadhyam vidhwan Seetharama Bhagavatar. After receiving an acceptance letter despite being 10 years old to become a member of the first Music Department established in Tamil Nadu by Prof. P. Sambamoorthy, Seetha moved to Chennai in 1937 and trained alongside D. K. Pattammal where she became the first female recipient of the Gold Medal of Honour. She still holds the record of being the youngest recipient of the award.
She was married at the age of 14. Her husband, who understood her yearning to continue with her music lessons, encouraged her to enrol for a course conducted by the Music Academy. She completed the course under Valadi Krishnaiyer who played a pivotal role in her music development. She was top of the class in her batch and she won a Gold Medal.
She is the grandmother of Author Jaya Madhavan.
Students who excelled in the theoretical aspect of Carnatic music were given the choice to learn either the gottuvadhyam or the jal tarang at the Academy. When asked why she inclined towards the jal tarang, Seetha answered that she "was only ten then, and the dishes used by jalatarangam artistes reminded me of the miniature vessels children use when they play 'house.' Striking dishes containing water seemed a lot of fun". The teacher charged with the task of teaching the jal tarang, Ramaniah Chettiar, was not convinced that any of the students at the Academy were intelligent enough to pick up the instrument. Under the urging of Prof. Sambamoorthy, he entertained Seetha's request and put her to a test by tuning the instrument to Dheerasankarabharanam and asked her to set it to Mayamalavagowla. After successfully tuning it, Seetha was given the opportunity to begin training. She learnt under the tutelage of Prof. Sambamoorthy and Ramaniah Chettiar for one and half months, and was told that her knowledge of theory would suffice in complementing her training for the rest of her career. Recognizing her financial position, Prof. P. Sambamoorthy bought Seetha her first set of jal tarang cups.