M.S. Subbulakshmi (1916-2004)

  • Published By: The Sruti Foundation
  • Issue: 244

Songbird And Spring Time

As a child, I was often taken to see the pooja at the Meenakshi temple. I remember gazing at the splendid image in the inner chamber. When the priest circled burning camphor round her face, I could see the beautiful eyes of the goddess. They were full of love, full of sweet blessings. So you see, faith and prayer came to me in childhood. It was part of the way I was brought up.

Later, when I became a concert singer, I would sometimes sing in praise of Meenakshi. When I repeated the line "Madurapuri nilaye" which described her as the deity of Madurai town, I would always remember the long and lovely eyes of the goddess which had thrilled me as a child.

I spent my childhood in a tiny house wedged between a row of tightly packed houses. This was in Hanumantharayan street, very close to the Meenakshi temple. Oh yes, it is still there! The street is just as narrow, dusty and crowded now as it was in those days. The little lane was often occupied by cows which refused to budge. Certainly no cars could
get by. The cows would sit comfortably and chew on, pretending not to hear the shouts and the honks.

Nostalgic Memories

My father was officially transferred to Bangalore in 1973. During this time, I happened to stay with grandmother at Kalki Gardens. All of us (grandchildren) used to call her "Aramu Paatti". She was more than a mother to all of us. Despite her busy concert schedule those days, she was able to spend some time with me. She would enquire as to how I was studying (I was in Don Bosco) and advised me to take food on time, go to bed early and study in the mornings. However, on holidays, if I were to get up early, she used to gently chide me and ensure that I took rest for some more time, as it was a holiday. Out of abundant concern, she would advise me never to go out anywhere during nighttime.

During the days of her concerts in the city, Paatti used to start getting ready for the kutcheri by 3 pm in the afternoon (if the concert was scheduled after 6 pm). The attention she bestowed on her personal appearance and dress was something remarkable. Before leaving for the concert, grandmother would make it a point to spend a few minutes in silence in the prayer room and then light the lamp. Her love and devotion for the Paramacharya was beyond parallel. Besides, she would also obtain the blessings of grandfather before the couple boarded the car. Paatti had a fascination for jasmine and roses.

A Great Musician

M S. Subbulakshmi was 88 years old when she passed away. She had been ailing for some time. Thus, it was not as though we had not been prepared for the end. And yet, when death finally came to her, the sense of loss was profound across the whole nation. There can be no greater tribute to the affection she commanded from her country men and women.

My earliest memory of a MS concert is, I am afraid, rather a matter of shame, to me, I mean. I slept through a large part of it. It was 1940 and as a school boy of twelve, I had been persuaded by my father to listen to music concerts in the Rasika Raniana Sabha of Mylapore, of which he was a member. The ticket was made over to me, we lived in North Mada Street and so it became routine to go to the Sabha. The first concert I went to was by Semmangudi and soon thereafter came the performance of MS. I was still a babe in the musical wood and I dropped off halfway through the concert to be woken up by the stronger sounds of the tani avartanam! I will never forget the mixture of
kindness and pity in the smile of the old gentleman sitting next to me.