Karnatic Music Vocals
With a special thanks to surasa.net, malayalavedhi.com and kannadaaudio.com
They are the two giants of Carnatic music. They have become legends in their lifetime and are household names in India. Their contribution and influence on Carnatic music is something which no one has ever achieved during the last two centuries. And yet they are so totally different in their attitude, style, lifestyles and even in their cultural backgrounds.
Smt. M.S.Subbulakshmi (16-Sept-1916 - 11-Dec-2004)
She was born in a Devadasi family (traditional temple dancing & singing girls) in the temple town of Madurai on September 16th, 1916. Their tiny home was close to the Meenakshi temple. Her mother Madurai Shanmukhavadivu Ammal was a Veena player. Her lawyer-father Subramania Iyer lived a few streets away.
Her first guru Madurai Srinivasa Iyengar passed away rather too soon. But she kept practicing on her own and having a musician mother helped a lot. Her first recording was at the age of ten, when she recorded a couple of songs for HMV in Madras as an accompanist to her mother. She started giving concerts at a tender age, first by accompanying her mother and then as a solo vocalist. She was the child prodigy of Madurai. Her mother recognized MS's exceptional talent and shifted from Madurai to Chennai (then Madras) to launch MS on her own. When her mother performed at concerts, MS was the vocal accompanist - she was only 13.
She gave her first performance at the prestigious Madras Music Academy at the age of 17. She went up the dias at the festival to sing for the most elite gathering of music lovers in Madras. Till then stage classical music performing was a male dominated profession. The few ladies from the dancing girls lineage who ventured onto the stage were more intent on bewitching potential lovers with come-hither smiles and body language. But in this case it is her absolute devotion to her concert, a rich and clear voice, a very dignified presence on the stage which enticed the listeners and held them spellbound as she took them through the intricacies of Carnatic music. She essayed into serious elaborations of ragas without apparently being aware that she was breaking fresh ground as a female vocalist. And soon, the young and beautiful MS had a major cult following.
In 1936 she met Sadasivam Iyer, a well known figure in the Madras Congress circle, and a protg of the Congress leader Rajaji. The courtship lasted for four years and had its up and downs. Friends recall that at times M.S. seemed like backing out of the relationship, because of Sadasivam's possessiveness. But such spells did not last long and she was a contented happy woman when the couple were married in Thiruneermalai, in 1940. He gave up his job as the advertising manager of 'Ananda Vikatan', a leading Tamil magazine, and concentrated on guiding MS's musical journey. With his wide connections in the journalistic and political world, he became instrumental in the continued success of her already flourishing career. He was a tall personable man with a can-do attitude. He was a widower with two children. Such was the man who was to change M.S.'s life for forever. Soon he started his own magazine "Kalki", a nationalist Tamil weekly. The part of 'Kalki' magazine in her image building was not small. Almost every other cover featured her, with a reverential little article inside about her charity performances. Kalki, in fact played a big role in projecting M.S. as a saintly musician.
In those days most concert vocalists acted in films. It was not surprising that M.S., with her lovely voice and charming personality, joined films. 'Sevasadanam', her first movie was released in 1938 where she acted as a poor young girl who married a rich old man. This was followed by 'Sakunthalai' where M.S. played the lead role, the most glamorous of all her roles teaming up with G.N.Balasubramanian, the most attractive vidwan of the time. The film contained some of the most haunting of all her movie melodies - 'Endan Idathu Tholum', 'Premayil', 'Engum Nirai Nadha Brahmam'. This was followed by 'Savithri' (directed by Y.V. Rao) which was released in 1942. M.S. played as Naradha with the North Indian star Santha Apte in Savithri. This film too did extremely well at the box office. The income from this movie was largely used to start the 'Kalki' magazine. This was the time when M.S.'s persona as a star was established, that of a quite type of a glamour queen. She dressed slightly more flamboyantly, sported some make-up and was naturally gossiped in the press. She was also imitated widely. This image remained intact until the release of 'Meera' in 1945. When 'Baktha Meera' was released in both Tamil and Hindi, it created a swelling wave of appreciation that gave M.S. an all India status as a musician. It also marked the end of her film career. It is said that Rajaji himself advised the couple against any more involvement in the films. Perhaps Sadasivam saw a greater benefit in preserving the somewhat saintly image that M.S. had acquired after the film. Whatever, M.S. gave up films once and for all and turned wholly to concert music.
M.S. become an accepted and integral part of the Madras elitist society. It became an honor to have her at a wedding or a gathering. Always a trend setter, M.S. became a kind of fashion apostle for the upper class Madras wife. Her sarees, her diamonds, the particular style in which she wore flowers in her hair, all became trademarks. In the 50s, almost every Madras housewife had at least one saree of the M.S. blue shade. For most part, M.S. had adjusted magnificiantly to her new life. Along with her public VIP image, she developed an equally strong private life image of the orthodox Hindu housewife whose husband's word was her command.
Laurels and honors came looking for MS. She was among the earliest to receive the Padma Bhushan in 1954, before many other stalwarts. She had the honor of singing at the United Nations Day celebrations in October 1966. In 1968, she was the first woman to be honored with the title of Sangita Kalanidhi by the Madras Music Academy. She was elected a Fellow of the Sangeet Natak Academy in 1974. MS has also been awarded honorary Doctorates from the Rabindra Bharati University, Sri Venkateswara University and Delhi University. The Ramon Magsaysay Award (1974), the Padma Vibhushan (1975) and the Bharat Ratna (2000) - India's highest national civilian honor - have been notable achievements in her lifetime.
MS always maintained a very low profile, content to let her husband do the talking for her. Hers has also been a life of sacrifice: she brought up Sadasivam's children as hers and did not have any of her own. But she has always come across as the committed mother and wife, happy and contented, and has seldom been involved in any controversies. She has carried fame very naturally on her dignified shoulders. A smiling figure dressed traditionally in silk Kanjeevarams, with diamond studs glittering in her ears and on her nose, she is the epitome of charm and feminine grace.
She sang in a perfectly controlled, melodious "B Flat" voice and strictly adhered to the traditional Carnatic style of the old masters without any variations and believed in following and preserving their rich heritage.
Mangalampalli Balamuralikrishna was born on July 6, 1930 at Sankaraguptam, a small hamlet in Rajolu Taluk, East Godavari District in Andhra Pradesh, to Mangalampalli Pattabhiramayya and Suryakanthamma. His father, Pattabhiramayya was a famous flutist and a music teacher and Suryakanthama was a notable Veena artiste. His guru was the famous Parupalli Ramakrishnayya Pantulu. In the order of Guru Parampara, Balamurali Krishna is fifth in the line of direct disciples of the great Saint Tyagaraja.
In 1938, at the age of eight, he gave his first full-fledged performance. Not merely content with his name and fame as a concert vocalist, very soon he proved his immense versatility by playing the kanjira, mrdangam, viola and violin and the public flocked to hear his concerts. When he was barely 14 years old, he composed Raganga-Ravali, a detailed work on the 72-Melakarta (basic scales of music) scheme. By 16 he became a a Doctorate in music. He has served as music Producer at Vijayawada, Hyderabad and the Madras All India Radio Stations. In this capacity, he pioneered the early hour devotional renderings in India under the title 'Bhakthi Ranjani'. He also acted as the first Principal of the Government Music College at Vijayawada.
He has created new raga-s like mahati, sumukham, trisakthi, sarvashri, omkari, janasamodini, manorama, rohini, vallabhi, lavangi, sushama, pratimadhyamavathi, etc. He has given more than 20,000 performances throughout the world and has created a world record by releasing over 250 audio cassettes brought out by the Sangeetha Recording Company.
He has bagged many titles and awards. The 'Gana Sudhakara', 'Gayaka Sikhamani', 'Sur Singar', 'Geeta Kala Bharati', Sangeet Natak Akademi Award, 'Sangeetha Kalanidhi', Padmashri and the coveted Padma Vibushan are some of them. He was conferred the title of Sangeetha Kalanidhi in the year 1978. He was chosen as the 'Wisdom Man of the Year in 1992'. He was also conferred the PhD, DSc and DLitt by the Andhra University, Jawaharlal Nehru Technological University, Sri Venkateswara University and the University of Hyderabad respectively. The Chief Minister of Andhra Pradesh honoured him with the 'Atma Gauravam' award in 1997. The Governor of Maharashtra honoured him for services rendered for the cause of National Integration. He is an Honarary First citizen of Vijayawada and has a road named after him in that city. He is a state musician of the states of Tamil Nadu and Andhra Pradesh and is the Asthana Vidwan of Tirumala Tirupati Devasthanam, Sringeri Peetam and Anjenaya Swami Temple, Nanganallur. He founded "Academy of Performing Arts and Research" in Switzerland and is also working on music therapy. He established the 'MBK Trust' with the objective of developing art and culture and for carrying out extensive research into Music Therapy. A dance and music school, 'Vipanchee' is a part of this Trust.
His greatest asset is his wonderfully vibrant, widely ranging, magnetic voice over which he has perfect control in all three octaves. He sings with a sense of infectious happiness with which he captivates his audience from the very first note. Balamurali Krishna mesmerises his audiences with his crystal clear enunciation of lyrics, the buoyant, cherubic and ever fresh quality of his music, his sparkling creativity and with the impressive ease with which he sings.
The great Swami Paramahamsa Chinmayananda said, "When music flows from Balamuralikrishna, you can realise what the crazy gopi's felt in their ecstasy of Divine Love. To be born with music in his heart, to hold a recital at a tender age of only eight-deepavalis, to be at once a master in many instruments, apart from his unfailing purity of voice, tala and raga; these are indeed preciously rare in one single person unless he is a genius."
Till the coming of Bamuralikrishna, the Carnatic music was dominated by the orthodox tradition bound Tamil musicians, who religiously stuck to what the old masters have composed. But this versatile genius not only grasped and churned the musical essence of the old masters but enriched it with his own superb variations. His rich voice swung from the highest octave to the lowest and aptly expressed the inner feelings and the deeper subtle meanings and emotions of the verses. His smiling face radiated the sheer joy of singing and his emotion charged performances captivated the audience. This paved the way for other musicians to come out with and display their artistic talent, instead of mere repetition of the old masters. Some of his famous recitals like "Pibare Ramarasam", "Sarigamapadani Paadeda", "Sada Tava Pada sannidhim kuru", "Eeteeruga nanu daya choochedavoo" are truly outstanding out of the world performances and leave an ever lasting impression on the listener.