Friday, September 27, 2013



This is a daunting task for one who has not had a formal training in music, does not know the grammar and generally cannot engage himself on a discussion on the nuances, movements etc. etc. which are the attributes of a music critic. For me it is simply a question of whether the music appeals to me or not, not whether it is good or bad for I am no judge. So I write what I feel and share it with my friends and this is my tribute to a great musician.

21st September 2013 was a special evening arranged at the Kalakshetra, Chennai, to pay tribute to one of India’s greatest musicians – ‘MS’ as she is fondly called. The programme called ‘Miradasi–A tribute to MS Subbulakshmi’, consisted of a selection of hindi bhajans sung by MS and made famous by her. Apart from the superb rendering of the Bhajans by the young artists, the evening was brought alive by the introduction and narration at the beginning of each bhajan by Gowri Ramnarayan a grand niece of MS. She recalled those episodes from her childhood, memories of the time spent by her at MS’s home. What was special is that the music was composed by R.Vaidyanathan also known as Remaji by his followers. Very few people know who he was, but his compositions speak of a musical genius who never really bothered to hit the centre stage. While writing this I was never really sure whether I was writing this as a tribute to MS or Remaji. But both combined have given us all those soul stirring bhajans which even today lift us to those ecstatic heights of Bhakti. I have tried to highlight here certain very enlightening portions of the narration in a bid to understand both the musician and the music composer and what goes in to the making of great music in taking us on a transcendental experience.

It was in 1947 a week before Gandhiji’s birthday that a request was made by him that he wanted to hear his favourite Mira bhajan ‘Hari Tum Haro’ to be sung by MS. As she did not know the song and it was too short a time for a proper composition and also it was inconvenient for her to go to Delhi due to some personal matters, she had to decline politely. But since Gandhiji wanted to listen to the bhajan in MS’s voice only, it was recorded at Madras at AIR and the spool was sent to Delhi and his wish was fulfilled. It was only later she learnt that Gandhiji had said “Her voice is exceedingly sweet. To sing a bhajan is one thing; to sing it by losing oneself in God is quite different”. Pained by the violence unleashed at the time of partition and feeling depressed Gandhi wanted this bhajan only in which Mira pleads to her lord to remove the sufferings of his slaves.

But it is the effort that went into the music composition which brings out the genius of the music composer. It was an all night recording session as Vaidyanathan set it to music and for MS to learn and record it immediately. The song was composed in the raag Darbari Kaanada which expresses pathos as well as grandeur.

From an article in ‘The Hindu’ written by one of his disciples Meera Grimes we get a glimpse of the person Vaidyanathan was. She says-

“With all his rare attributes, Remaji chose to be anonymous. He was a person with many dimensions. He was a philosopher, musician, scientist, administrator and much more. He preferred to keep a low profile and hence, the world knows little or nothing about him. However, he had a group of disciples, who benefited immensely from his association in terms of spiritual solace. Vaidyanathan, born in 1913, in Chennai, was a prodigy in music, but was trained to be a scientist in physics. An alumnus of the Presidency College, Chennai, he went to Cambridge, England, to study the atom under Lord Rutherford (in fact the narrator said that he was a contemporary of Nobel Laureate S.Chandrasekhar and Dr. Homi Bhabha)”. After what he calls a spiritual awakening, he decided to call it a day and returned back to India to pursue his interest in music and spirituality. He evolved a philosophy that embraced all faiths. He was adept in playing the piano, flute and the violin and in western and Indian classical music- both Carnatic and Hindustani. In the words of his disciple “He used his musical knowledge just to get shelter and food. He used his leisure to do his research to find the cause of human suffering and a solution. But then he was not a well-known philosopher either. The answer is, he wanted all or nothing and nothing in between and he stood by his principle until the end, even in very trying situations.” He passed away in Amritsar in the year 1990 at the age of seventy seven.

Coming back to the bhajans, I have listened to them sung by MS herself. There could not have been a better person to render the compositions of those great souls – Surdas, Tulsidas, Kabir and Mira, so filled with fervour and love for the divine. Music knows no boundaries or barriers, this is amply demonstrated by the fact that one of the bhajans was composed by Ras Khan, who a muslim by birth settled down in Brindavan and became a devotee of Krishna. I have had the occasion of attending some concerts of MS earlier in my life and the one image that keeps recurring in my memory is of her rendering these songs with her eyes closed, oblivious of what surrounded her, as if she was totally lost in the fervour of the composition and seeking communion with the Divine, in the process also transporting us to ephemeral heights. At the end of the concert one always left with a sense of elation, call it spiritual or by any other name, for during that entire period all your existential angst was pushed to the background and you felt that after all this life was worth living. You realise that music not only breaks down the barriers separating our different personalities but teaches us to be humble, accepting and a total surrender to the creator. The concept of total surrender to the divine or God as we call may not be acceptable to many of us. But total surrender here should be understood as a total erasing out of the ego. Humility is a result of this and this is what makes us genuine, for when this is present, we will not feel the necessity for wearing a mask. MS was always a picture of humility both in her manners and the conduct of her life.


Varsha said...

Music and art know no boundaries. They are from the depth of the heart, and so appeal to the higher senses of human beings. One can get lost in a musical composition and lose sense of all things material.
Ras Khan and Rahim were very famous Muslim Poets who wrote dohas on Krishna.There was a time in India when tolerance of Religion existed.

ramani said...

Hi Subbu,

I know you used to write verses. I am surprised you have started blogging. v subbu.

GS Subramanian said...

Kosuru Suryaseshagiri Rau: chala baga rasavura tammudu.....reading you i was transported to my early days in gujarat- 1972 and 1976- two experiences when i had the great good fortune to listen to amma- in amdavad in 1972 in the paldi town hall and in baroda in 1976 in the lakshmivilas lpalace...what you say is very true.....she immersed herself totally in her rendition....seeing her mudra of " nimeelita netram" we too are elevated in spirit....i was fortunate to prostrate myself at her feet in the town hall as she stood waiting for her car....

GS Subramanian said...

Kumar Venkatraman Iyer: MS is a great soul. Who will not listen to her renderings. You have paid a nice tribute by your article. Keep going Sir

GS Subramanian said...

Lalitha Iyer: That's a beautiful piece of writing on one of the greatest singers of all time, sir. While I was reading, I could hear the voice of MS ringing in my ears. Beautiful!

Telugu Movie Reviews said...

Thanks very much for putting the effort into making this Wonderful Post Good Job Keep it up and once again Thanks for sharing with us!!!

The Goddess of Music - M.S.Subbulakshmi

Ram said...

Superb piece pro a divine artiste. Way to go GS.

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