Dharini Mathur pays tribute to M.S. Subbulakshmi on Women’s Day with a Bharatanatyam recital choreographed by Guru S. Kanaka

Some people are extraordinary every day of the year, every day of their life and even after they pass from the mortal world. Such a person was M.S. Subbulakshmi — MS, as the world fondly referred to her. An unparalleled classical singer, she won hearts across the world, as much for her diving gifts of melody and rhythm as for her singular humility and devotion. On Women’s Day which falls this Friday, Guru S. Kanaka and her disciple Dharini Mathur have put together a Bharatanatyam recital dedicated to the great singer.

Her accomplishments are innumerable: taking Carnatic music to the United Nations General Assembly in 1966; performing at the Madras Music Academy when it was still largely a male bastion; singing in several languages of India; transforming herself into the image of Meerabai in the Tamil and Hindi films on the saint — whose songs she sang and are still played across the world — and remaining a favourite of connoisseur and ordinary devotee alike, thanks to her numerous recordings of popular stotras and shlokas.

“It is therefore appropriate to celebrate her memory on Women’s Day and pay tribute to this great performing artiste who reigned over the music scene in India for well over five decades, becoming a household name with the power and beauty of her music and the simplicity and grace of her persona,” says Dharini.

She points out, “MS had a very strong connection with Bharatanatyam — she sang the padams and javalis for the dancing duo Radha (her daughter) and Anandi (daughter of litterateur Kalki), both disciples of Vazhuvoor Ramiah Pillai.” She adds, “The sringara rasa in these padams and javalis is a contrast to the bhakti rasa she is famous for.”

Delhi’s noted vocalist Sudha Raghuraman was to sing for the performance, but due to sudden illness she has had to opt out, and Rithu Vinodh has stepped in. Nattuvangam will be by Dharini’s guru S. Kanaka, while R. Kesavan will be on the mridangam and G. Raghuraman on the flute.

“All chosen pieces have been made popular by MS and specially choreographed by Guru Kanaka for this tribute,” says Dharini. Apart from Kalki’s “Maalai Pozhudhinile Oru Naal”, the programme features a number of classical and light devotional songs. “The classical piece is a complex daru varnam, ‘Maathe Malayadwaja’ in raga Khamas, composed by the renowned musician and scholar Hari Kesanallur Muthiah Bhagavathar,” says the dancer. “‘Maathe…’ is in praise of Madurai Meenakshi Amman, very dear to MS, who grew up near the temple and cherished memories of her early years visiting the temple and being mesmerised by the Goddess.”

Besides her husband T. Sadasivam, notes Dharini, people like her spiritual guru, the Paramacharya of Kanchi, besides C. Rajagopalachari, writer Kalki and the composer Kadayanallur Venkatraman — “all made their individual contributions to her wealth of songs and find their rightful place in the selection of items.”

The songs are in Sanskrit, Tamil, Telugu and Hindi, the array of languages reflecting “her ability — unique for her times — to cut across language and enthral audiences with the traditional as well as the contemporary.”

Another highlight of the evening is likely to be the 15-minute audiovisual presentation “A Gift of the Gods” by Avinash Pasricha. Made on the occasion of the felicitation of MS, when the Government of Delhi conferred a Lifetime Achievement Award on her on June 21, 2004, it is, says the eminent performing arts photographer, a well loved AV. For this project, he used pictures he had been taking of her over the years at various appearances across India. He also used historical pictures from her early years from various sources.