“Dear Subbulakshmi, Rajaji has told me everything about your good work in connection with Kasturba Memorial Fund by using your musical gifts. May God Bless You.”
This letter addressed to legendary singer M.S. Subbulakshmi and signed by Mahatma Gandhi now adorns the Portrait Gallery named after her and inaugurated on Saturday at Shanmukhananda Hall in Matunga. The gallery is a tribute to giants in the field of music.
West Bengal Governor M.K. Narayanan also unveiled an eight-foot high ebonite statue of the singer holding a Tanpura. It is placed at the entrance of the cultural institution.
Mr. Narayanan, while speaking to a packed hall, reminisced about his childhood which, he said, was filled with visits to a “divine singer.” “Her house was separated with our neighbours’ by a wall. She would ask my mother to come and listen to her sing. I would accompany my mother from time and time and admire the compassionate voice and formidable mind which is remembered so much. At the time I didn’t understand her music, but it would still transport me to a sublime world,” he said. The portrait gallery on the Carnatic singer and her life’s achievements include photos of her meeting Mahatma Gandhi, Khan Abdul Gaffar Khan, Lord and Lady Mountbatten, Sarojini Naidu, Pope John Paul, Queen Elizabeth, Indira Gandhi and Dr. S. Radhakrishnan, among others.
The ‘Queen of Music’ as she was called by Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru, M.S Subbulakshmi, or MS as she was fondly called, was the first musician ever to be awarded the Bharat Ratna. She was also the first Indian musician to receive the Ramon Magsaysay award. “Who am I, a mere Prime Minister before a Queen, a Queen of Music,” Nehru had said of the legend.
It is not a coincidence that MS’s statue was unveiled at the Shanmukhanand Hall. Her association with the Shanmukhananda Sabha began 50 years ago, when she and Ariyakudi Ramanuja Iyengar sang at the inauguration of the hall.
Her famous renditions of bhajans include the chanting of “Bhaja Govindam,” “Vishnusahasranamam” (1000 names of Vishnu), “Hari Tuma Haro” and “Venkateswara Suprabhatam” (musical hymns to awaken Lord Balaji early in the morning). She also rendered Gandhiji’s favourite bhajan, the immemorial “Vaishnava Jana To.”