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M.S. subbulakshmi passes away, aged 88

By Our Special Correspondent

GENIUS OF SONG: In the tradition of the singing sants of the bhakti cult, the great musician reached out to millions of people. - Photo: V. Ramamurthi.

CHENNAI, DEC. 11. We regret to announce the passing away of Bharat Ratna M.S. Subbulakshmi, legendary Carnatic musician, in Chennai late on Saturday. She was 88.

The end came at 11.30 p.m. at St. Isabel's Hospital, where she had been receiving treatment for the past 10 days, family sources said. A team of doctors led by Dr. C.V. Krishnaswamy was providing treatment to her.

V. Murali, a relative, said Srimati M.S. Subbulakshmi, who had been suffering from viral infection, developed broncho-pneumonia recently. She was advised rest and was responding positively to treatment. Two days ago, she developed cardiac irregularities.

Born on September 16, 1916, in Madurai to Subramania Iyer and Shanmukhavadivu, Madurai Shanmukhavadivu Subbulakshmi, her brother Saktivel and sister Vadivambal grew up surrounded by classical music. Her grandmother Akkammal played the violin and her mother was a veena artist.

M.S., as she came to be known, was initiated to music young, learning her first lessons from her mother. She appeared on stage when she was just 13. By the time she moved to Chennai in 1936, she was already a popular Carnatic vocalist. It was then that she met T. Sadasivam, a senior executive in Ananda Vikatan, the Tamil weekly. They were married in 1940.

M.S. received a large number of awards during her illustrious career spanning more than 50 years. India's top civilian honour, the Bharat Ratna, was conferred on her in 1998.

In 1968, M.S. became the first woman musician to be honoured with the Sangita Kalanidhi title by the Music Academy, Chennai. After a brief foray in films, she devoted her time to music.

The other honours conferred on M.S. include the Padma Bhushan (1954), Padma Vibhushan (1975), Kaalidas Sanman (1988) and the Ramon Magsaysay award (1974). She gave the inaugural concert at the India Festival, London in 1982, and has also performed in Tokyo, Bangkok, Hong Kong, Manila, Singapore and Malaysia. She introduced Carnatic music to the West at the Edinburgh Festival (1963) and at the United Nations (1966).

She was conferred the degree of Doctor of Letters by many universities, including the Sri Venkateswara University (1971), Delhi University (1973), Benaras Hindu University (1980) and the University of Madras (1987). The Desihothama (doctoral degree) was conferred on her by the Viswa-Bharati University, Shantiniketan. She donated the money made from recordings and concerts to many causes. With her husband to guide her, M.S. raised crores of rupees for charity through her concerts. The first charity concert was for the Kasturba Memorial Fund in 1944.

The institutions that benefited include the Tirumala Tirupati Devasthanams, the Ramakrishna Math, the Nanak Foundation, the Subramanya Bharati memorial at Ettayapuram, the Hindu Temple in Flushing, New York, Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan, the Kamakshi temple in Kancheepuram, Sankara Nethralaya, the Cancer Institute and Voluntary Health Services and the Music Academy (all in Chennai).

Starting with `Seva Sadan" in the 1930s, M.S. had a brief stint in Tamil films. She 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 film (1945) gave her national prominence. 'This movie was re-made in Hindi in 1947.

Her voice held the world in a spell. She has sung bhajans in 10 languages, each setting high standards in purity of diction and emotional content.

Many leaders and political giants of that period, including Mahatma Gandhi, Jawaharlal Nehru and Rajaji, praised her abilities as a vocalist. 'M.S. was an ardent devotee of the Kanchi Paramacharya.

It was the Paramacharya who composed the benediction "Maitreem bhajata" which M.S. sang at the conclusion of her concerts at the U.N. and in Carnegie Hall.

The cremation will take place on Sunday.

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