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The Nightingale of Carnatic Music

April 2005
The Nightingale of Carnatic Music

Smt M. S. Subbulakshmi, popularly known as "M.S." died on December 11, 2004 in Chennai at the age of 88. She was born on September 16, 1916 in the city of Madurai (Tamil Nadu), into a Devadasi family. Known as Kunjamma in her earlier years, she made her debut as a singer at the age of 8. At a time when women were still confined to sheltered private lives, Subbulakshmi paved her way to the top. In spite of the disadvantage that she had growing up in a Devadasi family, she reached heights no one else did in the field of Carnatic music. She bagged many awards including the most prestigious one bestowed by the Government of India, "Bharata Ratna" in 1998. She was the first woman to be awarded Sangeetha Kalanidhi by Madras Music Academy. She was invited to render a concert before the UN General Assembly in 1966 and held the audiences, including the heads of States from all over the world, spellbound.

She immortalized many songs such as Vaishnava Janatho, a favorite of Mahatma Gandhi, Meera bhajans, Annamacharya Kirtanas, and many others. M.S. is a household name in South India. She epitomized devotion through music and there is no South Indian temple in the world where her music is not heard. To know how music transcends all barriers, all one has to do is to listen to M.S. sing, says T.J.S. George in his book, "M.S., A Life in Music", a biography of M.S. Subbulakshmi.

"Her mellifluous voice, her phenomenal range, her command over the nuances of classical music, her exquisite diction and above all, her emotional and aesthetic appeal have held audiences captive world wide", George writes. Her music has attained universal dimensions. If her repertoire is legendary, so is her humility. She honored the ancientness of tradition, anchored her art on a spiritual base and absorbed the best in others while developing her own distinctiveness. She always remained conscious of the need to take music to as wide a world as possible. She reached beyond her hometown, beyond her home state and beyond even her own country to become a universal ambassador of Carnatic music. Her image in the world is not just that of another singer, but a singer expounding the country's immemorial culture.

It is no small achievement for a person who had virtually no schooling, could not speak any language with confidence other than her native tongue and was surrounded by social obstacles traditionally considered insurmountable. She triumphed by just being herself, George contends. She is the embodiment of the philosophy expressed by Saint Tyagaraja, the famous 18th century composer in his composition "Swara Ragasudha ", in the raga Sankarabharanam. Tyagaraja believes, "One attains salvation when one becomes a jnani after several births, but he who has knowledge of ragas along with natural devotion is indeed a liberated soul." There is no doubt M.S is a liberated soul in every sense.

The Hindu Temple of Atlanta and the Carnatic Music Association of Georgia are organizing an event to pay homage to such a great soul on Saturday, April 30, 2005 at 5.30 PM. in the HTA auditorium. More information can be obtained from www.thehindutempleofatlanta.org.

- Seshu Sarma

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