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M.S. Subbulakshmi – Her Chronology (1916 – 2004)



The house in Madurai where MS and her siblings were born

M.S’s Birth Place

  • M.S. Subbulaksmi was born on 16th September, 1916 in the temple town of  Madurai and her initials M.S. record the birth place and mother’s name Shanmukhavadivu. She had two siblings, brother Saktivel who was 2 ½ years elder and sister Vadivambal was 6 years younger.

1926 –Debut at the Age of 10:

Shanmugavadivu Mother of M.S. Subbulakshmi


  • On her mother’s request,she  gave debut performance at the age of 10 years, at Madurai Sethupati High School by singing a Marathi song, Anand Ja.  About her first performance, and   the situation which lead her to give performance in her words-

“The first stage appearance ? When it happened, I felt only annoyance at being yanked from my favorite game – making mud pies. Someone picked me up, dusted my hands and skirt, and carried me to the nearby Sethupati School where my mother was playing before 50 to 100 people. In those days that was the usual concert attendance.

At mother’s bidding I sang a couple of songs. I was too young for the smiles and the claps to mean much. I was thinking more of returning to the mud”

1926 – First Recording:

Young Subbulakshmi with thick curls and a puff sleeve blouse

Young Subbulakshmi with thick curls and a puff sleeve blouse

  • M.S. Subbulakshmi had her first recording with the song  Maragatha Vadivum ( Raga : Chenchurutti), while her mother  Shanmugavadivu was playing veena.

1920”s –Memories:

  •  Lost in memories, Subbulakshmi’s narrative trumbles. Those were times to recall with tears she was blessed by every senior musician who came home to sing and play before or listen to her musician mother Shanmukhavadivu playing the veena. Some were legendary figures like Tirukkodikaval Krishna Iyer, Veena Seshanna of Mysore, Ponnuswamy Pillai, Naina Pillai, Chittoor Subramaniam Pillai, Venkataramana Dass of Vizianagaram. Invariably, Kunjamma would be jerked forward to sing.subbulaksmi3-150x150

“Though I was always encouraged and appreciated by them, I never lost my timidity.” She recalls that some of them would teach her a song or two – as did the great Ariyakudi Ramanuja Iyengar

“What were you like in those days?” brings a change of mood. You can see it in the old pictures,” she laughs. “A side parting in thick curls pressed down with lots of oil, a huge dot covering most of my forehead, the half saree pinned to the puff-sleeved blouse with long brooch and longer safety pin, eardrops, nose-rings and bangles of imitation gold… Oh, I forgot. The long plait was tied up with a banana stem strip! Or a ribbon! Which never matched “

1933 – First concert at the age of 17:

M.S>  Subbulakshmi in Chennai

M.S. Subbulakshmi in Chennai

  • M.S. Subbulakshmi’s first concert at Music Academy, Chennai took place in a miserable situation.  She   filled in for an ailing Ariyakudi Ramanuja Iyengar Ariyakudi Ramanuja Iyengar.

Of her debut at the Madras Music Academy when she was 17 –

  • a connoisseur wrote: “When she, with her mother by her side (who played the tambura for the daughter), as a winsome girl in her teens, ascended the dais in 1934 and burst into classical songs, experienced musicians of the top rank vied with one another in expressing their delight in this new find.”
  •  Chembai Vaidyanatha Bhagavatar came forward with loud hyperboles. Tiger Varadachariar nodded approval.
  • Karaikudi Sambasiva Iyer was to say later: “Child, you carry the veena in your throat.”

 Semmangudi Srinivasa Iyer:

  • Subbulakshmi assimilated her vast repertoire from many sources, she always acknowledged the late Semmangudi Srinivasa Iyer as her guru.  Semmangudi’s acquaintance with M.S.’ husband, T. Sadasivam, began with their serving as judges in the `khadi’ section of the swadeshi exhibition during the Mahamakham festival at Kumbakonam in 1933. Semmangudi claimed not only M.S. but also Sadasivam as his disciple, having taught him to play cards. At times he even joined M.S.’s concert tours – as Sadasivam’s rummy crony.

1935 – at the age of 19:

M.S at the age of 19

M.S at the age of 19

  • “Kunjamma (as she is known to those close to her), brought up with all the rigorous strictness that her mother could impose upon her training in art as in life, had sung at a wedding in the household of Dakshinamurti Pillai, the venerable percussionist from Pudukkottai. The event had drawn a galaxy of artists – including the upcoming Semmangudi Srinivasa Iyer, Musiri Subramania Iyer, Chembai Vaidyanatha Bhagavathar, Rajamanickam Pillai, Rajaratnam Pillai, Palghat Mani Iyer, G.N. Balasubramanian and the Alathur brothers.
  • The next day, in the midst of this starry assembly, Dakshinamurti Pillai suddenly smote his head with vehemence. “Andavane!” (oh God!) How will you save your throats for a lifetime if you engage in vocal gymnastics? Leave all that to us drummers. Singers must emphasise the raga and the bhava so that you preserve your voice and let it gain in timbre. That little girl there, she knows this already. Didn’t we hear her yesterday? Wasn’t it satisfying? Touch our hearts?”” At that public praise, Kunjamma shrank even more behind her mother in the corner. ”
  • An Early Picture of MS and Sadasivam

    An Early Picture of
    MS and Sadasivam

    Meets Sadasivam for the first time when he comes for a photo shoot related to the Ananda Vikatan Deepavali Malar

1938 – Role of an Actress at the age of  22:

M.S  in Sevasadan

M.S in Sevasadan

  • Subrahmanyam introduced a number of artists to a career in films, foremost among them being the Carnatic music stalwart M.S. Subbulakshmi.  Seva Sadhanam championed the cause of women’s equality. Based on a novel by Premchand, the film was a bitter attack on the dowry system, which often compels poor young girls to marry older men. The film forcefully discussed the havoc caused by the incompatibility between such couples and sympathised with the victims. Subrahmanyam introduced M.S. Subbulakshmi as an actress in the film, which was a big success.

1940 – ‘Isai Vani’ award at the age of 24:

MS with little Radha, niece Thangam and nephew Ramachandran

with radha and others


  • Isai Vani, conferred by Semmangudi Srinivasa Iyer and Kumbakonam Rajamanikkam Pillai.

July 10, 1940:

  • The artisle needed someone to regulate and channelize her talents. She found that person in T.Sadasivam and married him on 10th july 1940 at Thiruneermalai, Madras. It was a turning point in her life. She got in her husband a friend, philosopher and guide. Her husband impressed on her that Bhava should blend with Bhakthi in music. He impressed on her that she must learn the correct pronunciation and meaning in any song.


1941 – Interaction with film industry

Title role in ‘Sakuntala’’ movie:

  • The finest film of 1941 was perhaps Ellis R Dungan’s Sakunthalai, produced by Chandraprabha Cinetone. M. S. Subbulakshmi, on her way to becoming a legend, played the title role. She was no great actor, but her beauty, rare charisma and fascinating voice impressed everyone without exception. G. N. Balasubramaniam, another legend of the Indian music world, played King Dushyanta of Hastinapuri. Not surprisingly, Sakunthalai had many songs. Notable among them are ‘Anandhamen solvanen’, ‘Sukumaara’, ‘Enthan idathu tholum’ and duets with GNB, ‘Premayil’ and ‘Manamohana anangey’

Role as Sage  Narada  in ‘Savitri’

Played as Sage Narada, Savitri Movie

As Sage Narada

  • M.S. Subbulakshmi, played a male role as Sage Narada in a mythological movie Savitri, which attracted considerable attention and became talk of the town. Savitri had many songs, mostly sung by her.  A magazine named Kalki was founded  from the funds of this movie.
  • Meets Chinani Mami (Narayani Mahadevan) who becomes a lifelong friend.
  • Move to Kalki Gardens at 20 Guruswamy Mudaliar Road, formerly called Sladen Gardens.”Enraptured by tales of the Mahatma’s walks outdoors and councils indoors, T.Sadasivam had bought Sladen Gardens from Mammen Mappillai, through the agency of `Aryabhavan’ Sharma, to house the Kalki magazine. The first floor became his home.

1944-Beneficial concert  for Kasturba Memorial fund

MS and Sadasivam seen at a prayer meeting with Mahatma Gandhi

With Mahatma Gandhi

  • T.S. and M.S. made it a habit to give all she received to charitable causes. It all began with Rajaji’s request to M.S. to give five benefit recitals for the Kasturba Memorial Fund.  Conveying his gratitude, Gandhiji himself wrote a letter thanking  her.

1945 -Acted in the Film ‘Meera’

M.S in the film Meera

M.S in the film Meera

  • The Indian  film musical classic, “Meera” (1945) produced by Chandraprabha Cinetone and directed by Ellis R. Dungan is one of the most memorable milestone movies in the history of Indian cinema. Even after nearly sixty years this film is vividly etched in public memory, and its songs and MS as Meera, are evergreen in the minds, hearts and souls of Indians, especially in the south of Vindyas. With MS in the lead role, others in the cast were Chittoor V. Nagaiah as King Rana, Meera’s husband, K. R. Chellam, K.Sarangapani, T. S. Balaiah, Serukalathur Sama, T. S. Durairaj, `Appa’ K. Duraiswami, `Baby’ Radha (MS’s step-daughter, now Radha Viswanathan), `Baby’ Kamala, and in a minor role, lost behind a white bushy beard, turban and all, M. G. Ramachandran! Not many are aware that the noted singing-star from Karnataka, C. Honnappa Bhagavathar was the first choice to play King Rana. On second thoughts V. Nagaiah was brought on board.
  • Meera” was a musical feast with MS singing almost all the songs. Many songs became hits and the most famous of them all, “Kaatrinile Varum Geetham” (lyric-Kalki) is an immortal melody of Indian cinema.

1945 -‘Meera’ Released

  • “Meera” was released on Deepavali Day in 1945. Two years later, the Hindi version came out in 1947, and with it MS became a national celebrity. 


1947  – At the age of 31

  • Hindi version of Meera came out in 1947
  • The film had an on-screen introduction by the noted politician and poet, Sarojini Naidu, who described MS as `The Nightingale of India’.
  • The film was seen by Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru, the Mountbattens and other leaders who became her ardent fans and friends. She went on to conquer new areas around the world and became an international celebrity.
  •  Bharathanatyam program by Anandhi (daughter of Kalki Krishnamurthi) and Radha.  The two were a very popular dance duo with music sung by none other than M.S. Subbulakshmi. You will see that during this pre-independence event the nationalist leanings of the Kalki and Sadasivam families is seen in the selection of the Bharathiar song “Aaduvome”.


1954 –  At the age 38  

MS at the Rajbhavan in Chennai with the Padma Bhushan Medal

M.S At Rajbhavan

  • M.S.  Subbulakshmi was awarded Padma Bhushan  at Rajbhavan, Chennai, which is the third highest civilian award in the Republic of India,

1955 – Age 39

MS meets Helen Keller in Chennai Also seen are Chief Minister K. Kamaraj and T. Sadavisam

MS meets Helen Keller

  • A music recital by Subbulakshmi in aid of the Kamala Nehru Memorial Hospital Fund.
  • Benefit Concert for Madras Music Academy Building Fund

1956 – Age 40


  • Received Sangeet Natak Academy Award

1962 -Mother Passes away

  • Aug 05: Mother Shanmugavadivu passes away subbulaksmi20-150x150

 1963 -First international Concert 

Concert trip to Edenburg

Concert trip to Edenburg

  • The Edinburgh Festival became the first step towards international acclaim for Balasaraswati (which made her better known in India!) Subbulakshmi’s voice knew no cultural barriers. Though she was not going to undertake many foreign trips, after the Edinburgh experience she would win accolades from world celebrities – whether the Queen of England or the Pope at the Vatican; and musicians everywhere, Yehudi Menuhin, Om Kulsum, Zubin Mehta.

Album with Venkatesha Suprabhatam released:

  • Her first full-length album for the Gramophone Company of India (GCI), which was recorded over 40 years ago, still manages to sell over 2 lakh copies every year. The album – ‘Sri Venkateswara  Suprabhatam,’ which is a wake-up call for Lord Venkateswara – was recorded in 1963 by GCI, Saregama India’s earlier avatar, in the LP (or long playing) format. The company says it manages to sell at least 15,000 cassettes and CDs each month in South India, with between 2,000 and 3,000 more coming from the rest of the country.

1966 – UN Concert Tour:

The UN Tour Group.(L to R) T. K. Murthy,T.H. Vinayakaram, Vijaya,MS, Radha and V.V. Subramaniam

Concert in UN

  • She did her first concert in US, accompanying with Radha Viswanathan-vocal, V.V. Subramaniam – violin, T.K. Murthy -mridangam,, T.H. Vinayakaram- ghatam.   She mesmerized the audience with these   kritis.
    • Kanchadalayadakshi
    • Panthuvarali Alapana
    • Priye Charu Sheele – Ashtapadi

1967 –

  • Received Ravindra Bharathi Cultural Academy Award

1968 – ‘Sangeetha Kalanidhi’

  • M.S. Subbulakshmi was the first female recipient of ‘Sangita Kalanidhi Award’ which was instituted by The Hindu from 79th Conference.
Sangita_kalanidhi Award


Music Academy Groupphotograph with MS as Sangeetha Kalanidhi

M.S. as Sangeetha Kalanidhi

M.S's speech at the Sangeetha Kalanidi Award function

M.S’s speech








1970 –

  • Isai Periaringar Virudhu conferred on MS by Tamil Isai Sangam
  • M.S. Subbulakshmi ‎– Bhaja Govindam And Vishnu Sahasranamam

    Album Cover Page

    Vishnu Sahasranamam & Bhaja Govindam Album released

Album details:

  • Label:-Odeon-‎–-S/MOAE-5011
    • Format:-Vinyl,-LP,-Stereo-
    • Country:-India
    • Released:-
    • Genre:-Classical,-Folk,-World,-&-Country
    • Style:-Carnatic
  • Track ListA1-
    • A1-Talk-By-RajajiVoice-–-Sri-C.-Rajagopalachari*
    • A2-Bhaja-Govindam
    • A3-Vishnu-Sahasranamam—Dhyanam
    • B-Vishnu-Sahasranamam—Stotram
  • Accompanied By Smt Radha Viswanathan and Vocals – M.S. Subbulakshmi

1974 –  The Ramon Magsasey Award:

  • In electing Smt M.S. Subbulakshmi to receive the 1974 Ramon Magsaysay Award for Public Service, the Board of Trustees recognizes her exalting rendition of devotional song and magnanimous support of numerous public causes in India over four decades.
  • Receiving the Ramon Magsaysay Award

    Receiving the Ramon Magsaysay Award

    At the Philippines for receiving the Magsaysay Award

    At the Philippines

    “I feel deeply honored to be receiving this Award and I accept the honor in all humility.I am extremely happy to have come to this beautiful country. I find the landscape enchanting with its beach, green lawns and avenues, and the people cheerful, friendly and hospitable. I feel not only quite at home but that we are of one family.Your great President Ramon Magsaysay was a shining personality and leader who had arisen in our midst in this part of Asia. We knew of the ideals of personal integrity, the sense of truth and justice, that he strove to establish in the short time he was your president. I offer my salutations to him. I also offer my salutations to your national hero Dr. Jos P. Rizal.Naturally my reverential memory now hovers around Mahatma Gandhi who was the apostle of Peace on Earth, beloved Sri Jawaharlal Nehru, the first Prime Minister of the Indian Republic, and Chakravarti Rajagopalachari, affectionately called Rajaji.  It was my singular good fortune to have come under the loving spell of all three. I offer my deepest homage to this trinity.  My all I owe to my husband, Sri T. Sadasivam. By his loving care he is my parent; by his unerring guidance he is my preceptor.  Indian music is orientated solely to the end of divine communion. If I have done something in this respect, it is entirely due to the Grace of the Almighty who has chosen my humble self as a tool. But He is beyond my gratitude. Yet, in a way, I take Him to have come within my reach in the benign personality of the Sage of Kanchi, His Holiness Sri Chandrasekharendra Saraswathi Sankaracharya, who is divinity in flesh and blood, now in his 81st year. I offer my obeisance to the Sage from the core of my being, and pray that he bless me to deserve the honor done to me.  Once again, I wish to express to you all my deep sense of gratitude for honoring me with this Award”.

  • Elected Fellow of the Sangeet Natak Academy

    MS with the other recipients of the Sangeet Natak Akademi Fellowship in 1974

    MS with the other recipients of the Sangeet Natak Akademi Fellowship in 1974









1975 –

  • Was awarded with  Padma Vibushan
  • Honored as Tirumala Tirupathi Devasathanam’s Aasthana Vidwan
  • TTD Starts to broadcast M.S. Subbulakshmi’s  Venkateshwara Suprabhatam at the temple

1976 –

  • Benefit Concert for Prime Minister’s National Relief Fund

1977 –

  • Coast to Coast Tour of USA to raise funds for Hindu Temples in New York and Pittsburgh.
    MS with Accompanists

    MS with Accompanists

    Carnegie Hall New York

    Carnegie Hall

  • Smt. M.S. Subbulakshmi had been  on a concert tour of the U.S. to raise funds for the two new Hindu temples – dedicated to Ganesha in New York and to Venkateswara in Pittsburg,  accompanied by “Mr. T. Sadasivam and Mr. K.R. Athmanathan (manager). Her accompanists will be Smt. Radha Viswanathan (vocal), Kandadevi Alagiriswami (violin) and Guruvayur Dorai (mridangam).  The group travelled via Moscow to London and on September 11, M.S. sang at Her Majesty’s Theatre in aid of the U.K. Centre of the Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan. She “received several bouquets and a standing ovation from a packed audience numbering over a thousand.  Every paisa earned during the concert tour had gone for charity. Had M.S. or Sadasivam so wished, they could have asked for and got a share of the proceeds for themselves. But this was anathema to both of them. On learning of their living in rented premises, M.G. Ramachandran as Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu offered them a Government bungalow for free. But the couple refused.

1979 –

  • Received  Honorary Doctorate from Indira Kala Sangeet Vishwavidyalaya in Khairagarh Madhya Pradesh.

1980 –

  • Pancha Rathnamala Released

    Pancha Rathnamala Released

    Past Forward - by MS's grand neice Gowri Ramnarayan.

    Past Forward

    M.S. Subbulakshmi’s Annamacharya Pancharatna Album released

  • Childhood details enumerated in the book Past Forward as told to her grand neice Gowri Ramnarayan.




1981 –

  • Asthana Vidushi by Andhra Pradesh Govt
  • Desikottama from Viswa Bharati University in Shantiniketan
  • Elected Membre d’honneur by the UNESCO sponsored international Music Council

1982 –

  • M.S. Subbulakshmi traveled to London, New York, Canada, the Far East, and other places as India’s cultural ambassador. Her concert ‘Festival of India’ was organized at the Royal Albert Hall, London in 1982


  • Sankara Netralaya Benefit Concert:
  • An old lady donating her savings to a cause rather than to the temple at Tirupathi; the numeorus benefit concerts rendered by the legendary MS Subbulakshmi in aid of Sankara Nethralaya; a bereaved father setting up an institute at Sankara Nethralaya in memory of his son.

1988 –

  • Honoured with  Kalidas Samman award  by the Government of Madhya Pradesh.
  • Festival of India at Moscow – in the year 1988, at Rachmaninoff Hall, Moscow. M. S. Subbulakshmi sung a resonant Kalyani, with the nuanced depth that would move a die-hard Mylapore connoisseur. But the packed hall of Russian listeners, some of them experts in western music as performers, scholars and students, were mesmerized by the vocal magic. To most of them, that was the first exposure to Indian, and certainly Carnatic music. During a pause, a woman came up to the stage to offer flowers, with tears spilling down her cheeks. There was rapt silence for the two hours of the recital. Then a roar of thunder. The standing ovation continued, the applauding listeners followed the artiste as she made her way out of the hall, down the staircase, and into the car on the street.


  • The Indira Gandhi Award for National Integration.

1997 –

  • M.S. and Sadasivam

    M.S. and Sadasivam

    Last public concert at Music Academy

  • Swaralaya Puraskar
  • Husband T.Sadasivam passes away

1998 –

  • M.S.  Subbulakshmi received the Bharat Ratna, India’s highest civilian honor. She was the first musician to receive the award.

2003 –

  • Semmangudi Srinivasa Iyer Passes away.

2004 –

  • Jun 21, 2004 -Lifetime Achievement Award : The Delhi Chief Minister, Sheila Dikshit,  conferred the “Lifetime Achievement Award” on renowned vocalist and Bharat Ratna recipient, M.S. Subbulakshmi.

The Nightingale goes dumb forever:

  • The doyen of Carnatic music M S Subbulakshmi demised in Chennai  on 11th  December, 2004, of broncho pneumonia and cardiac irregularities, according to hospital and family sources. She was 88







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