Sep 17, 2008

Bharat Ratna, Smt MS Subbulakshmi Profile

M. S. Subbulakshmi

Born : September 16, 1916(1916-09-16)
Madurai, Madras Presidency, British India
Died: December 11, 2004 (aged 88)
Chennai, Tamil Nadu, India
Spouse(s) Kalki Sadasivam

Madurai Shanmukhavadivu Subbulakshmi , popularly known as M.S. or M.S.S.) (September 16, 1916 - December 11, 2004) was a renowned Carnatic vocalist. She was the first musician ever to be awarded the Bharat Ratna, India's highest civilian honor. The Bharat Ratna, was conferred on her in 1998.

Early life

M.S.Subbulakhsmi was born on 16 Sep, 1916 as Kunjamma to Shanmukhavadivu (Veena Vidwan), in a musical family, in the temple town of Madurai situated in the state of Tamil Nadu in South India. M.S. started learning Carnatic music from a very early age.


She gave her first public performance during the Mahamaham festival at Kumbakonam at the age of eight, and released her first recording at the age of ten. She began her Carnatic classical music training under Semmangudi Srinivasa Iyer and then Hindustani classical training under Pandit Narayan Rao Vyas. By the age of 17, Subbulakshmi was giving concerts on her own, including major performances at the Madras Music Academy, a prestigious center 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 musical forms in different languages including Tamil , Telugu , Sanskrit, Hindi, Malayalam, Kannada, Bengali , Gujarati and Marathi.

MS Subbulakshmi 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 were significant landmarks in her career.

With the death of her husband Sadasivam in 1997, she stopped all her public performances. M.S.Subbulakshmi died on December 11, 2004 after a brief illness, due to complications relating to pneumonia and cardiac irregularities.

To millions across the world, she lived a life as the symbol of humility and will forever remain a legend.


M.S. also acted in a few Tamil films in her youth. Her first movie "Sevasadanam" was released in 1938. MS Subbulakshmi also played the male role of Narada in "Savitri" (1941) to raise money for launching Kalki, her husband's nationalist Tamil weekly. Her title role of the Rajasthani saint-poetess Meera in the eponymous film (1945) gave her national prominence. This movie was re-made in Hindi in 1947. The movie had M.S Subbulakshmi. sing the famous Meera bhajans, with Dilipkumar Roy as the music director. Following the success of the film she quit films and turned wholly to concert music.

Personal life

Born on September 16, 1916, in Madurai to Subramania Iyer and Shanmukhavadivu, Madurai Shanmukhavadivu Subbulakshmi, her brother Saktivel and sister Vadivambal grew up surrounded by classical music. Her grandmother Akkammal played the violin and her mother was a veena artist.

M.S., as she came to be known, was initiated to music young, learning her first lessons from her mother. She appeared on stage when she was just 13. By the time she moved to Chennai in 1936, she was already a popular Carnatic vocalist. It was then that she met T. Sadasivam, a freedom fighter and a follower of Rajaji, in 1936. Executive in Ananda Vikatan, the Tamil weekly. They were married in 1940, and their marriage spanned over 50 years, in which he played a key role in the advancement of her career. They had no children. Sadasivam had children from his previous marriage that M.S. treated as if they were her own children. They were named Radha, Vijaya. M.S and Sadasivam also raised Radha who frequently sang with M.S. in concert while Vijaya played the Tanpura.


* Venkateshwara Suprabhatam

Honours and awards

M.S. received a large number of awards during her illustrious career spanning more than 50 years. India's top civilian honour, the Bharat Ratna, was conferred on her in 1998.

In 1968, M.S. became the first woman musician to be honoured with the Sangita Kalanidhi title by the Music Academy, Chennai. After a brief foray in films, she devoted her time to music.

The other honours conferred on M.S. include the Padma Bhushan (1954), Padma Vibhushan (1975), Kaalidas Sanman (1988) and the Ramon Magsaysay award (1974). She gave the inaugural concert at the India Festival, London in 1982, and has also performed in Tokyo, Bangkok, Hong Kong, Manila, Singapore and Malaysia. She introduced Carnatic music to the West at the Edinburgh Festival (1963) and at the United Nations (1966).

She was conferred the degree of Doctor of Letters by many universities, including the Sri Venkateswara University (1971), Delhi University (1973), Benaras Hindu University (1980) and the University of Madras (1987). The Desihothama (doctoral degree) was conferred on her by the Viswa-Bharati University, Shantiniketan. She donated the money made from recordings and concerts to many causes. With her husband to guide her, M.S. raised crores of rupees for charity through her concerts. The first charity concert was for the Kasturba Memorial Fund in 1944.

The institutions that benefited include the Tirumala Tirupati Devasthanams, the Ramakrishna Math, the Nanak Foundation, the Subramanya Bharati memorial at Ettayapuram, the Hindu Temple in Flushing, New York, Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan, the Kamakshi temple in Kancheepuram, Sankara Nethralaya, the Cancer Institute and Voluntary Health Services and the Music Academy (all in Chennai).

Starting with `Seva Sadan" in the 1930s, M.S. had a brief stint in Tamil films. She also played the male role of Narada in "Savitri" (1941) to raise money for launching Kalki, her husband's nationalist Tamil weekly. Her title role of the Rajasthani saint-poetess Meera in the eponymous film (1945) gave her national prominence. 'This movie was re-made in Hindi in 1947.

Her voice held the world in a spell. She has sung bhajans in 10 languages, each setting high standards in purity of diction and emotional content.

Many leaders and political giants of that period, including Mahatma Gandhi, Jawaharlal Nehru and Rajaji, praised her abilities as a vocalist. 'M.S. was an ardent devotee of the Kanchi Paramacharya.

It was the Paramacharya who composed the benediction "Maitreem bhajata" which M.S. sang at the conclusion of her concerts at the U.N. and in Carnegie Hall.

His Excellency the President of India and the Hon'ble Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu paid homage to the departed
Bharat Ratna Tmt MS Subbulakshmi, who had passed away on Saturday (11th December 2004) night.