Gnosis in three octaves

M.S. Subbulakshmi has become more than a synonym of delightful music. She has become a status-symbol. To

attend a performance of hers and praise her soulful singing is distinctly U (upper class). Not to attend a performance of hers, and to dismiss her music as unworthy of critical appreciation is, by a singular twist of logic, equally U. There are those who praise her for the ecstatic rapture that she invests her music with; others, who find in her music only such rapture and are, therefore, dissatisfied. There are some who find her music gaining in richness and a mellow inwardness with the passage of time; others, who never fail to point out how she was singing much better fifteen or twenty years ago. But whatever one’s reaction, there is hardly anyone who could be unaware of MS or unmindful of her music.

One of the reasons why the music of Subbulakshmi evokes a definite reaction in the minds of her admirers and detractors is that her music is co-extensive with her personality. Of many other musicians, it might be said that their music is larger than their personality; so much of it so, that the music acquires a significance only in relation to their scholarship, to their identification with a tradition or school, to their flamboyant affectations or furtive loyalties. Of some others it might be said that their music is incidental to their personality, a kind of collateral substance, a corroborative truth. But in Subbulakshmi’s case, the music is inseparable from the music-maker. It is an organic transformation, a transmogrification of personality. In another sense, too, MS identifies her music with personality – it is the means by which she