The making of M.S. Subbulakshmi, the music icon

M.S. Subbulakshmi   | Photo Credit: The Hindu Archives

‘Swara raga sudharasa yuta bhakti svargapavargamu ra...’ says Tyagaraja in his Sankarabharanam kriti . He says that bhakti in unison with the nectar of swara and raga bestows salvation. In another composition, ‘Nadaloludai’, in raga Kalyanavasantam, he says, ‘Attain supreme bliss by revelling in nada, which comprises the seven swaras and several ragas’. M.S. Subbulakshmi’s musicwas testimony to this blissful experience of nada.

MS amma, as she was fondly called, touched scores of hearts with her music and her presence. Her art, characterised by dignity, purityand humility, transcended the barriers of caste, language, region, and religion.

The world of Carnatic music has witnessed numerous doyens, but it was M.S. Subbulakshmi who brought universal acclaim to Carnatic music. Hers was an inspiring story of musical wisdom and motivating life lessons.

Endowed with a superb voice, she made diligent efforts to keep it in good shape. Her intimate relationship with her two tamburas was well-known; she would refer to them as Lakshmi and Saraswati since they had the images of the goddesses carved on them. Her daily routine included singing the varisais in the ragas Mayamalavagowla and Sankarabharanam. This assiduous practice made her voice traverse any kind of gamaka contour with finesse and ease. Be it shuddha swaras, long-drawn karvais, slivers of ravais, glides of jarus or lightening-like brigas, she could render them all effortlessly, allowing her to handle any type of composition with fidelity and grace.

Soaked in the grand tones of the nagaswaram in her early years in Madurai, MS amma had a natural flair and an intuitive comprehension of raga structures. It reflected in her alapanas too, and her rendition was a combination of precision, punctuation, proportion and poise.

The making of M.S. Subbulakshmi, the music icon

Her concert repertoire included different types of compositions by illustrious vaggeyakaras and famed poets. She paid utmost attention to the enunciation of the sahitya. Her songbooks contain the swara notations for songs and, more importantly, the meaning of every single word in the song.

MS amma would consult experts in the language to fine-tune her pronunciation and understand the meaning and import of the words. It is such intense involvement with lyric and language that enabled her to sing in Sanskrit, Tamil, Telugu, Kannada, Malayalam, Marathi, Gujarati, Bengali, Hindi, Urdu, Punjabi and even a few couplets in English, Japanese and Arabic.

The most notable feature of her renditions was the artistry of internalisation. She sang every composition that she learnt a number of times, with complete cognition of its spirit and emotion, before presenting it in concert. The LP record of the Vishnu Sahasranamam is an excellent example of such single-minded dedication. The perfection with which she and Radha have rendered the Sanskrit verses, not missing a single akshara, singing in unison, maintaining sruti and kalapramana, are ample proof of their year-long practice.

M.S. receiving Doctor of Letters in 1971 from Dr. D. Jagannatha Reddy, former Vice Chancellor of Sri Venkateswara University

M.S. receiving Doctor of Letters in 1971 from Dr. D. Jagannatha Reddy, former Vice Chancellor of Sri Venkateswara University   | Photo Credit: HINDU PHOTO ARCHIVES

Her kriti rendition was marked by her integrity to patanthara. She respected and preserved all that she learnt from her mentors. Her kritis were a delectable amalgam of both discipline and decoration. An invisible yet tangible streak of bhava and bhakti pervaded her renditions, with no compromise, either in content, intent, or flavour. It is no wonder that certain ragas and compositions are synonymous with her. Whether kriti, padam or bhajan, it would be sung true to its form. Likewise, her internalisation of the Hindustani idiom was upheld in the exquisite compositions of those traditions.

A wonderful teacher as well, her patience was enormous and she would never tire of repeating every nuance until it was grasped. Be it a simple pause or an intricate sangati, she would explain its relevance at length. While she insisted on the right proportion of gamaka, she avoided excessive oscillation of notes. Right articulation was important for her. She stressed upon the usage of the perfect akara while rendering an alapana as well as the concept of light and shade — vallinam and mellinam — the thick and thin production of sound impelled by the context of the raga or the composition.

She got recognition, awards and titles galore, but she remained simple and humble, inspiring several generations with her art and personality.

The writer is a

well-known violinist.

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Printable version | Oct 17, 2021 4:29:02 PM |

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