on September 16, 1916 in Madurai, Kunjamma, as M. S.
Subbulakshmi was known as a child, grew up in an atmosphere
Without any formal lessons in music, the little girl
sitting in her modest house in a lane near the famed
Meenakshi temple, used to hum along with the notes of
the nadaswaram which filled the air during festivals
and the strains of veena played by her mother.
Soon, she graduated from providing vocal support to
her mother to solo performances. Endowed with good looks,
she took to the silver screen in the backdrop of the
freedom struggle and the social reform movement. Her
first role in Seva Sadanam (1938), focussed on women's
After her marriage with Thyagarajan Sadasivam, a freedom
fighter who took to film making, a couple of films followed.
The film `Meera', was a runaway success and MS became
a household name across the country.
Ms. Subbulakshmi also got the Ramon Magsaysay Award
in 1974, Spirit of Freedom Award in 1988 and the Indira
Gandhi Award for National Integration in 1990. Recently
she was conferred with the Bharat Ratna, India's highest
award. Her other major honours include the Padma Vibhushan,
the Kalidas Samman, the Desikotthama, and the Sangeeta
India has a flourishing tradition of classical music
enriched by great artists in every generation. What
sets MS apart is perhaps the complete self forgetfulness
she achieves for herself and her listeners from the
first note - the shadja - with which she aligns herself
to the tambura strings; to the last gandhara in the
upper register, as she concludes with a prayer for the
welfare of humanity.
From a trilling nightingale to a soaring seeker of the
supreme sound, the Nadabrahman, MS' journey was long
but seemingly effortless, almost pre-ordained. Husband
Sadasivam played a major role in the evolution of the
eclecticism of her music, her keen understanding of
the languages in which she sang, her painstaking labours
to master the enunciation of their lyrics. These songs
in numerous Indian languages from her vast repertoire
which made up her concerts, were meant to knit India
together. But in reality the words were quite immaterial.
She only had to open her mouth and sing a single note
in perfect unison with the sruti, to cast a resonant
spell on her audiences, regardless of region or nationality.
That is why she won Western audiences, the first Carnatic
musician to do so, at the Edinburgh Festival (1963),
at the United Nations (1966), at the Carnegie Hall in
New York and at the Festivals of India in Great Britain
and the erstwhile Soviet Union.
MS is also remembered for her roles in films ``Sevasadan'',
``Savitri'', ``Sakuntalai'' where her songs and duets
with G.N. Balasubramanian were instant hits, and ``Meera''
whose Hindi version made her a national celebrity overnight.
Fifty years after the film was released, Meera bhajans
continue to be a moving part of the MS concert. They
underscore the fact that the 20th Century vocalist follows
the path of the saint-poet- composers of the bhakti
MS is likely to tell you that the most memorable moments
in her career were when she sang kritis on the Devi
as the Paramacharya performed elaborate pujas during
the seven days of Navaratri. Or when Mahatma Gandhi
asked her to sing the Ramdhun during evening prayers