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Remembering MS

Recalling the glorious past of Carnatic legend, M.S. Subbulakshmi, as we celebrate her 100th birth anniversary.

The swirl of Kanchipuram silk, diamonds, a prominent red bindi and vibhuti, vocalist M.S. Subbulakshmi (MS) was a strong presence. When she sang she evoked a medley of emotions. Her voice lightened heavy hearts. People sat as if in a trance, while some broke down into tears. Her music was effortless, strongly classical, rooted in technical mastery perfected by constant training. MS’ voice opens the day for many as it rings out from temples and homes across the globe.

Her music, as The Hindu wrote in its editorial (December 14, 2004), was “an uncompromising fealty to the south Indian classical tradition combined with a creative willingness to adapt and change to keep up with new times; an expanded, all-India domain; a progressive reaching out to other traditions, especially the Hindustani classical genre, without ever lapsing into eclecticism; unsurpassed bhava, or feeling, in the great bhakti mode, resulting in a singular ‘capacity to lose herself in her music’; ‘perfect alignment of sruti, complete command of laya, clarity of diction, faultless pronunciation in every language, immaculate execution;’ a lifelong habit of meticulous practice and hard work; sincerity and humility that is humbling; ‘a voice that is heard once in a millennium’; and when everything else is said, a transcendental beauty that transports and elevates.”

The first musician to be awarded the Bharat Ratna, the first woman recipient of the Sangitha Kalanidhi title, MS was the first to popularise Carnatic music in North India and at prestigious venues abroad.

Mahatma Gandhi insisted that MS sing his favourite bhajan. Jawaharlal Nehru called her the Queen of Song, while Sarojini Naidu relinquished her title of Nightingale of India to MS after watching her act and sing in the film Meera.

September 16 is the 100th birth anniversary of MS. The magic of her music still captivates. Only a handful of musicians from Kerala had the honour of accompanying MS in her concerts. They include Palakkad Kunjumani, Palakkad Hariharan, Chalakudy N.S. Narayanaswamy, Mavelikara Krishnankutty Nair, V.V. Ravi and Thrissur Narendran. But there were four others, T.K. Murthy, V.V. Subrahmanyam, Guruvayur Dorai and K.V. Prasad, who spent long years of their careers accompanying her. These four instrumentalists recount their experiences, the magic of an MS concert and more.

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