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Remembering M.S. Subbulakshmi: The Queen of Carnatic Music

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M.S. Subbulakshmi, born on September 16, 1916, in Madurai, Tamil Nadu, left an indelible mark on the world of music and became a legendary figure in the realm of Carnatic classical singing. Fondly known as the “Queen of Carnatic Music,” her contributions to the world of art and culture are celebrated to this day.

Early Years and Musical Beginnings

Subbulakshmi, lovingly called Kunjamma by her family, was born into a family deeply rooted in music. Her mother, Shanmukhavadiver Ammal, was a veena player, and her grandmother, Akkammal, was a violinist. This musical environment provided the perfect backdrop for her budding talent.

Her musical journey began at an early age as she started learning Carnatic music under the tutelage of the renowned Semmangudi Srinivasa Iyer. Subsequently, she also trained in Hindustani music under Pandit Narayanrao Vyas. These early influences set the stage for her remarkable musical career.

The Remarkable Debut

At just eleven years old, Subbulakshmi made her first public appearance in 1927, performing in the prestigious 100-pillar hall inside the Rockfort Temple in Tiruchirappalli. Accompanied by Mysore Chowdiah on the violin and Dakshinamurthy Pillai on the mridangam, this event was a significant milestone in her musical journey. It was organized by F. G. Natesa Iyer, a prominent Indian National Congress leader from Tiruchirappalli.

Relocation to Madras and Film Debut

In 1936, Subbulakshmi moved to Madras (now Chennai), which marked the next phase of her musical career. She also ventured into the world of cinema, making her film debut in “Sevasadan” in 1938. Her first film role was alongside F. G. Natesa Iyer, and the film was directed by K. Subramanyam. This cinematic debut earned her critical acclaim and commercial success.

Musical Style and Performances

Subbulakshmi’s musical style was characterized by her exquisite renditions of Carnatic classical music. She possessed a divine voice that could effortlessly capture the essence of classical compositions. Her early performances at the Madras Music Academy, starting in 1929 when she was just thirteen years old, were spellbinding, earning her the nickname “musical genius” from critics.

As her career advanced, Subbulakshmi’s fame transcended national borders. She represented India as a cultural ambassador in numerous international concerts, including appearances at the Edinburgh International Festival of Music and Drama in 1963, Carnegie Hall in New York, the UN General Assembly on UN Day in 1966, Royal Albert Hall in London in 1982, and the Festival of India in Moscow in 1987.

One of her notable initiatives was singing in front of each idol in the Ramanathaswamy Temple in Rameswaram, accompanied by Indian Railways Advisor SN Venkata Rao, in 1969.

Awards and Honors

M.S. Subbulakshmi’s contributions to music and culture were recognized and celebrated through a multitude of awards and honors. Some of the most prestigious accolades she received include:

  • Padma Bhushan in 1954.
  • Sangeet Natak Akademi Award in 1956.
  • Sangeetha Kalanidhi in 1968.
  • Ramon Magsaysay Award in 1974, often referred to as Asia’s Nobel Prize.
  • Padma Vibhushan in 1975.
  • Sangeetha Kalasikhamani in 1975 by The Indian Fine Arts Society, Chennai.
  • Kalidas Samman in 1988.
  • Indira Gandhi Award for National Integration in 1990.
  • Bharat Ratna in 1998, making her the first musician ever to receive this prestigious honor.

Throughout her life, M.S. Subbulakshmi remained devoted to music and spirituality. She was a living embodiment of the power of music to transcend boundaries and touch the hearts of people from all walks of life. Her contributions to Indian classical music and her dedication to philanthropy continue to inspire generations of musicians and music lovers worldwide.

M.S. Subbulakshmi passed away on December 11, 2004, at her home in Kotturpuram, Chennai. Her legacy lives on, not only in her timeless recordings but also in the hearts of those who continue to be mesmerized by her divine voice and unparalleled musical prowess.

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