M.S.SUBBULAKSHI – THE MUSICAL LEGEND WHO STOLE THE HEARTS OF MILLIONS
Compiled by Sri Ramakrishna Prasad- Chennai
M.S.SUBBULAKSHMI (16 September 1916 – 11 December 2004), also known as M.S., has been the queen of Indian classical music in the South Indian Classical style (Carnatic) in the modern times. From Mahatma Gandhi to the most common of the people have admired her voice, conditioned perfectly to render some of the great Indian works of devotional literature. She was the first musician ever to be awarded the Bharat Ratna, India’s highest civilian honour. She is the first Indian musician to receive the Ramon Magsaysay award, often considered Asia’s Nobel Prize, in 1974. With her rock-solid technique, sure tone, deep spirituality and splendid emotional expression, M S Subbulakshmi was rightfully considered an Indian national treasure during her lifetime.
M.S was born in Madurai, Madras Presidency to veena player Shanmukavadivu Ammal and Subramania Iyer. Her grandmother Akkammal was a violinist. She started learning Carnatic music at an early age and trained in Carnatic music under the tutelage of Semmangudi Srinivasa Iyer and subsequently in Hindustani music under Pandit Narayanrao Vyas.
Her mother, from the devadasi community, was a music exponent and a regular stage performer, and Subbulakshmi grew up in an environment very conducive to musical learning. Her musical interests were also shaped by regular interactions with Karaikudi Sambasiva Iyer, Mazhavarayanendal Subbarama Bhagavathar and Ariyakudi Ramanuja Iyengar.
Subbulakshmi gave her first public performance, at the age of eleven, in the year 1927, in the 100 pillar hall inside the Rockfort Temple, Tiruchirappalli; with Mysore Chowdiah on the violin and Dakshinamurthy Pillai on the mridanga. Her first recording was released when she was 10 years old.
M.S gave her first performance at the prestigious Madras Music Academy in 1929, when she was 13 years old. The performance consisted of singing bhajans (Hindu hymns). The academy was known for its discriminating selection process, and they broke tradition by inviting a young girl as a key performer. Her performance was described as spellbinding and earned her many admirers and the mark of musical genius from critics. Soon after her debut performances, Subbulakshmi became one of the leading Carnatic vocalists.
By the age of seventeen, Subbulakshmi was giving concerts on her own, including major performances at the Madras Music Academy. She travelled to London, New York, Canada, the Far East, and other places as India’s cultural ambassador. Her concerts at
Edinburgh International Festival of Music and Drama in 1963
Carnegie Hall, New York; the UN General Assembly on UN day in 1966
Royal Albert Hall, London in 1982
Festival of India in Moscow in 1987
were significant landmarks in her career. After the death of her husband Kalki Sadasivam in 1997, she stopped all her public performances.
M.S. also acted in a few Tamil films in her youth. Her first movie Sevasadanam was a critical and commercial success. Her title role of the saint-poetess Meera in the eponymous 1945 film gave her national prominence. This movie was re-made in Hindi in 1947. After the huge success of Meera, however, Subbulakshmi turned her career entirely away from films.
Many prominent personalities like Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru, Lata Mangeshkar Ustad Bade Ghulam Ali Khan, Sarojini Naidu etc., showered many titles on her. Her many famous renditions of bhajans include the chanting of Bhaja Govindam, Vishnu sahasranama (1000 names of Vishnu), Hari Tuma Haro and the Venkateswara Suprabhatam. She was honoured as a resident artist [Asthana Vidhwan] of Tirumala Tirupati Devasthanams. Tirupati Urban Development Authority (TUDA) has installed a bronze statue of M.S. Subbulakshmi at the Poornakumbham circle in the temple town.
She was bestowed with enormous prize moneys with many awards, most of which she donated to charity. She has given more than 200 charity concerts and raised well over Rs. 10,000,000. She was an ardent devotee of Kanchi Mahaswamigal and she rendered his composition Maithreem Bhajatha (O World! Cultivate peace) in her concert at the UN in 1966. Venkatesa Suprabhatam in Gramaphone record of HMV, the royalty from which goes to the Veda Patasala run by the Tirupati Tirumala Devasthanam. She donated many of the royalties on several best sold records to many charity organisations.
Once when her family was in financial distress, Kanchi Paramacharya and Sri Satya Baba sent telegrams to Sri PVRK Prasad, the Executive Officer of TTD Board to help her family. Sri PVRK Prasad arranged for recording of Annamacharya (a Telugu composer OF 15th century) keerthans sung by M.S. HMV recording company entered into an agreement with TTD to market the proposed music album “Balaji Pancharatnamala” and agreed to bear all recording expenses. Through this the family got Rs.7 lakhs as a result of which the family came out of the financial crisis.
Most of the literary masterpieces by great sages would have remained unknown to the world if they were not given that magical touch by the mellifluous golden voice of music queen, M.S.Subbulakshmi. Finally on the tenth of December 2004, leaving behind a legacy of devotional classicism and leaving every music fan in an emotional sea of tears and melancholy, music queen M.S.Subbulakshmi left this human world.