Main Page | See live article | Alphabetical index

MS SubbuLakshmi

Madurai Shanmukhavadivu Subbulakshmi (popularly known as M.S. or M.S.S.) is a renowned carnatic vocalist. She was born in the temple town of Madurai, India on September 16th, 1916 in a musical family. MS started learning carnatic music from a very early age and cut her first disc at the age of 10. She then began her Carnatic classical music training under Semmangudi Srinivasa Iyer and then Hindustani classical training under Pandit Narayan Rao Vyas.

At 17, the child prodigy made her debut at the Madras Music Academy. Since then, she has performed countless musical forms in different languages such as Hindi, Bengali, Gujarati, Tamil, Malayalam, Telugu, Sanskrit and Kannada.

M.S. had a brief stint in movies too. Her most memorable role was Bhaktha Meera in Meera(1945). The movie had M.S. sing the famous Meera bhajans. Those renditions by M.S. continue to haunt listeners to this day.

M.S. met Sadhashivam, a freedom fighter, and a faithful follower of Rajaji, in 1936 and in 1940, the two decided to marry. Their post marital life (which spanned over 50 years) had been extremely fruitful to both of them.

M.S. traveled to London, New York, Canada, the Far East, and other places as India's cultural ambassador. Her concerts at Carnegie Hall, New York; the UN General Assembly on UN day in 1966; the Royal Albert Hall, London in 1982; and at the Festival of India in Moscow in 1987 are unforgettable landmarks in her career.

M.S. renders the human art of singing with a spiritual quality and divine grace that enthralls and transfixes listeners, and transports them into a different world, as though cast under a spell. As a first- time foreign listener put it, "M.S. does not sing. She makes divinity manifest."

Mahatma Gandhi was so charmed of her Meera bhajans that he proclaimed that the song Hari Tum haro Jan ki bheer (Lord, please dispel the fear in mankind) was meant for M.S. alone, and no one else -- even if she chose to recite it without music!.

In the late 1950s, as she sang at the Ramakrishna Ashram in Delhi, Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru, India's first prime minister, was among the audience. At the end of the recital he was so moved that he bowed, and said, "What am I, a mere prime minister before a queen of music."

While Lata Mangeshkar called her "Tapaswini", or the Renunciate, Ustad Bade Ghulam Ali Khan termed her "Swaralakshmi," or the goddess of musical notes, and Kishori Amonkar labeled her the ultimate eighth note or "Aathuvaan Sur," which is above the seven notes basic to all music.

The awards and honors bestowed upon her are innumerable. She was awarded the Padma Bhushan(1954), and she was the first woman recipient of the Sangeetha Kalanidhi (Treasure Chest of Music) title, (1968). Then came the coveted Ramon Magsaysay award, in 1974, the Padma Vibhushan, in 1975, the Kalidasa Samman in 1988, the Indira Gandhi Award for National Integration in 1990, and last, but not the least, the Bharat Ratna in 1998.

With the death of her husband Sadhasivam in 1997, she stopped all her public performances.