On MS Subbulakshmi’s 105th birthday, a look at how his music has transcended barriers of language, region and religion
‘Swara raga sudharasa yuta bhakti svargapavargamu ra…’ says Tyagaraja in his Sankarabharanam kriti. He says that bhakti in unison with the nectar of swara and raga confers salvation. In another composition, “Nadaloludai”, in raga Kalyanavasantam, he says: “Achieve supreme bliss by delighting in nada, which comprises the seven swaras and several ragas”. MS Subbulakshmi’s music testifies to this happy experience of nada.
MS amma, as she was affectionately known, touched dozens of hearts with her music and presence. His art, characterized by dignity, purity and humility, transcended barriers of caste, language, region and religion.
The world of Carnatic music has known many deans, but it was MS Subbulakshmi who brought universal fame to Carnatic music. It was an inspiring story of musical wisdom and motivating life lessons.
Endowed with a superb voice, she endeavored to maintain it in good condition. His intimate relationship with his two tambouras was well known; she would call them Lakshmi and Saraswati as they had the images of the goddesses engraved on them. Her daily routine was to sing the varied in the Mayamalavagowla and Sankarabharanam ragas. This assiduous practice made him cross with smoothness and ease any outline of gamaka. Whether it was shuddha swaras, long karvais, shards of ravais, jarus glides, or lightning-like brigas, she could render them all effortlessly, allowing her to handle any type of composition with fidelity. and thanks.
Imbued with the awe-inspiring sounds of nagaswaram in her early years in Madurai, MS amma had a natural flair and intuitive understanding of raga structures. This was also reflected in his alapanas, and his interpretation was a combination of precision, punctuation, proportion and balance.
His concert repertoire included different types of compositions by illustrious vaggeyakaras and famous poets. She paid the greatest attention to the enunciation of the sahitya. His songbooks contain the swara notations of the songs and more importantly the meaning of every word in the song.
MS amma was consulting with language experts to refine her pronunciation and understand the meaning and meaning of words. It is such intense involvement with lyrics and language that has allowed her to sing in Sanskrit, Tamil, Telugu, Kannada, Malayalam, Marathi, Gujarati, Bengali, Hindi, Urdu, Punjabi and even some verses in English, Japanese and Arab.
The most notable feature of his performances was the art of internalization. She sang each composition she learned a number of times, with full knowledge of her mind and emotion, before performing it in concert. The LP record of Vishnu Sahasranamam is an excellent example of such resolute dedication. The perfection with which she and Radha rendered Sanskrit verses, not missing a single akshara, chanting in unison, now sruti and kalapramana, is proof enough of their year-long practice.
His interpretation of kriti was marked by his integrity towards patanthara. She respected and preserved everything she learned from her mentors. His kritis were a delightful blend of discipline and decoration. An unseen but tangible sequence of bhava and bhakti permeated his performances, uncompromising in content, intent or flavor. It is no wonder that certain ragas and compositions are synonymous with her. Whether it is kriti, padam or bhajan, it would be sung true to form. Likewise, his internalization of the Hindustani idiom was confirmed in the exquisite compositions of these traditions.
A wonderful pedagogue too, her patience was immense and she never tired of repeating each nuance until she was seized. Whether it was a simple pause or a complex sangati, she explained at length its relevance. While she insisted on the correct proportion of gamaka, she avoided excessive oscillation of the notes. Good articulation was important to her. She emphasized using the perfect akara while rendering an alapana as well as the concept of light and shadow – Vallinam and mellinam — the thick and thin production of sound driven by the context of the raga or composition.
She has achieved recognition, awards and titles galore, yet she has remained simple and humble, inspiring several generations with her artistry and personality.
The writer is a