Gayathri Venkataraghavan

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MSS- Musical Divinity Immortalised

The world is gearing up to celebrate the centenary of one of the greatest gifts to the world. It would be no exaggeration to say that her music is heard at some part of this world every second. In India, from Rameswaran in the southern most tip of India to Badrinath nestled in the Himalyas to Tirumala the Sacred temple, her divine voice resonates and the deities within these sacred temples hear her beautiful voice everyday. Can any musician ask for a bigger blessing?.

Bharath Ratna MS Subbulakshmi was a scintillating mix of extra ordinary musical talent, dignified beauty which reflected the lustre of her inner self, great charisma with an amazing stage presence and most significantly absolute humility , a very great attribute given all her talents and achievements.

She was revered by many as an avatar of Meera due to the sheer Bhakthibhava (feeling of intense devotion) she created with her magical voice and immaculate rendering of songs.

Her absolute dedication to classicism , the flawless diction that reflected hours of intense sadhana , her clear ringing voice which could traverse octaves effortlessly that glided along her perfectly aligned sruthi , her intense feel (Bhava) that could come only by complete internalisation of the meaning of the kritis , all added to the magic of MSS s music.

Her success was not attained by sudden flight. Her music is a standing example of laborious work coupled with profound guru Bhakthi . She gathered songs from different languages and from various styles of music and then by sheer perseverance, polished them and presented each one of them as a gem of great lustre. . She learnt from many redoubtable masters and had the good fortune of learning many compositions directly from the composers. Once she started working on a song, it became a gold standard.

Songs that she has immortalised are legion.

A few of them are Bhavayami Gopala balam, O Rangasayee, Rangapuravihara, Rave himagirikumari, Mayyamma, Jagadoodarana, ArarAsaipadar, Vadavarayai Mathakki andMaithreem Bhajatha. I could keep adding songs, but I know better than to make an exhaustive list of the songs MSS has placed on a special pedestal , as the list is truly endless.

The way she broadened her repertoire and the planning that went into the presentation was truly remarkable. Every concert of MSS was presented with deep thought and it turned out to be an immaculate performance.

MS SubbulakshmiHer concerts were a meticulous blend of compositions of different Vaggeyakaras(composers, appropriate ragas and thalas, all interwoven seamlessly , that created a sense of Bliss and stayed in the minds of the listener for years. This is one reason why many years after she has ceased to perform, the magic of her creations illuminate the musical world.

The creations of Trinity of music: Sadguru Thyagaraja Swami, Shri Muthuswami Dikshithar and Shri Shama Shastri formed the bedrock of her concerts. The lofty ideals, the musical idiom and the bhakthibhava that these compositions brimmed with, seemed to melt seamlessly in the bhava laden rakthi presentation of MSS to the leave the rasikas in a state of a trance. The hallmark of her music was the restraint and poise she brought to the concert platform. To her, the music was more important than the performer.

It would also be appropriate to mention here that she was also a lakshya and lakshana musician in her own right. A proficient Vainika, she could handle complex laya patterns, rare ragas with penchant and the free flow of her imaginative kalpanaswaras and her manodharma also proved she was an original , innovative classical singer who could improvise wisely wherever the need arose. She was equally at ease singing the other great composers like Purandaradasar, Maharaja Shri Swathi Thirunal . Post Trinity doyens like Shri Muthiah Bhagavathar and Mysore Shri Vasudevachar were also handled with élan.

The second half of her concert was planned with equal fervour and dedication. MSS brought about an integration of the Bhakti movement of medieval India with Carnatic music by immortalising Bhajans of Saints Meera, Surdas, Kabirdas, Narsimnh Mehta of Gujarat and Jayadeva of Orissa. Who can forget her signal contribution to the Devotional genre – her rendering of Hanuman Chalisa that had the chant of the immortal saint Tulsidas on millions of south Indian lips? She also sang Bengali compositions, Malayalam poetry and why, even English hymns were presented by her.

Closer home, she popularised Tamil hymns of the Nayanmars and Alwars {Shaivaite and Vaishnavite saints} which enhanced the Bhakthi soaked fervour. She popularised the verses of the immortal Tamil poet Kamban, the author of the Tamil version of epic Ramayana. She presented various kritis of Tamil composers. She had the unique honour of learning directly from composers like Papanasam Sivan. She was a big pillar of support for the tamizh Isai movement (a movement which wanted to ensure that compositions in the tamizh language got their rightful place in the concerts)

Since she was exposed to fervent Nationalism during her early years and the fact that her husband Shri Sadasivam was very active in our Freedom Struggle, she had a special place in her repertoire for the patriotic songs, especially of the great revolutionary bard Subramania Bharathi. She also popularised the compositions of Tamizh Literateur Shri Kalki Krishnamurthy and a host of other tamizh composers.

She was very attached to the profound works of the great Telugu saint Shri Annamacharya, whose devotional outpourings on Lord Venkateswara were sung as lilting melodies by her, so much so that to this day, any pilgim to the holy Tirumala Hills is greeted by one of her myriad songs of Annamacharya. The Andhra Pradesh government has erected a beautiful life size statue depicting her in musical poise at Tirupati in recognition of this great contribution to Telugu literature.

She was also adept at singing Sanskrit hymns, with great emphasis on perfect diction To this day, thousands of households and temples wake up to her Suprabhatham{waking hymns} on Lord Venkateswara. She has sung many devotional pieces on Goddess Kamakshi, Goddess Meenakshi , Lord Ramanatha Swami and others dieties.

She has immortalised the Vishnu Sahasranama, which is a hymn in praise of Lord Vishnu found in the epic Mahabaratha. Bhaja Govindam by Adi Sankara Bhagavathpada is another simple yet profound hymn set to lilting music.

MSS stamped her aura on the world stage and was one of the first musician’s to present South Indian Classical music in major festivals abroad. One of her landmark concerts was in 1966 in the UN Assembly Hall where her invocation for Universal peace and brotherhood (Maithreem Bhajatha by the Paramacharya of Kanchi) evoked international praise.

Above all, MSS and her husband Sadasivam were wonderful human beings. They were philanthropists. They donated huge amounts to worthy causes and left very little for themselves. They were extremely attached to national causes and the musical contribution of MSS toward our freedom struggle is legendary.Photo:ChellaVaidhyanathan

She is an inspiration for generations of musicians and will continue to live in the hearts of millions forever. Bharath Ratna MS Subbulakshmi is an icon, a pole star that will guide aspiring musicians and an Everest in the Carnatic music firmament. SHE WAS MUSICAL DIVINITY PERSONIFIED.

Dr. V. S. Venkataraghavan


Photo:Chella Vaidhyanathan

Dr. V.S. Venkataraghavan is an eyesurgeon based in Chennai. He is an avid rasika of carnatic music.