M.S.Subbulakshmi known to her rasikas as MS was an artiste who transcended the barriers of language, caste and creed, and elevated music to sublime and divine heights. In the hearts of music lovers, her music remains immortal. The combination of music, beauty and bhakti elevated MS to great heights. M S Subbulakshmi is a legend who transcends time and whose golden voice brings joy and serenity whenever it is heard.
Madurai is synonymous with Meenakshi Temple.Madurai Shanmukhavadivu Subbulakshmi
was born in the temple town of Madurai on September 16, 1916, in the month of purataasi under bharani nakshathram..
Pandit Nehru once famously said, “Who am I, a mere prime minister, before the Queen of Song?”
Gandhiji, once said, “I would rather hear "Hari Tuma Haro" spoken by Subbulakshmi than sung by another.”
Nightingale of India, the poet and freedom fighter Sarojini Naidu herself said ."Whosoever comes under the enchantment of this singer's great gifts, will agree with me that she is not an interpreter of Meera, but Meera herself. Take her into your hearts and cherish her. You will be proud that India in this generation has produced such a supreme artist."
Dakshinamurti Pillai, a musician of those times who played the mrudangam and the ghatam. said, " Didn't she sing straight from the heart and give us excellent, wholesome music? That is the kind of music which will always stay fresh, and last through a lifetime."
M.S. dressed traditionally in Kanjeevaram silk saree, with diamond earrings and vaira mookkuththi,jasmine adored kondai and kungumam on the forehead is the epitome of charm and feminine grace -.the symbol of traditional Indian womanhood.
Her mother Shanmukhavadivu (who belonged to Devadasi clan) was an accomplished veena player.Her father Subramania Iyer was a lawyer lived in the adjacent street with his first wife and family.Shanmukavadivu found it difficult to run the family of three children and extended relatives.The family just managed to survive. Music was in Subbulakshmi’s blood. Her grandmother Akkammal was a violin expert and mother Shanmukavadivu a veena exponent.
About her early years in her own words by M.S.
Excerpts from Past Forward, Oxford University Press, 1997:
“I spent my childhood in a tiny house wedged between a row of tightly packed houses. This was in Hanumantharayan street, very close to the Meenakshi temple. Oh yes, it is still there! The street is just as narrow, dusty and crowded now as it was in those days. The little lane was often occupied by cows which refused to budge. Certainly no cars could get by. But it was a special place for musicians because of my mother, Shanmukhavadivu. She played the veena.
The initials before my name, stand for the two influences on my life -- M for my hometown, Madurai, and S for my mother, Shanmukhavadivu. She was my first guru. It was she who made me the singer I am today.
We were poor, but rich in music. I was brought up with music all around me. Singing came more naturally to me than talking. I was a timid child. Mother's strict discipline made me even more silent. Mother wouldn't let me or my sister Vadivambal step out of the house unnecessarily. In fact she didn't like it if we stood too long near the front door, or looked out of the window. My brother Saktivel had a little more freedom because he was a boy. We girls had to be satisfied with indoor games.
Our home was very small -- two rooms, a kitchen and a courtyard. A staircase went up to the terrace on top. Our house was always packed with elderly aunts and uncles who were often sick. We had to be quieter then. Our life was simple and frugal. We had coriander coffee in the morning .We had rice and buttermilk at night. I was very fond of jasmines. But we couldn't afford to buy flowers everyday. And candy? Vadiva and I would pound tamarind, chillies and salt together, roll it into little balls and put a stick through each one. There was our lollipop! I never felt we lacked things. Learning music was fun because we three children learnt and practised together. I would sing, Vadiva would play the veena and brother Saktivel would make the room echo with his mridangam. His drumming was so good that I actually learnt to play the mridangam from him. We would laugh and talk as we practised. But mother's footsteps were enough to make us fall silent.
My mother chose a music teacher for me. This was Srinivasa Iyengar
who gave concerts with his brother. On an auspicious day and hour, a small puja was done at home, a coconut was cracked and offered in worship. I prostrated myself before my guru and my mother. Then I sat down on the mat for my first lesson. My guru checked the tambura strings. They were correctly tuned. He began to pluck them. He sang out loud and clear: 'Sa ri ga ma pa dha ni sa I repeated the notes after him in three speeds. I must have done well because he taught me with great interest. He laid a proper foundation by going through the beginner's exercises --sarali varisai, alankaram and gitam. Sadly, he did not live to guide me for long. He went out of town on some work. Soon after, we heard that he had passed way.
This was unfortunate. But it did not end my fascination for music. I practised for long hours and with great involvement. I made up a sort of game for myself. I would tune the tambura carefully. As I plucked the strings, the resonance would cast a spell over me. Eyes closed, I would be lost in another world. Then I would stop, sing without it, and pluck the strings again to check if I had stayed in tune. Throughout the day, in between household jobs, I would return to the tambura several times to see if I could recall that pitch steadily and accurately.
Singing on stage happened so naturally that it seemed to be the only thing for me. You will laugh when you hear how I 'appeared before the public' for the first time.
My mother gave a concert at the Sethupati school
near our home. I was building mud palaces in the backyard when my uncle, picked me up, dusted my skirt, washed my hands, and carried me straight to the stage. There were some fifty listeners in the hall. In those days, it was quite a large gathering! I was put down next to her. My mother asked me to sing. At once, without the least hesitation, I sang one or two songs. I was too young for the smiles and applause to mean much. In fact, I was wondering how soon I could get back to making mud pies!
My love of music was fanned by the atmosphere in our house. My mother didn't take me to too many concerts by other musicians. But they often came to our house. Great musicians like Karaikudi Sambasiva Iyer
, Mazhavarayanendal Subbarama Bhagavatar
and Ariyakudi Ramanuja Iyengar
would drop in. Some were legendary figures like Tirukkodikaval Krishna Iyer
, Veena Seshanna of Mysore
, Ponnuswami Pillai
, Naina Pillai
, Chittoor Subramaniam Pillai
, Venkataramana Dass of Vizianagaram.
Their names may sound difficult to you, but their music was like mountain honey. Pure and sweet.
These artists would sit down, drink coffee, roll paan and tuck it into their cheek, or take a pinch of snuff, and talk endlessly about great music and musicians. The musicians who visited us would often sing or play their instruments. A nod from my mother was like loud applause to them. Sometimes she would pluck the strings and play, and they would listen eagerly. Sometimes these maestros would ask me to sing. They would teach me a song or two. In those days, praise was not scattered easily. A nod meant tremendous approval. "You must do well" meant we had reached a high standard.
Local musicians too would come home to pay their respects to mother. Whenever the temple deity was taken out in procession through the main streets, the nadaswaram players at the head of the line would stop where our little street branched off. Then they would play their best for mother. I would run out and watch. I would be entranced by the sights and sounds. The Gods were gorgeously bedecked in silks and jewels and flowers. There was chanting. And the majestic melody of the nadaswaram pipes rose with the big tavil drums. That kind of music is perhaps gone forever.
I also listened to a lot of music on the radio. We didn't own one, but if I sat by the window halfway up the staircase, I could hear our neighbour's radio clearly. That is how I got introduced to Hindustani music. How enchanting it was to hear Abdul Karim Khan, Amir Khan or Paluskar, their voices sweetened by the silence of the night.
Hindustani music was not unknown to us in the south. The Maratha kings who had ruled over Tanjavur had made it popular among music lovers. I learnt Hindustani music for a while from Pandit Narayan Rao Vyas
. This was to help me a lot when I grew up and acted in the film Meera. Then I had the privilege of singing Meerabai's songs. "Shyama Sundara Madana Mohana" was one of the songs that Pandit Vyas taught me. It was to become a hit when I sang it in Seva Sadanam
Living a sheltered life as I did, what could I know of fashions? The only 'cosmetics' I had were turmeric powder and gram flour. There was kajal for the eyes and chaandu -- red and black paste stored in coconut shells, with which we made dots on the forehead. And, of course, coconut oil.
From the staircase window, I would watch the world outside. That is how I saw the girls in the opposite house getting ready to go out. They were dabbing something on their faces which made them white. Of course I didn't know it was face powder. I rubbed my hands along the white-washed wall and tried the effect on my face. You can imagine how irritated my mother was when she caught me at it. "Don't be stupid!" came with a slap.
I was also fascinated by records -- gramophone plates, we called them. Inspired by the gramophone company's logo of the dog listening to his master's voice, I would pick up a sheet of paper, roll it into a long cone, and sing into it for hours. This dream came true sooner than I expected, when my mother took me to Madras to cut my first disc. I was 10 years old and sang in an impossibly high pitch! “
The songs were "Marakatha vadivu
" and "Oothukuzhiyinile
" in an impossibly high pitch.
“I lost my father at about the same time. He was a lawyer. His heart was not in the court, but in his puja room with Sri Rama. Every year he would celebrate the Rama Navami festival with great love and care. The picture of Rama, decorated beautifully with flowers, would be taken through the streets in a grand procession. This was on the saarattu, an open, horse-drawn buggy. How proud I felt when father picked me up and made me sit with him on that saarattu! After the rounds, the picture would be carefully taken into the house, and after the puja, father would lead the group singing of bhajans (hymns). Then came what all the children waited for: the distribution of prasad (food that was sanctified by offering it to God)!
As a child, I had a pet name. Everyone called me Kunjamma
, which meant little girl. But my father had another special name for me. It was always "Rajaathi,
my little princess!" He was very proud of my singing. He would say that he would get me married only to someone who would cherish my music. Then he would laugh and tease, "So how about a nice boy who plays the tambura? Do you fancy such a husband?"
I have one more green memory to share. Dakshinamurti Pillai
was an awe-inspiring musician of those times. He played the mridangam and the ghatam. A wedding in his family drew a whole galaxy of musicians. including the upcoming Semmangudi Srinivasa Iyer
, Musiri Subramania Iyer, Chembai Vaidyanatha Bhagavathar
, Rajamanickam Pillai
, Rajaratnam Pillai
, Palghat Mani Iyer
, G.N. Balasubramanian
and the Alathur brothers
Young and old, they came to his hometown Pudukkottai, not only to attend the function, but also to perform their best before the veteran. I was a young girl then, but I was given the chance to sing in that assembly. The next day, as we took leave of him, Pillai made us sit down. He turned to his fellow musicians, many of them top performers of the time. He said, "You heard this child yesterday. No fuss, no show, no fireworks. Didn't she sing straight from the heart and give us excellent, wholesome music? That is the kind of music which will always stay fresh, and last through a lifetime."
I was so overcome by these words that I shrank behind mother and tried to turn invisible. But he called me forward and gave his blessings.
Right from childhood, just as I felt devotion towards God, I felt a deep respect for my elders. Whenever something good happened, I believed it was due to their good wishes. And I must say that right through my life I was lucky to get their blessings.
As a child, I was often taken to see the puja at the Meenakshi temple. I remember gazing at the splendid image in the inner chamber. When the priest circled burning camphor round her face, I could see the beautiful eyes of the goddess. They were full of love, full of sweet blessings. So you see, faith and prayer came to me in childhood. It was part of the way I was brought up.
mAmAva meenakshi composed by Muthuswamy dikshithar
Violin:R.K.Shriramkumar; Mrudangam:K.V.Prasad;Veena:Vasantha Krishnamurthy.
Later, when I became a concert signer, I would sometimes sing in praise of Meenakshi. When I repeated the line "Madurapuri nilaye
…" which described her as the deity of Madurai town, I would always remember the long and lovely eyes of the goddess which had thrilled me as a child. “
From regular vocal accompaniment in her mother’s veena concerts, M.S. started giving solo performances.
“My first important performance as a singer was at the Music Academy
in Madras. It was to be a full-fledged, three-hour concert before an audience of musicians, critics and music lovers. I was 18. I shivered and trembled before the event. Trying not to look at the listeners, I went up to the stage, sat down, checked the tuning of the tambura, and began.
Suddenly, my fears fell away. I sang with joy. Chembai Vaidyanatha Bhagavatar, a well-known singer, had been sitting at the back. He got up and came to the front row, loudly expressing his approval. Others too were quick to say "Bhesh! Bhesh!" and "Sabhash!" I treasure the words of the great veena player Sambasiva Iyer. He said, 'Subbulakshmi? Why, she carries a veena in her throat!'
That concert at the Music Academy was a very big step for me -- a step towards a lifetime of singing. And of devotion and service through the pursuit of music.”
Of her debut at the Madras Music Academy, a connoisseur wrote: "When she, with her mother by her side (who played the tambura for the daughter), as a winsome girl in her teens, ascended the dais in 1934 and burst into classical songs, experienced musicians of the top rank vied with one another in expressing their delight in this new find."
Subbulakshmi began to draw people's attention with her melodious voice.. In 1936,Subbulakshmi, moved to Madras . She was already a much-sought-after concert artist. Here she met T. Sadasivam,.who entered her life as a mentor. T Sadasivam, who then worked as Advertising Manager of the Tamil magazine, Ananda Vikatan, interacted with MS often in connection with a special feature which S S Vasan wanted to publish on her. Sadasivam later helped MS in co-ordinating her schedules and programmes. Thus began an association which turned out to be a life-long one. Sadasivam took over the job of planning her career. He successfully negotiated with director K Subramaniam the role of the heroine for Subbulakshmi in the film Seva Sadanam.
was born born on September 4, 1902 at Aangarai in Tiruchirapalli district, Sadasivam was the third of the 16 children. Drawn by the fiery speeches and writings of Lala Lajpat Rai, Bipin Chandra Pal, Lokamanya Tilak and Sri Aurobindo Ghosh, Sadasivam joined the freedom movement, A staunch believer in violent means to attain freedom, he became a disciple of Subramania Siva with the sole aim of "killing an Englishman by throwing a crude bomb at him and get hanged for it".He enlisted in the Bharat Samaj group under freedom fighter Subramania Siva
, then a leprosy patient, serving him faithfully.
He was at the head of groups marching across towns and villages to spread the nationalist message. He sang patriotic songs of Subramania Bharati to induce people to bring out their foreign goods, especially Lancaster muslin, and put them on fire. But after listening to the speeches of C Rajagopalachari and Mahatma Gandhi, he changed his lifestyle and became a great lover of khadi,and non-violence. A true Gandhian, Sadasivam was in-charge of the Khadi stall in the Mahamakam exhibition at Kumbakonam in late 20's.
Throughout his life, Sadasivam was closely associated with Chakravarthi Rajagopalachari,
a major national political figure and Kalki Krishnamurthy
, a Tamil literary figure, Rajaji,. the first Indian governor-general introduced him to to the industrialist G D Birla: "Sadasivam to me is what Lakshmana was to Sri Rama," he said. Sadasivam was a writer ,an effective speaker,and a good singer .All the meetings addressed by the freedom fighters were preceded by Subramania Bharati's songs sung by him. He, gave up singing after marrying Subbulakshmi. When the late Tamil Nadu chief minister C N Annadurai, during a visit to the Kalki office after the formation of the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam government in 1967, wanted him to sing a Bharati song, he declined politely, saying "I have stopped singing after marrying Subbulakshmi."
Subbulakshmi, who was also close to Rajagopalachari, was already wellknown when Sadasivam met her on June 30, 1936. The two attended many Congress sessions in various parts of the country. They were married on July 10, 1940.
This is how Kalki Krishnamurthy recalls his memoeries of Sadasivam:
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The cinema period of M.S. began with Sevasadanam
in 1936 .She starred in four movies - Seva Sadanam, Shakuntalai, Savitri and Meera
It was director K. Subrahmanyam
(father of bharathanatyam exponent Padma Subahmanyam) who introduced M.S.as a star. K. Subrahmanyam, (1904-1971) was the first Tamil film-maker to fight social maladies through cinema. He created a galaxy of stars in Tamil cinema, introducing M. K. Thyagaraja Bhagavathar, K. J. Mahadevan, V. N. Janaki, Travancore sisters Lalita-Padmini-Ragini, and B.Saroja Devi. D.K. Pattammal, was introduced as a playback singer in Thyaga Bhoomi. Subrahmanyam's wife Meenakshi, who wrote and composed songs for his films, was Tamil cinema's first woman lyricist and music director. He introduced his daughter Padma Subrahmanyam as a dancer in the film Gita Gandhi. When a famous star said”I am busy”he cast her village cousin (who was serving tea) and turned her into the matinee idol T.R.Rajakumari!
S. D. Subbulakshmi
, persuaded Subrahmanyam to give M.S., daughter of her friend from Madurai, Shanmugavadivu, a chance on the concert stage at the exhibition he was organising in connection with the 1932 Mahamagam Festival in Kumbakonam. It was on that stage that a star was born.
was produced by MUAC-Matharas united Artist.(K.Subrahmanyam)
Released on 2-5-1938.
Lyrics:Papanasam sivan and Rajagopala iyer.
Starring M.S.Subbulakshmi, F.Nadesa iyer, S.G.Pattu Iyer, Jayalakshmi,S.Varalakshmi,Kamalakumari.
In Seva Sadanam, M. S. Subbulakshmi played a young woman who finally frees herself from a tyrannical old husband and becomes a frontline musician. Her songs by singer-composer Papanasam Sivan ("Ma ramanan," "Syamasundara
") became instant hits. F.G. Natesa Iyer's performance in the role of the old man was impressive
Seva Sadhanam championed the cause of women's equality. Based on a novel by Premchand
, the film was a bitter attack on the dowry system, which often compels poor young girls to marry men much older to them. The film forcefully discussed the havoc caused by the incompatibility between such couples. Seva Sadhanam was an "unusual film" on the age-old practice of old men marrying young girls as their second wives in a male-dominated society Subrahmanyam introduced M.S. Subbulakshmi in the film, which was a big success.The director chose a real-life widow, with a shaven head and a white saree, to play the role of a widow.
recalls his memories of Sevasadhanam: “Sevasadan was Premchand’s first novel. He wrote it in Urdu in 1917. The novel in Hindi came out in 1918. The original title of the novel was Baazare Husn
(A Beauty for the Market). The first edition of Sevasadan brought him Rs 400.
Nanubhai Vakil, who made Sevasadan in Hindi, , had to make a number of changes with the novel for a desirable form for Hindi audience. Premchand was not happy and returned to Lucknow. Nearly twenty years after it was written,in 1937 Ananda Vikatan serialised the Tamil translation of the novel as Sevasadanam and the translator was Sister Subbulakshmi
, one of the heroic figures of the women’s upliftment movement in Tamil Nadu. The Tamil film pioneer K Subrahmayam chose to make the novel into a Tamil film since it had strong social reformistic elements as his earlier film Balayogini.. But Premchand died in 1936, two years before the Tamil film Sevasadanam was released.
Subrahmanyam negotiated with Sadasivam for the film rights for Sevasadanam with the agreement of starring M.S.Subbulakshmi in the film.Thus started the film career of Subbulakshmi in "Seva Sadhanam."
Subrahmanyam had also made a few changes in the story-line. Premchand’s Suman does have a weakness for jewellery and others. When she is driven out of the house by her husband, she does end up as a public woman and at a stage even longs for the company of a young customer. Subrahmanyam’s Sumathi of Sevasadanam is unblemished even under tempting circumstances.
In one of the early scenes of the film, she sings in pain “Un uruvam kallanri thiruvulamum kallo?”
It is in a temple and a number of people notice her. One of them compliments the husband for the musical prowess of his wife. This infuriates the husband.
Un uruvam kallanri thiruvulamum kallo?
Later at a function at a well-wisher’s house, Sumathi and the hostess wear similar sarees. While it is the hostess bantering with her husband, Sumathi’s husband thinks it is his wife flirting with the other man (who also happens to be rich). That is his limit and he throws his wife out of the house. Sumathi had already been noticed by another woman and her younger sister (played by S Varalakshmi
) and the two give shelter to Sumathi and also work out a singing career for her. Her first line as a concert singer is ‘Guha Saravana Bhava Siva Bala’
and the song in Simmendramadhyamam was over a succession of images of public acclaim for the new singer.
Guha Saravana Bhava Siva Bala
Sumathi will follow that song with a full-fledged rendering of Neethu Charana
in Kalyani, with alapanam, swaram, etc. The gramophone record of the song was very popular though what ran for ten minutes on the screen was compressed to six minutes.
Now the heroine has achieved fame, wealth, and managed to get her sister married. Sumathy organises a sanctuary for castaways. She sings “Ma Ramanan
” for a six-minute gramaphone record when the remorseful husband dressed like Vivekananda returns to his wife. Sevasadanam was a well-acted film and M S Subbulakshmi could not have asked for a more appropriate role. It was her very first film. Knowing the singing potentials of Subbulakshmi, the director made the heroine an exceptional singer from the beginning.
Sevasadanam as a film told a lucid story with well-sung songs every few minutes. Recalling it fifty years after seeing it, the electrifying montage of the young woman’s entry into the world of public singing, the scene when the already tortured husband mistakes his wife to be in somebody else’s arms, and the retribution scene of the sadistic sister-in-law stand out in memory. It is sad that except for a handful of photographs (including the one that appears in both biographies of M S Subbulakshmi available now in English), they say that nothing of the actual film exists today.”
Tamil film critic and historian Aranthai Narayanan
observes in his book. Thamizh Cinemavin Kathai
that Seva Sadhanam proved a turning point in the history of Tamil cinema. In the climax, the aged husband, now a totally changed man, was shown as casting aside with utter contempt his `sacred thread', which symbolises his Brahmin superiority. It came as a stunning blow to the orthodoxy, he writes.
“After seeing father's "Sevasadanam" an old man came home and declared that he had not only stopped his own marriage to a young girl, but was himself going to arrange her marriage to a suitable boy.”Padma Subrahmanyam recalls.
After the success of Sevasadanam,Sadasivam decided to form his own film company for her next film. His Chandraprabha Cinetone
and Royal Talkies
." in which G.N.Balasubramanyam and Ellis. R. Dungan joined M.S. and Sivan.
Relesed on 12-12-1940,the film was a huge hit and the songs by M.S. and G.N. Balasubramaniam - "Anandamensolvene", "Premaiyil"
and the sparkling "Manamohananga
"became popular and are still remembered today.
The film starred GNB as King Dhushyantha,M.S.Subbulakshmi as Sakunthalai and Serugalathur sama,N.S.Krishnan,T.A.Mathuram,T.S.Durairaj and others.
Reminiscences by Ellis R. dungan on directing M.S. Subbulakshmi .
Excerpts from -* A Guide to Adventure: An Autobiography, Ellis R.Dungan with Barbara Smik March 2002
"In 1939 , I had a call from film producer K.Subramaniam in Madras, who was to produce, or at least direct, a film for M.S.Subbulakshmi and her Kalki magazine publisher husband, T.Sadasivam. They had formed their own film company and wanted to produce a mythological film called Sakunthalai (the name of the female lead character). They asked Subramaniam to direct it, but due to a prior commitment, he was unable to obligate himself to this film and asked me if I would accept it. That is when I first met the great actress and musician M.S.Subbulakshmi. I always addressed her as ‘M.S.’ on the set, as it was a common practice in Indian film circles to address the actors by their initials.
Premaiyil yaavum –GNB and MS
Sakunthalai gave me the delightful opportunity of working with the living legend M.S.Subbulakshmi. I am reminded of a scene where she is supposed to speak angrily to her screen husband, a king, who was seated on his throne surrounded by his courtiers and others. After seemingly hours of rehearsals I was unable to get M.S. into an angry, fighting mood befitting the dialogue. So I took her husband aside and asked his permission to scold her – even embarrass her in front of all the other actors and crew on the set. To my surprise, he agreed. So I went back and really lit into her, saying how much time and money she had wasted on this scene, in retakes alone, and how disappointed I was in her. I even threatened to cancel shooting if she did not shape up.
What really hurt her most of all – it actually brought tears to her eyes – was when I finally told her in front of everyone on the set what a lousy actress she was (of course, she wasn’t). I then stomped off the set. She was shocked – completely shocked – but the strategy worked. Her husband came to her rescue to soothe her wounded feelings. M.S., after drying her eyes, became angry at me as well as at herself, and with fire in her eyes she quickly turned to King Dushyanta and let him have it full blast. Fortunately, the lights were on and the camera and sound were running. Undoubtedly this was the finest piece of acting M.S. had ever done. I was so pleased and proud of her that I embraced her in front of her husband and all on the set. I no doubt embarrassed her at that time. M.S. understood only a few basic words of English, but she understood well the angry mood I was in at the time of degrading her acting ability. Working with an artist one on one in highly dramatic and emotional scenes demands much patience on the part of the director. At times the use of various ‘tricks of the trade’ are necessary in order to accomplish the desired results.
Engum nirai nadha brummam
Sakunthalai was one of my most popular films, and also one of my favorites – due mainly to Subbulakshmi’s fine acting and two special scenes. The first I refer to as the ‘ring’ scene. It seems that one day when Sakunthalai was bathing in the river, the ring her husband gave her slipped off her finger and was swallowed by a fish. I spent much time and effort in creating and filming this scene: cutting back and forth in tight close-ups of the ring and Sakunthalai’s face, as the ring descended downward in the water. In order to follow the ring in tight close-up we had to shoot through a small glass tank filled with water and a clear viscous fluid to slow down the ring’s descending motion. We also shot the scene in slow motion at various speeds. This scene created quite a stir and applause in Madras film circles.
For the other special scene, I hired a scantily dressed female dancer for the role of a water nymph. She was a young European girl in her late twenties, possessing a beautiful Venus-type figure, who performed acrobatic dances with a male partner in cabaret shows at the Connemara Hotel in Madras. In an unheard-of technique in Indian films, she came up out of a water tank and danced in her rather skin-tight one-piece bathing suit. Believe me, it created quite a bit of excitement among the Indian actors and film crew…[pp.70-72]
Mana mohanaanga –GNB and MS
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In 1940, MS and Sadasivam were married at Tiruneermalai in the presence of The Hindu Editor Kasturi Srinivasan and "Kalki" Krishnamurti. For the next 57 years, until his demise in November 1997 at the age of 95, he was, her "guide, philosopher and friend". Sadasivam was already married and had children. Subbulakshmi surrendered her life to Sadasivam.It was total submission. Hers was a life of sacrifice.She never had a child of her own.Her family now became Sadasivam's two daughters Radha and Vijaya, his orphaned nephew and niece, an aged grandmother, and numerous relatives. Elder daughter Radha became inseparable from M.S. Through the decades Radha was her vocal accompanist, emotional support and sympathetic companion until her own illness in the 1980.
With her marriage, began a new phase in her life.Sadasivam and Kalki decided to part company with Vasan and found their own magazine.
M.S.'s third film, was to provide them the capital for Kalki, which was launched in 1941. Savithri was produced by Royal talkie distributors.
Released on 5-9-1941.Starred Y.V.Rao,Santha apthe,MS as Narathar,K.Sarangapaniand T.S.Durairaj.Lyrics of Papanasam sivan and Thuraiyur Rajagopalasarma set to music by Kamaldas Gupta and Thuraiyur Rajagopala sarma. Directed by Y.V.Rao.The film may not have been a great success, but the fee for M.S. (the first Naradar to wear a top garment) was said to have been handsome. And her songs were hits
In a Kolkata studio when M.S. played Narada in Savithri,Her recordings would gather other distinguished artists, K.L. Saigal, Pahari Sanyal, Kananbala, Keskar and Pannalal Ghosh (later to play Krishna's flute in Meera). Dilipkumar Roy was another admirer who later taught her bhajans and Rabindra Sangeet.
"They would make me sing again and again, especially the song "Bruhi mukundeti", with its lightning sangati at the end.In those days, we had no sense of competition or one-upmanship. We enjoyed good music wherever we found it." In the film, as Narada descended from the sky in jerks, singing that enthralling song, the theatre resounded to applause.
Sadasivam produced the film Meera in Tamil, in which MS played the lead role of Meera a singer saint, an 18th century Rajput princess who gave up court life and wandered the countryside singing the praises of the Lord Krishna.The musical classic, "Meera" (1945) produced by Chandraprabha Cinetone and directed by Ellis R. Dungan is one of the memorable movies in the history of Indian cinema. Lyrics were by Papanasam Sivan and Kalki .
S. V. Venkataraman was the music director. Thuraiyur Rajagopala Sarma also worked in the music department. Meera was a musical feast and the songs became hits .
Produced by Chandraprabha cinetone and released on 3-11-1945.
Story,Dialogues byKalki- T.Sadasivam Strred:Chiththor V.Nagaiah,T.S.Balaiah,T.S.Durairaj,Baby Radha as child Meera, Serugalathur sama and M.G.Ramchanthar(MGR).
The film was produced in Rajputana and the villagers in the area saw Subbulakshmi as Meera. They sought occasions to hear her sing and embarrassed her by lining the road to pay her homage when she walked the streets.
Maharana of Udaipur said to MS and T. Sadasivam: "In the old days I would have exchanged my whole kingdom for this Kalyani raga. Now I shall give you whatever help you need by way of horses and elephants in location shooting."
In this film she sang the bhajans of north India. Bhajans are folk music of a devotional nature, simple and compelling enough to be known, understood and loved by all. Already recognized as a distinguished singer of Carnatic classical ragas - Subbulakshmi suddenly found herself the idol of the common people throughout India.
In the Bombay Studio where the Meera score was recorded, artists who came for other recordings would stop by and become rapt listeners. A thin newcomer wih two long plaits dangling behind, refused to record her song after the M.S. session." "Not now, not after that!" She went on to become a legend in her own right as Lata Mangeshkar, while continuing to remain a devoted M.S. fan.
"Kaatriniley Varum Geetham ( lyrics-Kalki ) is an immortal melody of Indian cinema. Its tune and melody were taken from the song by the famous Bengali singer, Juthika Roy. Her gramophone records were very popular in South India in those years. The original Bengali song was a favorite of Kalki who hummed it often .He suggested the tune to S.V. Venkataraman and, the timeless, song was born.
Dungan recalls “Of all the Tamil theatrical motion picture films that I directed in India, the film Meera was considered by my peers and local film critics to be my best – and I am inclined to agree. The picture was produced by Chandraprabha Cinetone, a company formed by M.S. and her husband, T.Sadasivam. I directed the Tamil version and later the Hindi version of Meera.
An innovation I brought to Indian films was the ‘shooting script’, where the script would be broken down into scenes and shots, with action on the left half of the page and dialogue on the right half. First I would have each scene translated for me from Tamil into English, and then I’d go to the hill country for a month or two to write the shooting script…I told Sadasivam I wanted to go to Coonoor to work on the Meera script. He readily agreed and even offered to set me up in a small cottage with cook and servant. Having acquired a taste for South Indian food, as spicy hot as some of the dishes are, I accepted his kind offer. Every Sunday M.S. and Sadasivam would pay me a visit to check on the progress of the script and on my welfare. They would pick up the script pages and take them down to Madras for typing in English…
At the end of a month I was back in Madras with the completed shooting script preparing to cast the film, conduct dialogue and music rehearsals, and construct sets at Newtone Studio. We first had the extensive ‘in-studio’ filming to do in Madras. There is one scene of which I was particularly proud in this film. M.S. had beautiful large eyes, and I wanted to highlight them during one of her songs. I used a special lighting with equipment that I’d brought with me from the U.S. and isolated the area of her eyes with two ‘gobos’ – one at the top of her eyes and one underneath – and feathered the edges of the gobos by putting a diffusion screen on the top and bottom edges to soften them. The final cut showed only the close-up of her eyes, which filled the screen. It was a beautiful effect. (pp.81-83)
…During our forced breaks in the Meera shooting schedule (due mostly to the rationing of film, processing chemicals and photographic supplies during the war years), I often took on ‘still’ photographic assignments for Kalki, the popular Tamil weekly magazine published by T.Sadasivam and ‘Kalki’ Krishnamurti. These assignments included several of M.S.’s musical concerts. Notwithstanding her worldwide name and fame as a musical genius, M.S.’s personal life has always been a very simple one. She is unaffected by her celebrity status and international renown and is of almost childlike innocence and naivete.
As an actress she worked hard to perfect her art. Since M.S. understood a smattering of English at the time I first met her, I was later able to communicate quite well with her during the making of her films. When time permitted I also taught her a few words of English. By the time we completed Meera, she had mastered enough English to carry on a decent conversation all of which held her in good stead later when she visited Europe, England and the U.S. on concert tours. Since she was always surrounded by musicians in her home, rehearsing songs for a recital somewhere, I had to literally wait my turn to conduct film rehearsals. She was quite a busy lady and a lovable one…(pp.86-87)
…In January of 1994, I again was invited to return to India by some friends in the film industry (of course, the invitation is always open there)…When I got to the reception on my behalf, I was overwhelmed by all the attention from the press, film organizations, and actors. Most of the guests were from my filmmaking days in Madras. Among them was the great actress/musician M.S.Subbulakshmi and her husband T.Sadasivam. The chief minister of Madras and the American consul general were also there to welcome me.…M.S. sat next to me at my table, along with her husband, and later during the evening she honored me with a song. What a reception! Friends congratulating me…all the former film stars greeting me…I couldn’t believe it! These people were all there for me? Many of the guests would embrace me or get down on their knees and ‘take the dust of my feet’. And they wanted me to get up and speak, but when I got to the podium I was so overcome with emotion that I couldn’t speak. Words failed me, and the tears started to flow. I know the guests must have been disappointed, but I had to offer my apologies and sit back down. I’d never experienced anything like that in my life. (pp.177-178)..."
kaNNan leelaigaL seyvaanE
(A well known Music director has sung in the chorus!)
Brindavanaththil kannan vaLarntha
After the tremendous success of the Tamil film Meera, Subbulakshmi stopped acting. Sadasivam arranged to dub the songs Hindi version of the film in North India. For this, all new musical arrangements had to be composed in the Hindi language. Subbulakshmi learned them all. The Hindi Meera was a huge success in North India. Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru brought British friends Lord and Lady Mountbatten to the screening of the film in New Delhi.
When Sarojini Naidu, the "Nightingale of India," saw Meera, she personally introduced Subbulakshmi, to the music-loving public of North India."I commend Subbulakshmi of the South to the people of the North," she said in a now-famous statement."Whosoever comes under the enchantment of this singer's great gifts, will agree with me that she is not an interpreter of Meera, but Meera herself. Take her into your hearts and cherish her. You will be proud that India in this generation has produced such a supreme artist." After this, Subbulakshmi became a national figure respected all over India.
After the film Meera MS completely devoted herself in singing. Through Meera she invented herself. She followed the Bhakti cult and reached out with her unique style M.S. recitals always included bhajans - of Meera first and later Tulsidas, Kabir, Surdas, Nanak and the abhangs of Tukaram. A few have heard her sing chhote khayals and thumris ("na manoongi", Mishra Khammaj; "Neer bharan kaise jaaon", Tilakamod; "Mano mano kanhaiyya", Jonpuri), that she learnt in the 1930s from Dwijenderlal Roy in Kolkata and later from Siddheswari Devi of Benares. The latter spent some months in Chennai teaching M.S. thumris and tappas.
In 1941 Subbulakshmi and her husband visited Mahatma Gandhi at his religious retreat in Nagpur. Tears welled up in Mahatma Gandhi's eyes as Subbulakshmi sang Vaisnava janato tere kahiye, jo pir parayi jane re ''To sing a bhajan is one thing, but to sing it by losing oneself in god is another,'' Gandhi said.
Gandhi loved her rendition of north Indian bhajans and requested that he would like to hear her sing his favorite bhajan, "Hari Tuma Haro Janaki Bhir." Subbulakshmi humbly submitted that she didn't know the song. But Gandhi replied, "I would rather hear Hari Thuma Haro' spoken by Subbulakshmi than sung by anyone else.. As she couldn't appear in person, All India Radio suggested she record some discs and have them sent to Delhi where he was in residence. Gandhi particularly wanted to hear "Hari Tuma Haro" whose haunting refrain translates, "Oh Lord, take away the pain from mankind." She didn’t know the bhajan; she suggested another singer, but Bapu refused, saying he would rather hear her speak the words than another sing them.
Subbulakshmi 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. Three months later Mahatma was assassinated on January 30, 1948 When the announcement of his death was reported over the radio, it was followed by the playing of Subbulakshmi’s recording of "Hari Tuma Haro." All India Radio broadcasted that song repeatedly Hearing her own voice singing his favorite bhajan was unnerving and "Hari Tuma Haro" brings a flood of memories of that tragic time.
In 1953, Jawaharlal Nehru, presiding over a recital by Subbulakshmi in aid of the Ramakrishna Mission in the capital, said he could not address the meeting after Subbulakshmi had sung.
November 29, 1953: "Who am I, a mere Prime Minister, before the queen of song?" Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru said, presenting a silver tray to M.S. after she concluded her concert in aid of the Ramakrishna Mission in New Delhi. "
With Sadasivam's encouragement she was able to meet the famous vocalists of those times, Ariyakudi Raman uja Iyengar, Musiri Subramania Iyer and Semmangudi Srinivasa Iyer and also the vainika, K.S. Narayanaswami. With these contacts, her repertoire expanded and her rendering of raga and kriti, neraval, swaram, and so on attained even higher levels of excellence. Semmangudi became a close friend of the family, Musiri was also a frequent visitor, and he gladly shared his special gift for bhava sangeetham with M.S.
With his wide connections in the journalistic and political world, Sadsivam became instrumental in the continued success of her already flourishing career-the course of her career, the direction of her music - they were all carefully fashioned by Sasdasivam He guided and moulded her music and concerts to perfection.Sadasivam was widely considered the "architect of MS" It was he who infused bhakti in her songs.
Sadasivam inspired M.S. to sing lyrics steeped in patriotism such as those of Subramania Bharati ("Oli padaitha kanninai") and Bankimchandra Chatterji ("Bande mataram"). The couple prepared to walk out of the then Corporation Radio, Madras, when refused permission to include one of these songs in the programme.
He hired teachers to teach her languages .He was very particular about the diction and that she knew what she was singing.Sadasivam would make sure she learned, practiced and studied the languages she would be singing so that her pronunciation was perfect.
Sadasivam was very particular about the emotional content of each song. If there was even the slightest erotic content, he would not allow it to be included in her repertoire
She truly became the one musician in India who could truly render compositions in various Indian languages by different composers in an authentic fashion. Her renderings of various Bhajans, Subrapathams etc. appealed to many musically as well as spiritually once she decided that Bhakthi was an inherent element in her music. Her bhajans can move the audience and touch hearts; Her concert included not just the well known composers like the Trinity, but various early Tamil poets, women saints, classical Sanskrit compositions, etc.
Her major international exposure began with her programme at the Edinburgh International Festival of Arts in 1963. and traveled to Europe for the first time. The Times of London commented:
"The vocal music of another culture is often felt to be harder to understand than its instrumental music, but this feeling is not always justified, and Subbulakshmi is an excellent introducer of the beauties and intricacies of Karnatic song."
The Scotsman added: "We listen to a superb artist singing in her native improvisatory style. The barriers become academic, and similarities become obvious."
Subbulakshmi herself concluded that "if one sings with sincerity and devotion, such music has the capacity to move the audience to divine experience, irrespective of their religious beliefs, their language and the countries to which they may belong."
Finishing in Edinburgh she went back to London where she gave a recital and made a number of recordings for the British Broadcasting Corporation. These performances were followed by informal recitals in several European cities and were climaxed by a concert in Cairo where she met the premier singer of the Middle East, Om Kalsum. The music of both women cuts across national boundaries and appeals to pundits and the masses alike.
C.V. Narasimhan, a former Indian Civil Service officer, was Under Secretary-General of the United Nations between 1956 and 1978 said: In 1966, the Secretary-General of the United.Nations., U Thant, invited her to give a special concert at the United Nations. This programme was given in the magnificent General Assembly hall, and I had the privilege of introducing her to the audience. A coast-to-coast concert tour of the U.S. followed. This was repeated in 1977, and on this visit I had the honour of presenting her programme at the Car negie Hall in New York, where all the musical greats of this century have performed. She gave the inaugural concert of the Festival of India in London in 1982, which was attended by the Prince of Wales, Prince Charles, who stayed till the end of the prog ramme. In 1987, she gave the inaugural concert of the Festival of India at the Kremlin in Moscow in the presence of the Prime Ministers of India and the USSR.
In this period of her musical career the pinnacle was her concert at the U.N. in 1966. In that U.N. Concert she rendered the compositions of the major composers in Carnatic music in different languages and her Sankarabharanam was authentic Carnatic music at its best. She astounded the world audience with a rendering totally wedded to classicism. She rendered Bhakthi oriented compositions also and topped it all of by rendering an English composition specially composed by the Sri C. Rajagopalachari (Rajaji) and, “Maithreem bajata”, by Paramacharya Sri Chandrasekhara Swamigal ending with the ringing words "Srey o bhooyat sakala jananam' (Let there be grace abounding for all mankind)
.It elicited a standing ovation by U.N. representatives from all over the world!
October 26, 1966: A performance at the United Nations.
The New York Times said: "Subbulakshmi's vocal communication transcends words. The cliché of `the voice used as an instrument' never seemed more appropriate. It could fly flutteringly or carry on a lively dialogue with the accompanists. Subbulakshmi and her ensemble are a revelation to Western ears. Their return can be awaited only with eagerness."
Dr. W. Adriaansz, Professor of Music, University of Washington, wrote: "For many, the concert by Mrs. Subbulakshmi meant their first encounter with the music of South India and it was extremely gratifying that in her the necessary factors for the basis of a successful contact between her music and a new audience - highly developed artistry as well as stage presence - were so convincingly present... without any doubt (she) belongs to the best representants of this music
During the next seven weeks she performed across the United States from Boston to San Francisco and back. One critic wrote: "A more educated and pedigreed singing art would be hard to imagine. The listener may well find himself under something close to a hypnotic spell."
The San Francisco Chronicle greeted her singing as "a series of miracles." The reviewer exclaimed: "Her elaborate vocal filigree, sometimes sung in unison or octaves with her daughter Radha Viswanathan, were unbelievable in their poised ease and constancy of flow... She sings with a reedy yet dark voice and the most extraordinary flexibility. Like sleight-of-hand she throws out embellishments almost too fast to hear."
`Vikku' Vinayakram, the ghatam virtuoso, who accompanied M.S. to the United Nations in 1966 and London in 1982 for the "Festival of India", said, "It is amma's rasi (luck) that today I am playing at several international venues. She gave me the first opportunity to play abroad."
Maithreem bhajatha-Ragamalika composed by Sri Chandrsekharaendra Saraswathi Swamigal.
Honours have been heaped upon M.S. so much so that the legendary Rukmini Devi Arundale apparently once quipped to her: "Kunjamma, you must leave some awards for others!"She received the Padma Bhushan in 1954, when the national awards were instituted, the first musician to be so honored. In making the presentation the President of India commented, "her music is a gift of the gods which she has placed at the service of the nation." She received the President's award for Carnatic music in 1956,The Ramon Magsaysay award, usually referred to as the Asian Nobel Prize, in 1974. The Padma Vibhushan award from the President came in 1975. In 1988, she received the Kalidas Sanman of the Madhya Pradesh Government. Konarak Samman, Fellowship of the Sangeet Natak Akademi, the Hafeez Ali Khan Award, the Indira Gandhi Award for National Integration and the Desikottama are the other honours she was conferred.
In 1986, the Madras Music Academy conferred upon Subbulakshmi the title of Sangeetha Kalanidhi
. MS was the first woman artist to receive the Sangita Kalanidhi title from the Music Academy. When she was presented with the title she said, "My husband has been my friend, my guide and my philosopher. I lay all recognition I have received as a musician at his feet."
Doctorates have been bestowed on her by the Ravindra Bharathi University,Sri Venkateswara University,Delhi University,Indira Gandhi Kala Sangeeth Vishwa Vidyalaya, Banares University,Viswa Bharthi university and Madras University.
The International music council sponsored by the UNESCO elected M.S. as a member of the IMC in 1981.
She was awarded the Bharat Rathna
India's highest civilian award in 1998.President K.R.Narayanan himself personally has spoken to M.S.over the phone.MS broke down in the middle as TS has passesd away earlier.She accepted the award with all humility.
The couple MS and Sadasivam were a model of hospitality.They led a Gandhian life of simplicity.From the spacious Kalki gardens,they shifted to a house Sivam Subam in Kotturpuram. Pandit Nehru stayed with them. Rajaji, was their guest often. Anantharama Dikshitar, gave a discourse on the Ramayana, for 40 days in their garden. When the governor of Madras wanted the famous spiritual leader, Mata Anandamayi, 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
T.S. and M.S. made it a habit to give all she received to charitable causes. "Once we regard the Divinity within us with devotional fervor [bhakti], we are bound to develop the same affection towards everything outside . . . .When the devotee has attained this state, service to the world becomes his creed." MS said
Her first charity concert was for Mahatma Gandhi.Mahatma later sent her a letter signing in Tamil.It all began in 1944 in connection with the Kasturba GandhiMemorial Fund .Rajagopalachari, Chief Minister of Madras State, asked for her cooperation in this effort .Her five concerts throughout South India raised 80,000 rupees. Mahatma later sent her a letter signing in Tamil.
Starting in 1944 this grew into a public service contribution of major proportions. M.S. raising over Rs.2 crores through singing.- not only the proceeds of her concerts, but also the considerable sums representing royalties on her gramophone records and tapes, have gone to charitable and worthwhile causes. The major beneficiaries include the Tirumala-Tirupati Devasthanam, the Ramakrishna Math, the Nanak Foundation, the Subramanya Bharathi memorial at Ettayapuram, the Hindu temple in Flushing, New York, the Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan, the Kamakshi temple at Kanchi, the Sankara Nethralaya, the Cancer Institute and the Voluntary Health Services, all in Chennai, the fund in honor of the 100th anniversary of Tyagaraja. the Kamban Kazhagam,Tamilisai sangam, the Music Academy Sevoor T. B. Sanatorium, the Kamala Nehru Hospital, and the Sri Sri Sri Mahalakshmi Mathru Bhuteswarar Trust, which is building the Kanchi Mahaswami Mani Mandapam at Orirukkai village near Kanchipuram.
1974 Ramon Magsaysay Award for Public Service - Response by M. S. Subbulakshmi
"I feel deeply honored to be receiving this Award and I accept the honor in all humility.
Your great President Ramon Magsaysay was a shining personality and leader who had arisen in our midst in this part of Asia. We knew of the ideals of personal integrity, the sense of truth and justice, that he strove to establish in the short time he was your president. I offer my salutations to him. I also offer my salutations to your national hero Dr. José P. Rizal.
Naturally my reverential memory now hovers around Mahatma Gandhi who was the apostle of Peace on Earth, beloved Sri Jawaharlal Nehru, the first Prime Minister of the Indian Republic, and Chakravarti Rajagopalachari, affectionately called Rajaji. It was my singular good fortune to have come under the loving spell of all three. I offer my deepest homage to this trinity.
My all I owe to my husband, Sri T. Sadasivam. By his loving care he is my parent; by his unerring guidance he is my preceptor.
Indian music is orientated solely to the end of divine communion. If I have done something in this respect, it is entirely due to the Grace of the Almighty who has chosen my humble self as a tool. But He is beyond my gratitude. Yet, in a way, I take Him to have come within my reach in the benign personality of the Sage of Kanchi, His Holiness Sri Chandrasekharendra Saraswathi Sankaracharya, who is divinity in flesh and blood, now in his 81st year. I offer my obeisance to the Sage from the core of my being, and pray that he bless me to deserve the honor done to me.
Once again, I wish to express to you all my deep sense of gratitude for honoring me with this Award. "
Gowri Ramnarayanan writes about MS “grandaunt Kunjamma is an inspiring role model, not only for the miracle of her culture: humility, compassion, consideration for others and unwavering principles of conduct. Her quest for perfection, sincerity of effort and concentration are not reserved for the stage. They are visible in the camphor light that she circles around the Gods and gurus in her puja room. That is why she fills you with the same rapture when she sings a prayer at home, as she does on the concert stage with her eyes-closed final, 'Kurai onrum illai (Lord, I have no regrets)
“Towards the end of each recital M.S. would sound the cymbals in eyes-closed concentration for the Rajaji hymn "Kurai onrum illai" (I have no regrets). It becomes obvious that for all the splendour of her music, it is her image as a saintly person which will probably endure for long, just as in the case of Meerabai. For, in the highest tradition of the Indian way of life, Subbulakshmi linked her art with the spiritual quest, where humility and perseverance assure the sadhaka of grace.”
Menon, V. K. Narayana. M. S. Subbulakshmi. Booklet. Madras, India: Kalki Press..
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M S. Subbulakshmi," Illustrated Weekly of India. Delhi.
A Note on the Music of India," Edinburgh International Festival, Indian Music Events (Progr