Madurai Shanmukhavadivu Subbulakshmi (16 September 1916 – 11 December 2004) was an Indian Carnatic singer from Madurai, Tamil Nadu. She was the first musician ever to be awarded the Bharat Ratna, India’s highest civilian honour. She is the first Indian musician to receive the Ramon Magsaysay award, often considered Asia’s Nobel Prize, 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 carnatic tradition of South India
Subbulakshmi (Kunjamma to her family) was born on 16 September 1916 in Madurai, Madras Presidency, India to veena player Shanmukavadiver Ammal and Subramania Iyer. Her grandmother Akkammal was a violinist.
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 and Ariyakudi Ramanuja Iyengar.
Awards and honours
Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru had this to say about M.S. Subbulakshmi- “Who am I, a mere Prime Minister before a Queen, a Queen of Music”. While Lata Mangeshkar called her Tapaswini (the Renunciate), Ustad Bade Ghulam Ali Khan termed her Suswaralakshmi (the goddess of the perfect note), and Kishori Amonkar labelled her the ultimate eighth note or Aathuvaan Sur, which is above the seven notes basic to all music. The great national leader and poet Sarojini Naidu called her “Nightingale of India”. Her many famous renditions of bhajans include the chanting of Bhaja Govindam, Vishnu sahasranama (1000 names of Vishnu), Hari Tuma Haro and the Venkateswara Suprabhatam (musical hymns to awaken Lord Balaji early in the morning).
She was widely honoured, praised and awarded. Some of the popular ones include:[
- Padma Bhushan in 1954
- Sangeet Natak Akademi Award in 1956
- Sangeetha Kalanidhi in 1968
- Ramon Magsaysay award (often considered Asia’s Nobel Prize) in 1974
- 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
She was honoured as a resident artist [Asthana Vidhwan] of Tirumala Tirupati Devasthanams.Tirupati Urban Development Authority (TUDA) has installed a bronze statue of M.S. Subbulakshmi at the Poornakumbham circle in the temple town. It was unveiled by Andhra Pradesh Chief Minister Y. S. Rajasekhara Reddy on 28 May 2006.[
The Kancheepuram Saree shade known as MS Blue was named after her[ by the well known Congress party member and philanthropist, Sri Muthu Chettiyar when they met at the residence of Sri R. Aiyadurai and Smt. Thangam Aiyadurai at Lady Desikachari Road, Madras, who were close friends of MS and Sadasivam.
A commemorative postage stamp on her was issued on 18-December-2005. United Nations decided to issue stamp to mark birth centenary M.S. Subbulakshmi,She was bestowed with enormous prize moneys with these awards, most of which she donated to charity. She has given more than 200 charity concerts and raised well over Rs. 10,000,000. She was awarded honorary degrees from several Universities. She was an ardent devotee of Kanchi Mahaswamigal and she rendered his composition Maithreem Bhajatha (O World! Cultivate peace) in her concert at the UN in 1966. She made a 20-minute recording of Venkatesa Suprabhatam for HMV, the royalty from which goes to the Veda Patasala run by the Tirupati Tirumala Devasthanam.[ She donated many of the royalties on several best sold records to many charity organisations.
Subbulakshmi gave her first public performance, at the age of eleven, in the year 1927, in the 100 pillar hall inside the Rockfort Temple, Tiruchirappalli; with Mysore Chowdiah on the violin and Dakshinamurthy Pillai on the mridangam. This was organised by the Tiruchirappalli-based Indian National Congress leader F. G. Natesa Iyer