Madurai Shanmukhavadivu Subbulakshmi, 16 September 1916 – 11 December 2004, also known as M.S., was a renowned Carnatic vocalist. She was the first musician ever to be awarded the Bharat Ratna, India's highest civilian honor. She is the first Indian musician to receive the Ramon Magsaysay award, Asia's highest civilian award, in 1974 with the citation reading "Exacting purists acknowledge Srimati M. S. Subbulakshmi as the leading exponent of classical and semi-classical songs in the Karnataka tradition of South India.
Subbulakshmi (Kunjamma to her family) was born in Madurai, Madras Presidency, India to Veena player Shanmukavadiver Ammal and Subramania Iyer. Her grandmother Akkammal was a violinist.
She started learning Carnatic music at an early age and trained in Carnatic music under the tutelage of Semmangudi Srinivasa Iyer and subsequently in Hindustani music under Pandit Narayanrao Vvas. She also learned Sanskrit and Telugu under Dr. Nedunuri Krishnamurthy.
Her mother, from the devadasi community, was a music exponent and a regular stage performer, and Subbulakshmi grew up in an environment very conducive to musical learning. Her musical interests were also shaped by regular interactions with Karaikudi Sambasiva Iyer, Mazhavarayanendal Subbarama Bhagavathar varayanendal Subbarama Bhavathar and Ariyakudi Ramanuja Iyengar.Subbulakshmi gave her first public performance in 1929 when she was 13 years old at the prestigious Madras Music Academy. The performance consisted of singing Bhajans (Hindu hymns). The academy was known for its discriminating selection process, and they broke tradition by inviting a young girl as a key performer. Her performance was described as spellbinding and earned her many admirers and the moniker of musical genius from critics. Soon after her debut performance Subbulakshmi became one the leading Carnatic vocalists.
Singing career :
M.S. Subbulakshmi began her Carnatic classical music training under her mother Shanmugavadivu; and later in Hindustani classical training under Pandit Narayan Rao Vyas. Subbulakshmi first recording was released when she was 10 years old. She gave her first public performance, at the age of eleven, in the 100 pillar hall inside the Rockfort Temple, Tiruchirappallii; with Mysore Chowdiah on the violin and Dakshinamurthy Pillai on the mriganga.By the age of 17, Subbulakshmi was giving concerts on her own, including major performances at the Madras Music Academy, a prestigious centre for the study and promotion of Carnatic music. Performance in Carnatic music concerts, was until then, a domain, traditionally reserved for men. She performed a vast variety of devotional musical forms in different languages including Tamil, Kannada, Sanskrit, Panjabi, Hindi, Malayalam, Telugu, Bengali, Gujarati and Marathi.When the governor of Madras wanted the famous spiritual leader, Mata Sri Anadamayi Ma, to reside in his residence, Anandamayi Ma replied, "I will stay in the house of Subbulakshmi. She is Meera to me." Within two days, Sadasivam had special quarters built in their garden for Mata to give darshan and arranged for a new well to be dug nearby for fresh drinking water. Every evening thousands of people gathered there.She traveled to London, New York, Canada, the Far East, and other places as India's cultural ambassador. Her concerts at
Edinburgh International Festival of Music and Drama in 1963
Carnegie Hall, New York; the UN General Assembly on UN day in 1966
Rayal Albert Hall, London in 1982
Festival of India in Moscow in 1987
were significant landmarks in her career. In 1969 she was accompanied by Indian Railways Advisor SN Venkata Rao to Rameshwaram, where she famously sang several songs in front of each idol in the Rameshwaram temple.After the death of her husband Kalki Sadasivam in 1997, she stopped all her public performances.