This blog is not going to break stereotypes or change the way you think. This is a very simple appreciation post to one of the greatest women to have risen from our country. An icon who doesn’t fall under restraints like age and society and got to the pinnacle of an art form almost 70 years back to carve for herself an irreplaceable position in the field.
This isn’t as easy as it sounds. Take Cinema for instance, the industry has constantly been evolving from an MGR- Sivaji age to a Rajinikanth -Kamal Hassan age and eventually a Vijay-Ajith age. And then there’s this woman who has single handedly owned her art from then till now.
The undisputed “Queen of Music” as called by the then Prime Minister of the nation Jawaharlal Nehru. What MS Subbulakshmi gave to Carnatic music is more than just songs. It’s more than just good art. What she gave was an identity. A face. A face that made Carnatic Music get recognition all round the world and more importantly, the respect it deserves.
From the UN General Assembly in Rockefeller Center, New York to Geneva, Bonn, Paris and Opera halls where Bach and Beethoven performed, MSS has shared her magical voice on the stages there. To be short, irrespective of what the modern day definition is, she is Indian music’s first rockstar! Today with the fast growing industry, the foreign tour doesn’t really seem like the greatest of ordeals. What you need today for a foreign orchestration is not talent but a big production house or a music label with deep pockets. What happened in 1960s with MSS's tours was something out of the blue for Indian art. This was much before the Ilayaraja era which was the first time Western Music culture was infused into commercial music and much much before ARR even came into the picture.
In a time when classical music was said to be a male dominated space and women were not allowed to give public performances for several years, Carnatic music saw some rule breakers like the famous trinity MS Subbulakshmi, DK Pattammal and ML Vasanthkumari who went on to revolutionize not only the industry but the mindsets of people.
MS Amma is the first name people call out when they think about Carnatic Music. There is no amount of value or emotion that can express the serenity that comes with starting your day with her Bhajagovindam. And this coming from an agnostic who doesn’t really believe in religion is a big deal! In a world that is constantly looking at places to build walls, the music that she created kept breaking them, then and now. Right from when she started, until forever.
When you get time and want to take a trip down the memory lane, watch Meera that was released 1945 with her taking the lead as Meerabai. Although you'd probably know the story, watch it to see what her music, her voice and her aura does to this film. And this is a very small example. For all I’ve known music and loved it, I still consider myself unlucky to have not seen her perform live but just feel the heart and soul that she gave to the art with the tape converted black and white videos.
She also won the esteemed title of being “The First Indian woman to win the Ramon Magsaysay”, something that is right at the top of the firsts that the country should be proud of. For a woman of such magnificent talent, she knew when and where to stop and look back and give what she earned back to the society, in terms of charity, devotion or whatever else it is that makes one a good human. Aged like fine wine as the expression says, MSS Amma's legacy is seen in every aspiring Indian singer and I don’t think it’ll ever be degraded by the ruins of time.
Finishing this by actually quoting the song that I'd mentioned before because as she believed, in a world today where art is no more a showcase but rather a competition, compassion and happiness are our greatest weapons for mankind.
So by all means apart from being an appreciation post of the most celebrated singer of South Indian Music (SPB comes a far second), consider this also as a little reminder from my side to share art which you love because there is nothing that is going to make an artist more happier than one new person appreciating their art. To the person whose art and music will forever linger in our hearts, Happy Birthday MSS Amma!
- Vishnu Aravind