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M.S. Subbulakshmi

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Madurai Shanmukhavadivu Subbulakshmi was born on September 19, 1916, in Madurai, Madras Presidency to Shanmukavadiver Ammal and Subramania Iyer. Her mother was a veena artist while her grandmother Akkammal was a violinist. Coming from a family of musicians, music reigned in her veins. Her mother was a music proponent and regular stage performer, belonging to devdasi community. Growing up in such a family, imbibing musical traits and learning music became an intrinsic part of growing up. Early on in her life, young Subbulakshmi also became musically inclined. She trained herself in Carnatic music under the tutelage of Semmangudi Srinivasa Iyer. Following this, she gained training in Hindustani music under Pandit Narayanrao Vyas. The musical background of her family exposed Subbulakshmi to various musical colossuses such as, Karaikudi Sambasiva Iyer, Mazhavarayanendal Subbarama Bhagavathar and Ariyakudi Ramanuja Iyengar, at a young age. All of them deeply inspired and left an impressionable mark on her mind.

 

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Career

M. S. Subbulakshmi’s career in music started early. At merely ten years of age, she recorded her first song, ‘Maragatha Vadivum’, with Shanmugavadivu playing veena. The song was released by Twin recording company. In 1926, she made her stage debut, at Madurai Sethupati High School. Therein, she sang a Marathi song ‘Anada Ja’. Interestingly, unlike what normally happens, her stage debut wasn’t very conventional one for her; rather, it was a forced one. She was playing with mud when she was asked to sing for a live audience. All through, she only wished to finish her performance so as to return to her favourite game. Year 1927 marked the start of several other stage shows for this talented musician. In the 100 pillar hall inside the Rockfort Temple, Tiruchirappalli, Subbulakshmi startled her audience with her melodious voice and excellence over music. The event was organised by the Tiruchirappalli based Indian National Congress leader, F. G. Natesa Iyer, and was a major hit.

In 1933, at the age of seventeen, Subbulakshmi gave her first performance at the prestigious Madras Music Academy (MMA). Interestingly, MMA was known for its strict and rigid selection process. In having Subbulakshmi play at the Academy, they broke the conventional practice to allow a young girl to perform. Subbulakshmi’s performance at the Madras Music Academy grossed her rave reviews from fellow musical aficionados and exponents. Her performance was both mesmerizing and hypnotic and earned her the title of being a musical genius. She was tagged as the ‘new find’ of Carnatic music. Karaikudi Sambasiva Iyer acknowledged her prowess by stating that she ‘carried the veena’ in her throat. Following her debut at the Madras Musical Academy, she became a leading proponent of Carnatic music. She started giving concerts on her own, including major performances at the Madras Music Academy.

While Subbulakshmi was enjoying a career in music, films happened to her. In 1938, she made her debut at the big screen with K. Subramanyam’s Tamil film, ‘Sevasadanam’. In the film, she was paired opposite F.G. Natesa Iyer. The film was received well at the box office, both critically and commercially. It perfectly brought out the sufferings of a girl and the mental agony of the aged husband. Following the success of ‘Sevasadanam’, she was seen in a few Tamil films such as ‘Sakuntalai’, ‘Savithiri’ and ‘Meera’. The role of saint poetess Meera in the eponymous film brought her national prominence. In 1947, she featured in the Hindi remake of the Tamil film ‘Meera’ titled ‘Meerabai’. The film was directed by Ellis R Dungan.

The decade of 1960 was important to Subbulakshmi in terms of her career in Carnatic music. She not just took the music overseas but performed at significant musical festivals including Edinburg International Festival of Music and Drama in 1963 and at the Carnegie Hall in New York at the United Nations General Assembly in 1966. She ended the decade by singing several songs in front of each idol in the Rameshwaram temple in 1969, having accompanied Indian Railways Advisor SN Venkata Rao. In the decade of 1980s, Subbulakshmi carried the legacy of Carnatic music forward by performing at the Royal Albert Hall in London in 1982 and Festival of India in Moscow in 1987. After her husband’s death in 1997, she stopped giving public performances.

 

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Personal Life

M. S. Subbulakshmi married Kalki Sadasivam. They had no children. After the death of her husband in 1997, Subbulakshmi stopped all her public performances.

 

Death

She breathed her last on December 11, 2004 in Chennai, Tamil Nadu. She died of bronho pneumonia and cardiac irregularities. Posthumously, a large bronze statue of her was installed at the Poornakumbham circle in the temple town of Tirupati by Tirupati Urban Development Authority.

 

Awards

1954:- Padma Bhushan

1956:- Sangeet Natak Akademi Award

1968:- Sangeetha Kalanidhi

1974:- Ramon Magsaysay award (often considered Asia's Nobel Prize)

1975:- Padma Vibhushan

1975:- Sangeetha Kalasikhamani by The Indian Fine Arts Society, Chennai

1988:- Kalidas Samman

1990:- Indira Gandhi Award for National Integration

1998:- Bharat Ratna

 

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