M.S. Subbulakshmi

BORN: September 16, 1916
DIED: December 11, 2004
FAMOUS AS : Carnatic Musician
BORN IN : Madurai
SPOUSE/PARTNER: Kalki Sadasivam
1998 – Bharat Ratna
1954 – Padma Bhushan
1975 – Padma Vibhushan

  • Bharat Ratna Madurai Shanmukha Vadivu Subbulakshmi, popularly called M.S. was born in the temple town of Madurai on September 16th , 1916, in a family of music
  • 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 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 protégé of Rajaji. She started acting in films too.  Her movies were quite successful and her final 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.
  • Gandhiji loved her rendition of north Indian bhajans and requested that she  sing some for his 78th birthday, October 2, 1947.
  • Subbulaksmi 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.
  • 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. S. is called affectionately as the Nightingale of Carnatic Music.
  • 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!
  • She received a large number of awards. India’s top civilian honour, the Bharat Ratna, was conferred on her include the Padma Bhusan, Padma Vibhusan, 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.

M S Subbulakshmi

  • Without taking any formal lesions in music, the little girl who lived in a lane near the famous Meenakshi temple in Madurai, would hum alongwith the notes of the ‘nadaswaram’ which came from the temple during festivals and to the strains of the veena played by her mother.
  • Little Kunjamma would roll a piece of paper into the shape of a speaker and sing through it. She would provide vocal  support to her mother when she played the veena.
  • Young Subbulaksmi discontinued her studies after the sixth standard, when the beating of a teacher brought about an attack of whooping cough, but continued furiously with her lessons in music.
  • S. Subbulaksmi took formal training from many veteran muscicians like Srinivasa Iyengar, Musiri Subramania Iyer and Semmangudi Srinivasa Iyer, the grand old man of Carnatic Music.
  • She was the epitome of grace and beauty as she sang on stage without resorting to flippant stage mannerisms. She brought respectability to women musicians.
  • Endowed with good looks and a melodious voice, MS soon bagged film roles. She made her debut in the film, “Sevasadanam” followed by “Shakuntalai”, which contained some of her most melodious songs.  This was followed by “Savitri”, and the “Meera”, which were blockbuster both in Tamil and Hindi.
  • She identified beautifully with the character of Meera Bai, the Queen of Mewar, and devotee of Lord Sri Krishna. The Meera bhajans sung by MS became popular in no time.
  • MS gives full credit of her success to her husband, Thyagarajan Sadasivam.  Sadasivam, a protégé of Rajagopalachari, was a freedom figher and an advertising executive associated with the Tamil weekly, “Kalki”, who took upon himself the task of guiding Subbulaksmi in her film and music career.
  • She on her part accepted him as her guide and mentor and was happy to marry him when he proposed to her in 1940.
  • After “Meera”, MS gave up acting and began concentrating on music alone. MS rendered many spiritual composition like “Suprabhatam”, invoking Lord Venkateshwara of Tirupati, the Vishnu Sahasranama, “Bhagvan Sri Satya Sai Baba” (the living divinity) of Puttaparthi, Bhaja Govindam of Adi Shankar Acharya.  She stirred the spiritual consciousness of the people with her soulful music.
  • In 1944, M.S. conducted a number of  benefit concerts to collect funds for the Kasturba Memorial Fund.  After that she and her husband have helped a variety of public causes by holding benefit concerts and by donating royalities from her LP’s.
  • The Raman Magsaysay award was given to he not for music but for her public service.  The award amount of ten thousand dollars was again donated to three worthy causes in India.
  • S. Subbulakshmi had a distinguished fan following consisting of Mahatma Gandhi, Jawaharlal Nehru, Dr. Rajendra Prasad, Sarojini Naidu, Hariprasad Chaurasia and Amjad Ali Khan to name a few.
  • The great “melody Queen”, Lata Mangeshkar herself is a big fan of MS.
  • MS toured India and abroad giving musical performances and enhanting audiences all over. Several Universities have awarded her with the degree of Doctorate.  She has also received several other awards including the “Padmabhusan” (1954), Sangeet Kalanidi (1968), Ramon Magasaysay award, and the “Padma Vibhusan”award.
  • In 1998 MS was honoured with the highest Indian award, the “Bharat Ratna”. S. Subbulakshmi was pained that her mentor, her guide and philosopher, her husband T. Sadasivam, was not there to witness this great moment.  Sadasivam passed away in 1997 and MS stopped performing on stage.
  • MS is the first singer from the South of India to be honoured with the “Bharat Ratna”.
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