Forever, MS Amma

Published by V J M Divakar on September 16, 2016 00:22:22 AM

Mahatma Gandhi, for the first time, heard MS Amma in 1941. After six years, Gandhi evinced interest in hearing her concert on his birthday on October 2, in 1947.

  • No farewell, remembrance, recollection
  • Age did not wither her. The spirit was attributable to a total and unparalleled surrender to the Lord

He requested MS Amma to sing Hari Thuma Haro, a Meera bhajan. MS Amma could not make it to Delhi, but she went to AIR Madras a day prior to Mahatma’s birthday. In the late night, with two familiar people who were well-versed in music, she quickly sang the bhajan and it was recorded at midnight. The tape was carried in the next day morning first flight to Delhi and was presented to Gandhi. On the evening of his birthday, during his prayer meeting, MS Amma’s voice enraptured the congregation.

Even in wildest imagination none would have sensed that the same bhajan would be played on Gandhi’s funeral four months later! Her grand daughter Swati Thiyagarajan, who works with the NDTV recollects,” A few months after that, in the New Year, while listening to All India Radio for the news, as she did all her life, she heard the announcement of Gandhiji's assassination, after which she heard her own voice singing Hari Tum Haro - distraught, she fainted.

Even years later, she would always choke up and cry when narrating the story. In her lifetime, she would hear that bhajan played twice more after assassinations - after Indira Gandhi's and Rajiv Gandhi's deaths, right after the announcements on All India Radio.” Such was the soul and spirit of MS Amma! She could attain the seat of a living Goddess. And, it is difficult to write about a great spiritual personality like MS Amma in the past tense.

As often said Bharat Ratna, India’s highest civilian award, is normally conferred on those who defy introduction. MS Amma is no exception. She was apparently the first to be conferred the highest award from the sphere of Carnatic classical music. Series of covetous distinctions coruscate in her life and spilled endless glistening sheen at each and every stride of her divine sojourn on this planet. The imperial glory that she effortlessly accomplished right from her childhood glistened on all the frontiers of the world.

Music embellishes anybody with honour and bestows beauty. But it is different with MS Amma. She fashioned Carnatic music out of her articulate brilliance and peerless mastery. MS was born to Veena player, Shanmukha Vadiver Ammal and Subrahmanya Iyer in Madurai, Madras Presidency on September 16, 1916. Her grandmother Akkammal was a famous violinist in those days. Endless ragas, seven notes and three sthayis (three ranges) befriended her all around the clock.

Under the tutelage of legendary Semmangudi Srinivas Iyer, MS decorated herself with the rudiments of Carnatic music. The other half, Hindustani music, was transmitted to her by Pandit Narayana Vyas. At the age of 10, MS Amma was widely heard by one and all through records. It was in 1929, when she was just 13 years, that MS Amma unleashed the tides of her championship on the fabulous dais of the Madras Music Academy.

Through her first concert, MS Amma demonstrated to the world of music that what her profound potential was and what the unconquerable heights that she was going to escalate. The dazzling timber of her honeyed voice fetched MS her first opportunity in films. Being beguiled by her tone and titillating tenor of it, a great producer K Subrahmanyam at a stretch offered the lead role in Seva Sadan. She emerged as a rage on the screen and went on to do several films like Savitri, Shakuntala and Meera.

With Meera in Hindi, MS Amma swept all the audience off their feet and catapulted to the envious status of an overnight celebrity. In the later years, as she was growing, she accomplished a style of her own and attained an immortal excellence in all her renderings, whether it was a keerthana or a bhajan. It was the unique voice of the world – its beauty, clarion quality, splendor and glow with pristine brilliance. Apart from the magical spell of singing to zeniths, she continued to be the embodiment of humility.

When she was offered the position of Aasthana Vidwan of Tirumala Tirupati Devasthanam, she shrank from accepting it. She continues to mesmerise people with her voice and rendering. She is a benchmark for any aspiring vocalist. She continues to inspire generations to come, like the Tennyson’s brook, “Men may come and go, she will go on forever.”