Priceless in any language: M.S. Subbalakshmi

Ten Rupee Note

Ten Rupee Note

Hindi is the official national language of India.  But that’s like saying Latin is the official language of Catholics.  People in a certain part of northern India speak what is considered to be ‘pure’ Hindi, the kind that is taught in a text book.  But pretty much everyone else speaks Hindi +.  Hindi mixed with a local or regional dialect (Bhojpuri, Maithili, Awadhi, Garhwali, Braj, Sekhawati) or a completely distinct language (Gujarati, Marathi, Tamil, Bengali etc. etc.).

Take a look at the reverse of the Indian 10 Rupee note.  On the left hand side of the note is the phrase ‘ten rupees’ in 15 other officially recognised regional languages!  And if you happen to be completely illiterate in any of those languages then each denomination of note is color-coded so you don’t get confused and pay Rs 100 for your cup of tea.

This is rather a twisted, long way around the mountain, to introduce the post for tonight. Another stellar female voice, this time from the Carnatic (southern Indian) classical music tradition, M.S. Subbalakhsmi.  Her full name for those who are interested is: Madurai Shanmukhavadivu Subbulakshmi.

M.S Subbalakhsmi, holds a place in the artistic and cultural heart of Indians (even those not from the South) that is second to none.  In terms that non-Indians might appreciate her stature is on par with Edith Piaf, Oum Kulthoum, Amalia Rodrigues and Dame Joan Sutherland. Obviously, though Carnatic singing is completely different from opera, fado or Piaf’storch songs, Subbalakshmi is easily included in such august company for her sheer brilliance as a vocalist.

When she was awarded the ‘Asian Nobel Prize’, the Ramon Magsaysay Award, in 1974, the committee’s citation read: “Exacting purists acknowledge Srimati M. S. Subbulakshmi as the leading exponent of classical and semi-classical songs in the Carnatic tradition of South India.”

Her peers similarly sat in awe of her talent and interpretive artistry. Born into a Devadasi family, Subbalakhsmibegan singing in professional settings at the age of 13.  As a girl this was nearly unprecedented.  Yet rather than marginalise her, it was apparent to all who heard her that her’s was an exceptional talent.  She quickly rose to prominence, moving to Madras (Chennai) where like nearly every other singer in the sub-continent gained access and credibility by singing in films.

But her true calling was in classical and semi-classical styles, and it is for these that she is so revered and respected.  In 1998 she was first musician of any style or gender in India to be awarded the Bharat Ratna, that country’s top civilian award. Other recipients include Nelson Mandela and Mother Teresa. Pandit Ravi Shankar was awarded the same prize a year after Subbalakhsmi.

Her singing so entranced the first Prime Minister of India, Jawaharlal Nehru ‘that he exclaimed on three occasions, “Who am I, a mere Prime Minister, before the Queen of Music.”

She has specially chosen for this LP ten songs in as many languages. There runs through them a common thread: of Absolute Devotion to God. Therein, is the secret of the inherent vitality of the Culture of the Indian People. The tongues of Indians may be different but their soul is one.’

(Liner Notes)

Whether the end of the year brings to your mind thoughts of the Divine, God, and devotion or not, this album, Devotional Songs in 10 Languages is one to treasure and listen to again and again.

Sublakhsmi front subalakhsmi back

Track Listing:

01 Sanskrit (Bhajare Yadu Natham)

02 Hindi (Hari Maitho)

03 Gujarati (Narayananu Nama Narayananu Nama)

04 Bengali (Pathithoddharini Gange)

05 Malayalam (Kandu Kandu)

06 Urdu (Ishtrate Katra)

07 Marathi (Hari Bola Hari Bola)

08 Kannada (Yadu Vamsa Yadu Vamsa)

09 Telugu (Vasudeva Vasudeva)

10 Tamil (Nenjukku Neethi Nenjukku Neethi)



4 thoughts on “Priceless in any language: M.S. Subbalakshmi

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s