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M. S. Subbulakshmi


    Bharath Ratna Madurai Shanmukhavadivu Subbulakshmi, popularly called M.S. was born in the temple town of Madurai on September 16th, 1916, in a family of music lovers. Her mother, Shanmukhavadivu was a veena player and her grandmother Akkammal was a violinist. Her father, Subramanya Iyer, though a lawyer by profession, was also a music lover. Her elder-sister Vadivambal went on to become a veena player and her brother became a mridangam player. Her first guru, Madurai Srinivasa Iyengar passed away rather too soon. But she kept practising on her own, and having a musician mother helped a lot. It was only natural for "Kunjamma" as she was affectionately called, to perform on stage.

    Her first public performance was in a school with just an audience of 50 people and when she finished, there were smiles and applauses. She was a child prodigy as she started giving concerts at a tender age, first accompanying her mother and then as a solo vocalist. Her first recording was at the age of ten, when of singing Meerabai's songs. "Shyama Sundara Madana Mohana" was one of the songs that Pandit Vyas taught her. It was to become a great hit in Seva Sadan – a film based on Munshi Premchand's novel. In 1940 she got married to Sadasivam, a well-known person in the Madras Congress circle, and a protege of Rajaji. She started acting in films too. Her movies were quite successful and her flnal movie "Meera" released both in Hindi and Tamil was a mega hit. After that she quit movies to concentrate solely on music. The money from movies went into the magazine Kalki.

    In 1941, Subbulakshmi and her husband visited Mahatma Gandhiji at his religious retreat in Nagpur. Thereafter, whenever she and he were in the same city she sang at his prayer meetings. Gandhiji loved her rendition of north Indian bhajans and requested that she sing some for his 78th birthday, October 2, 1947. As she couldn't appear in person, All India Radio suggested she record some discs and have them sent to Delhi. Gandhiji particularly wanted to hear "Hari Tuma Haro" whose haunting refrain translates, "Oh Lord, take away the pain from mankind." Not knowing this bhajan she suggested another singer, but he refused, saying he would rather hear her speak the words than another sing them.



    Subbulakshmi learned and recorded the song the night of September 30th, finishing at 2 a.m. The disc, sent off by plane, was played on what was to be Gandhiji's last birthday. When the announcement of his death was reported over the radio, it was followed by the playing of Subbulakshmi's recording of “Hari Tuma Haro.” Hearing her own voice singing his favourite bhajan was unnerving and Subbulakshmi founds that "Hari Turna Haro" brought a flood of memories of that tragic time.

    She had by now given concerts all over the world like the ones at Edinburgh Festival and at the United Nations, Carnegie Hall as the inaugural concert at the Festival of India in London in 1982. M.S. is called affectionately as the Nightingale of Carnatic Music. She became an institution, giving a face-lift to the classical traditions of Carnatic Music. Thousands praised her as the embodiment of grace and tradition of lndian womanhood-kind, considerate, compassionate, self-spoken, self-sacrificing and somewhat unworldly. A hard-working nightingale till her death. Flair for learning, rehearsing new pieces with notebooks, she exhibited her devotion to music. She maintained these very tight schedules till her last breath!

    Sincerity in performance showered her panominal success with innumerable awards. During her illustrious career, M.S. received a large number of awards. India's top civilian honour, the Bharat Ratna, was conferred on her in 1998. The other honours conferred on her include the Padma Bhushan, Padma Vibhushan, Kalidas Sanman (1988-89) and the Ramon Magsaysay Award (1974). She remained a humble bird throughout her life. She passed away on 10th December 2004.


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