Know our History: Madurai Shanmugavadivu Subbulakshmi

M S Subbulakshmi turned out to be a National voice that reverberated not only in India but also internationally

M S Subbulakshmi turned out to be a National voice that reverberated not only in India but also internationally
M S Subbulakshmi turned out to be a National voice that reverberated not only in India but also internationally

M S Subbulakshmi: The queen of Carnatic music

Kunjamma’, as was fondly called by her family, was born on 16 September 1916 at Madurai in Tamil Nadu to write a destiny of her own identity, became the ‘Queen’ of Carnatic music, carried the fame of India to stand at the pedestal of eminence at the Global arena and earned herself an inevitable, indomitable place in History.

Kunjamma’s mother was Shanmugavadivu – a Devadasi. The music this young girl learned from her mother who was herself a Veena player became a blessing as she grew up.

The young Kunjamma stepped onto the stage of Carnatic music and began giving her performances with the name of her birthplace and that of her mother prefixed to her name to be called Madurai Shanmugavadivu Subbulakshmi. She is popularly known as M S Subbulakshmi or simply M.S.

Goddess Saraswathi graced M S Subbulakshmi with a shrill vocal capacity to sing and at the age of eleven, she was able to mesmerize the entire audience with her flawless singing skill and fluent voice. Starting from the temple stage to that of London Corneig Hall and beyond, Subbulakshmi’s singing left the listeners spellbound that the performance hall be was filled with applause and appreciation.

In 1940, Thyagaraja Sadasivam Iyer who was a journalist, a cultural artist, and a freedom fighter, married M S Subbulakshmi after the death of his first wife Abithakuchambal who died leaving behind two daughters.

M S Subbulakshmi was the first musician to be honored with the highest civilian award of India – Bharat Ratna (1998) for Music. The other prestigious awards that this prolific Carnatic Singer received include – Bharat Vibhushan (1975), Bharat Bhushan (1954), Sangeetha Natak Academy Award (1956), Sangeetha Kalanidhi (1968), Raman Magsaysay Award (1974), Sangeetha Kala Sigamani (1975), Kalidas Samman (1988), and Indira Gandhi Award for National Integration (1990). M S was also the ‘Asthana Vidhwan’ of Tirumala Tirupathi Devasthanam. Recognizing her proficiency in Music, several Universities conferred her Honorary Degrees.

In 1966, this ‘Nightingale of Music’ was invited by the United Nations to give her performance at a cultural event of the UN General Assembly. This prestigious invitation is forwarded to only such experts whose work is in the exemplary category.

M S Subbulakshmi dedicated herself selflessly to the cause of music her perseverance, practices, and assimilation were so intense and dedicated that she was able to bring a sort of divinity to the songs she sang. She was successful in arousing the feel of bhakti in the devotees who listened to her bhajans.

M S’s ‘Venkatesa Suprabhatham’, ‘Vishnu Sahasranamam’, Meera’s Bhajan ‘Hari tum haro’, and the song ‘Kurai ondrum illai marai Moorthy Kanna’ are a few notable of the numerous songs she had sung and the audio recordings of which are commonly preferred and played at temples and households.

During the fight for Indian Independence, M S Subbulakshmi was invited by Mahatma Gandhi to the Sabarmati Ashram to sing bhajans for the mass who gathered for the struggle for freedom. Her songs like ‘Vaishnava Jan To’ largely helped to strengthen the deep conscious spiritual stability of realizing the Divinity of Bharat Mata and balance it with the emotional urge to release Bharat Bhoomi from the captivity of Britishers and blend it with the physical stamina to protest firmly to force the exit of the Englishmen.

During the period of Indian Independence, M S Subbulakshmi was a popular voice in India that contributed in not only holding the protestors undispersed in the protest arena but also paved the way to bridge the South with the North. In North India, to people who were used to hearing only Hindustani music, she gave them the opportunity to listen to and appreciate the South Indian Classical form of music too. Further, she also enthused the audience with her display of expertise in Hindustani music which she professionally acquired from Pandit Narayana Rao. Thereby, like how the mixed concerts of Hindustani Sangeet of the North and the Carnatic Music of the South when performed on the same stage delights the audience and enhance the ambiance of the auditorium, this singer was able to establish the cohesion of the diversities of the Sanathana Bhoomi and the importance to walk in cohesion in order to attain the unified divine cause of Indian independence.

M S Subbulakshmi turned out to be a National voice that reverberated not only in India but also internationally. This great legend who lived to sing the glory of the Almighty breathed her last on 11 December 2004 and left no heir of her own to claim the legacy which she imbibed through her devotion to Music but left the treasure of songs for all of us to own and cherish. She finds her memorial in the exalted seat of reverence in the hearts of people and the golden pages of history. Ever would the name and voice of Madurai Shanmugavadivu Subbulakshmi remain as the pride of Tamil Nadu, the asset of Bharat in the universe of music.

Bharat Mata ki Jai.

1. Text in Blue points to additional data on the topic.
2. The views expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily represent or reflect the views of PGurus.

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Dr.M.Vijaya is an Academician, Author, Columnist and Social Worker. She has rendered almost 30 years of services to the welfare and upliftment of the society through her selfless social services and Human Rights awareness campaigns


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