Lecture Presentation : A Journey through Images – Documentary on M S Subbalakshmi
Presenter : Navaneet Krishnan & Supported by V Shrinivasan
Sri Navaneet Krishnan presented a documentary on the music of MS Subbalakshmi, at the Indiranagar Sangeetha Sabha today, in presence of Radha Vishwanathan ( daughter of MS and musician own right , who is his Guru) and Guru Udit Chaitanhya , whose month long “Geeta Yagna” is scheduled to begin on the 1st of September at the same premises. The tambura, used by MS was symbolically placed for blessings from the legendary musician.
In his speech , V Shrinivasan, Grandson of MS and who along with Navaneet, made this possible, mentioned that Navaneet Krishnan apart from being the disciple of Radha Vishwanathan, is also a great devotee of M S Subbalakshmi, and a walking Encyclopedia on the subject of M S Subbalakshmi and is the the best person to take us through the journey.
Starting the proceedings with MS singing, ‘vaishnava janato’, Navaneet made a point to note that this is not going to be the biographical journey, but the focus will be on her music and her singing. It is an effort to understand the music of the greatest musician of the 20th Century. The record continued through the excited audience applause for few more minutes. Navaneet clarified that this was performed at the Wesleyan University in 1966, and the he wanted to show the reactions of the US Listeners who experienced M S Subbalakshmi for the first time.
Madurai was the cultural city of South India even before the other places. It was called ‘tUngA nagaram’ or a city that never sleeps. Madurai had given birth to a large number of musicians and performers over the years. The famous temple of Meenakshi was the centre of cultural activities. It was in one of the lanes near to the temple, where MS was born. Her mother shanmukha vadivel was a renowned vainika and their place was frequented by visiting musicians.
He played a rare clip of Smt Shanmukha vadivel from the archives singing and playing veena for
birAna brOva in kalyAni. He said, it was the practice of vainikas to sing along.
Kunjamma ( Subblakshmi ) was the second of the three children. The children were very observant and had many occasion to listen to great stalwart and learn. Elder brother Shaktivel was trained in Mrudangam and the youngest Vadivambal (who did not live long) was proficient in Veena , like her mother. Kunjamma sang with a resonant voice and was trained for singing as well as playing Veena.
* marataka vadivu – chenchurutti ??
He played one of the earliest recordings of MS, which she supposed to have performed at the age of 8. He observed, the pitch, bhriga and the swara intonation were perfect at such a young age. The voice, which later became the definition of Carnatic Music.
She learned under Madurai Srinivas Iyengar, initially, which did not last long as he passed away. She continued her learning through radio programs and from her mother. At the same time, she was trained by Narayan Rao Vyas in hindustani and veena from K S Narayana swamy. These trainings, especially the learning of Veena had helped her in her singing enormously for perfecting the gamakas. So much so that Vid Karaikudi Sambasiva Iyer once commented “Child, you carry Veena in your throat”. She had also learned mrudangam from her brother and she once surprised Sri T K Murthy by showing her mettle with the instrument.
M S Subbalakshmi developed her techniques based on the nAdaswara style after listening to great stalwart performing at her home as well as by attending the concerts of T N Rajaratnam Pillai , Karaikudi ——— Pillai ( I missed the name) and others. Adding to the gamaka techniques of vainikas, she now has the nadaswaram techniques of alapana.
* thODi alapana ( with a lot of nadaswara style techniques)
He played an outstanding thOdi alapana of MS from a concert of 1964, whcih he said, Radah Viswanathan remembers as one of the most memorable concert of MS Subbalakshmi.
In 1933 , she had her first break at the Annual Kumbakonam Mahamakam(?) , court concert. The concert was a huge success, and the great Maharajapuram Viswanatha Iyer presented her with the Gold Medal, he received the previous day.
The family moved to Chennai soon, to continue her musical career. The family contacted the legendary Veena Dhanammal. MS became close to her grand daughters Brinda , Mukta and Bala , which continued till the end. Her first concert in Chennai was at the Indian Fine Arts in 1934, where The great Chowdiah provided violin support. She performed another concert at the same sabha for the members, exclusively.
Her first concert at the Music Academy was on the 30th of Dec 1935. Ariyakudi Ramanuja Iyengar was supposed to perform, but due to some unavoidable reason, he was not able to make it. E Krishnaswami Iyer, a member of the Academy , who had listened to her earlier pushed her name and the opportunity came to her. That concert accompanied by Sankaranarayana Iyer on violin and her brother Shaktivel on mrudangam was noted. Sri Chembai, who was in the audience in his typical style made appreciating remarks on her music.
Soon, she met her partner and guardian of her life. In July 1940 she married Sadashivam. An association which enhanced her acquaintance with musicians and the national leaders, and catapulted her into national and world scene.
Her first movie was Seva Sadan, released in 1938, followed by Savitri in 1940, both were huge success. She is now a known face in the Tamil speaking world. Her concerts were now crowded and police protection was needed to protect her from the fans. The concert at Music Academy on the 30th Dec 1941 was one such, where the organisers not able to control the overflowing crowd. The Hindu on the next day, had to publish an apology on behalf of the organisers.
She acted in Meera in 1945, which was then remade in Hindi in 1947. The movie, being a super hit, positioned MS as the 20th Century embodiment of Meera.
He played a clip from the Hindi Version of the Movie.
Perfection of shruti, the diction and the impeccable laya control are the trademarks of MS Bani. Training from stalwarts of carnatic music like Semmangudi Srinivasa Iyer, Musiri Subramanya Iyer , hindustani music from Dileep Kumar Roy and Siddheswari Devi with her own knowledge of Veena helped her to polish her music to perfection.
Interestingly, MS did not learn the Vishnu Sahasranamam through books or learning bi-heart. A Vedic Schoal Agnihotram Tatachar who used to come to their home. MS and Radha used to listen to him daily between 4:00am to 6:00am and his recitation was memorised by them. The recording was done in one take and there was no need for any correction. At one place, you could listen to Radha more evidently. MS refused to re-take to change this part.
MS has an impeccable way of singing the kritis. He demonstrated this with three examples from various concerts.
* teliyalEru rAma – dhEnuka ( A,S ) accompanied by VVS and T K Murthy ( 1964)
This was followed by a recording from her 1964 concert held at Hampi, Karnataka. This was a special request on exclusive Purandara Dasa kritis.
* sakala graha bala nInE – aThANa – Purandara Dasa
* O rangaSAyi – kAmbOji
The third was the one usually associated with MS, as SrI subramanyAya namastE to Ariyakudi. Apparently, T V Venkataramayyar quipped once that Dikshitar would have created the kriti for Ariyakudi to sing. Similarly, O Rangasai possibly would have been composed keeping MS Subbalakshmi in mind.
Her raga expositions were her strength. The ‘nava jAti bhrigas’ of Nadaswaram and the gamaka of Veena were merged beautifully in her alapana.
* kAmbOji alapana with VVS on Violin
Her tanam was also special again with huge influence from Veena. She sang tanam in the perfect pace, never very fast nor with any drag. He played a tanam from her concert at Krishna Gana Sabha in the year 1972, which Navneet remarked was ‘almost like possessed’. She took the tanpura in hand while singind tanam. I heard my neighbours comment “ithu MS matiri illiye’, soon to correct themselves.
Neraval & swara
Her neraval and swara are noted for its intricate rhythmic patterns. Her talam was perfect like tolling of a bell. HE demonstrated this with a clip from her 1967 concert at Mysore with VVS and T K Murthy
* ilalO sari varalAvO – Arabhi ( neraval line from chAla kallalADu)
Viruttam singing need special skills. You can not sing the raga alone. It had to go with the meaning of the lyrics. The break of words has to be apt. It is an art by itself. MS’ bhava laden singing was suited for singing viruttams. Tosubstantiate his point, he played a short viruttam from her 1973 concert at Krishna Gana Sabha.
MS and Radha
Navaneet says there is only one lady in carnatic music who has the laser precision of MSS Subbalakshmi, who is his guru Radha Viswanathan. Radha Viswanathan played a pivotal role in supporting MS on stage and off stage. On stage she supported her mother’s singing unobtrusively. There are many occasions, where MS alow Radha to sing solo. The 1961 (?) concert at Music Academy, the Ragam Tanam Pallavi had the first three minutes of alapana by Radha, which he played.
* ragam – Sankarabharanam
Gopal Krishna Gandhi, once mentioned that MS-Radha combination required reverential analysis. One can not think of light without shadow. They perfected the singing in octaves inn unison. The next clip was the demonstration of Radha’s singing the ‘pratilomam’ in the pallavi after MS and Radha traded the pallavi neraval and swara, where Radha sang the pratilomam at the end.
* pallavi – Sankarabharanam
U N Concert
The famous UN concert which made M S Subbalakshmi a world musician was then played.
* jagadhOdhAraNa – kApi – Purandara Dasa
The presenter later remarked that what MS shown is testimony of “music knows no geographical boundaries. It appeals to all around the world”
* maitreem bhajata ( from the same concert)
A desciple of Semmangudi and a musician of his own right, Kadainallur Venkataraman composed / tuned some of the immortal kritis popularised by MS. Kurai Onrum illai, bhAvayAmi gOpala balam etc are some of them. The creator and the singer used to compliment each other on the popularity of the kritis.
*dhOlayam chAla dhOlayam harE – khamAs ?
MS had special relationship with her rasikas. She had special affinity to Bangalore where she performed regularly. She sang 40 consecutive years at the Ramaseva Mandali, also sang at the Golden Jubilee celebration of Gayana Samaja.
* srI kAntha enagistu dayamADu – kAnaDa ?- Purandara Dasa (from her 1988 concert at Bangalore)
He concluded his presentation reciting a Tagore poem “do not be filled by sorrow..”. One of the best musicians of the century, who even though reached the pinnacle of achievement and stardom in her field, remained the same shy girl who came to Chennai holding her mother’s hand. A young girl took the music world by storm in 1936.
He closed the session with few shots from the documentary of Saroj Satyanathan , nauka charitranu, playing bhavayami gOpala balam in the background.
The session was informative and as promised, lot of rare photos from the family archives and few very rare clips. Navaneet, while demonstrating his awe to the musician and the music, was doing his commentary in his own uninterrupted way, giving more emphasis to the clippings which showcase the points he was making on the music of MS. A commendable job and indeed.
Note: This was from a running lecture and I would have made many factual errors. The mistakes are mine and not necessarily from the presenter. Do notify me, in case any glaring errors are found.