M. S. Subbulakshmi

M. S. Subbulakshmi

An EMI record of Subbulakshmi
Background information
Born September 16, 1916(1916-09-16)
Madurai, Madras Presidency, British India
Origin India
Died December 11, 2004(2004-12-11) (aged 88)
Chennai, Tamil Nadu, India
Genres Indian classical music
Occupations Classical Vocalist
Years active 1930–2004
Labels HMV

Madurai Shanmukhavadivu Subbulakshmi (Tamilமதுரை சண்முகவடிவு சுப்புலட்சுமி, Madhurai Shanmukhavadivu Subbulakshmi ? 16 September 1916 – 11 December 2004), also known as M.S., was a renowned Carnatic vocalist. She was the first musician ever to be awarded the Bharat Ratna, India's highest civilian honor.[1] She is the first Indian musician to receive the Ramon Magsaysay award, Asia's highest civilian award, in 1974 with the citation reading "Exacting purists acknowledge Srimati M. S. Subbulakshmi as the leading exponent of classical and semi-classical songs in the Karnataka tradition of South India."[2][3]



Early years

Subbulakshmi (Kunjamma to her family) was born in Madurai, Madras Presidency, British India to veena player Shanmukavadiver Ammal and Subramania Iyer. Her grandmother Akkammal was a violinist.

She started learning Carnatic music at an early age and trained in Carnatic music under the tutelage of Semmangudi Srinivasa Iyer and subsequently in Hindustani music under Pandit Narayanrao Vyas. She also learned Sanskrit and Telugu under Dr. Nedunuri Krishnamurthy.

Her mother, from the devadasi community, was a music exponent and a regular stage performer, and Subbulakshmi grew up in an environment very conducive to musical learning. Her musical interests were also shaped by regular interactions with Karaikudi Sambasiva Iyer, Mazhavarayanendal Subbarama Bhavathar and Ariyakudi Ramanuja Iyengar.[4] Subbulakshmi gave her first public performance in 1929 when she was 13 years old at the prestigious Madras Music Academy. The performance consisted of singing bhajans (Hindu hymns).[5] The academy was known for its discriminating selection process, and they broke tradition by inviting a young girl as a key performer. Her performance was described as spellbinding and earned her many admirers and the moniker of musical genius from critics. Soon after her debut performance Subbulakshmi became one the leading Carnatic vocalists.[6][7]

Move to Madras

In 1936 Subbulakshmi moved to Madras (now Chennai).[7] She also made her film debut in Sevasadan in 1938,.[8]

Musical style and performance

M.S. Subbulakshmi (left) with S. Varalakshmi in Sevasadhanam (1938)

Singing career

Subbulakshmi first recording was released when she was 10 years old. She gave her first public performance during the Mahamaham festival at Kumbakonam at the age of sixteen. She began her Carnatic classical music training under her mother Shanmugavadivu and then Hindustani classical training under Pandit Narayan Rao Vyas. By the age of 17, Subbulakshmi was giving concerts on her own, including major performances at the Madras Music Academy, a prestigious centre for the study and promotion of Carnatic music. Performance in Carnatic music concerts, was until then, a domain, traditionally reserved for men. She performed a vast variety of devotional musical forms in different languages including Tamil, Kannada, Sanskrit, Panjabi, Hindi, Malayalam, Telugu, Bengali, Gujarati and Marathi.

When the governor of Madras wanted the famous spiritual leader, Mata Sri Anandamayi Ma, to reside in his residence, Anandamayi Ma replied, "I will stay in the house of Subbulakshmi. She is Meera to me." Within two days, Sadasivam had special quarters built in their garden for Mata to give darshan and arranged for a new well to be dug nearby for fresh drinking water. Every evening thousands of people gathered there.

She traveled to London, New York, Canada, the Far East, and other places as India's cultural ambassador. Her concerts at Carnegie Hall, New York; the UN General Assembly on UN day in 1966; the Royal Albert Hall, London in 1982; and at the Festival of India in Moscow in 1987 were significant landmarks in her career. In 1969 she was accompanied by Indian Railways Advisor SN Venkata Rao to Rameshwaram, where she famously sang several songs in front of each idol in the Rameshwaram temple.

After the death of her husband Sadasivam in 1997, she stopped all her public performances.


M.S. also acted in a few Tamil films in her youth. Her first movie Sevasadanam was released in 1938. MS Subbulakshmi also played the male role of Narada in "Savitri" (1941) to raise money for launching Kalki, her husband's nationalist Tamil weekly. Her title role of the Rajasthani saint-poetess Meera in the eponymous 1945 film gave her national prominence. This movie was re-made in Hindi in 1947. The movie had M.S Subbulakshmi. sing the famous Meera bhajans, with Dilipkumar Roy as the music director. Later, she quit films and turned wholly to concert music.

Awards and honours

Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru had this to say about M.S. Subbulakshmi- "Who am I, a mere Prime Minister before a Queen, a Queen of Music". While Lata Mangeshkar called her Tapaswini (the Renunciate), Ustad Bade Ghulam Ali Khan termed her Suswaralakshmi (the goddess of the perfect note), and Kishori Amonkar labeled her the ultimate eighth note or Aathuvaan Sur, which is above the seven notes basic to all music. The great national leader and poet Sarojini Naidu called her "Nightingale of India". Her many famous renditions of bhajans include the chanting of Bhaja Govindam, Vishnu sahasranama (1000 names of Vishnu), Hari Tuma Haro and the Venkateswara Suprabhatam (musical hymns to awaken Lord Balaji early in the morning).

She was widely honored, praised and awarded. Some of the more popular ones include Padma Bhushan in 1954, Sangeet Natak Akademi Award in 1956, Sangeetha Kalanidhi in 1968 (literally, Treasure Chest of Music. She was the first woman recipient of the title), Ramon Magsaysay award (often considered Asia's Nobel Prize) in 1974, the Padma Vibhushan in 1975, the Kalidas Samman in 1988, the Indira Gandhi Award for National Integration in 1990, and the Bharat Ratna in 1998. She was also honored as the court-singer of Tirumala Tirupati Devasthanams. Tirupati Urban Development Authority (TUDA) has installed a bronze statue of M.S. Subbulakshmi at the Poornakumbham circle in the temple town. It was unveiled by Andhra Pradesh Chief Minister Y. S. Rajasekhara Reddy on 28 May 2006.

The most famous Kancheepuram Saree shade known as MS Blue was created for her by the well known Congress party member and philanthropist, Sri Muthu Chettiyar when they met at the residence of Sri R. Aiyadurai and Smt. Thangam Aiyadurai at Lady Desikachari Road, Madras, who were close friends of MS and Sadasivam.

She was bestowed with enormous prize moneys with these awards, she donated most of them to charity. She has given more than 200 charity concerts and raised well over Rs. 10,000,000.

She was awarded honorary degree degrees from several Universities.

She was an ardent devotee of Kanchi Mahaswamigal and she rendered his composition Maithreem Bhajatha (O World! Cultivate peace) in her concert at the UN in 1966. She donated many of the royalties on several best sold records to many charity organizations.


  1. ^ http://www.indianexpress.com/old/ie/daily/19980115/01550224.html
  2. ^ http://www.rmaf.org.ph/Awardees/Citation/CitationSubbulakshmiMon.htm
  3. ^ The Ramon Magsaysay awards, Ramon Magsaysay Award Foundation, 1982, p. 141, http://books.google.com/books?id=KxblAAAAMAAJ&q=semi-classical 
  4. ^ Srivastava, Gauri (2006). Women role models: some eminent women of contemporary India. Concept Publishing Company. pp. 55–57. ISBN 9788180693366. OCLC 74991412. 
  5. ^ "Popular Indian classical singer M.S. Subbulakshmi dead". Pakistan Times. 13 December 2004. http://pakistantimes.net/2004/12/13/top10.htm. Retrieved 2009-10-16. 
  6. ^ Murthi, R. K.. Encyclopedia of Bharat Ratnas. Pitambar Publishing. pp. 176–179. ISBN 9788120913073. http://books.google.com/books?id=HkF3avvFvb4C&lpg=PP1&pg=PP1#v=onepage&q=&f=false. 
  7. ^ a b "M.S. subbulakshmi passes away, aged 88". The Hindu. 12 December 2004. http://www.hinduonnet.com/2004/12/12/stories/2004121215950100.htm. Retrieved 2009-10-19. 
  8. ^ "M. S. Subbulakshmi (1916-2004)" (pdf). National Resource Center for Women, Government of India. http://nrcw.nic.in/shared/sublinkimages/86.pdf. Retrieved 2009-10-19. 

Further reading

External links

See also

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