Almost the entire career of M.S. Subbulakshmi has been covered by the Hindu through articles and profiles, contributed by those who admired her music and personality. This book is an attempt to trace the Nightingale’s music journey, which touched million of lives across the globe.
M.S. Subbulakshmi (September 16, 1916-December 11, 2004) is India’s Genius of song. As a musician and an understated, yet magnetic stage presence, beloved by millions of music lovers drawn from all classes and society and all age groups, Ms was nonpareil. As an editorial tribute in The Hindu (“Once in an Epoch,” December 13, 2004) noted, MS is one of those rare creative people about it can be said confidently that their creations would have a devoted following a hundred years on.
A considerable literature has grown around Ms the classical vocalist, the person, and the phenomenon. Her life story features a rise from humble beginning; immense dedication to the art she was schooled in from childhood; classical purity and, in the view of many experts, “an uncompromising fealty to the south Indian classical tradition combined with a creative willingness to adapt and change to keep up with times…perfect alignment of sruti, complete command of laya, clarity of diction, faultless pronunciation in every language, immaculate execution…a voice that is heard once in a millennium…a capacity to lose herself in her music”; humility and a willingness to learn from masters; an all-India sweep; the unprecedented accessibility of her music, reading beyond national borders; and an equally unprecedented generosity that, motivated by her freedom fighter and journalist husband, T. Sadasivam, made her give away her give away in their lifetime virtually everything that her concerts and recordings earned.
More than any other newspaper, it is The Hindu that is the authentic chronicler of MS’s life and musical journey; it has continuously told the MS story from the first half of the twentieth century to her passing in the decade of the twenty-first. What better way to mark her birth centenary then dipping into our digitized archives to reflect on her life, musical greatness, and special human qualities? The material presented in the book includes concert reviews, analytical articles, profiles, tributes, reports, and an array of iconic photographs, including some rare ones. Our compilation brings alive MS’s historical 1966 concept at the United Nations, her foreign concert tours, and honours, including the Bharat Ratna, not to mention the mass adulation that came her way but always sat lightly on her. But that is by no means all. To re-visit MS’s life and journey to musical greatness is to turn over the pages of a vitally important chapter of modern history- the final phase of the freedom struggle and the consolidation of Independence. Jawaharlal Nehru, Sarojni Naidu, C. Rajagopalachari, and a legion of other freedom struggle leaders and participants. All their lives, the couple breathed the spirit of national unity, bringing people together for ends, instead of dividing them on the basis of religion, caste, language, ethnicity, and so on. The Hindu dedicated this volume to the memory of a great artist who personified, and through her recorded music continues to personify, beauty, grace, bhakti, humanity, and sheer goodness.
This special publication is a recreation of M.S. Subbulakshmi’s extraordinary life through articles and images sourced from The Hindu’s archives. Its purpose goes beyond merely marking a significant date (September 16, 2016, the legend’s centenary birth anniversary). The book is a celebration of the timelessness of her music that traversed geographical borders and dissolved barriers of language and genre.
From being born in Madurai where she was raised in modest circumstances, Madurai Shanmugavadivu Subbulakshmi made the world sit up and take notice of the richness of the Carnatic from. Like Pandit Ravishankar, who put the sitar on the international stage, she was a musical bridge between the West and South India.
Her life is a musical journey that went from soaking the strains of the nagaswaram from a nearly temple, singing along with her mother’s melodious veena, starring and singing bhajans is the hugely successful film ‘Meera’, unravelling the beauty of kritis, and establishing an abiding bond with the lay and the learned with her bhakti-filled superabhatams.
Of course, as this book makes amply clear, there were many other facets to her life and career, which culminated in the nation’s highest award- the Bharat Ratna in 1996.
Essentially, this is the story of a demure small town girl truing into a musical into phenomenon and a global ambassador of Carnatic music.
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