Sunday, September 22, 2013

A Wonderful Tribute to M.S. Subbulakshmi by Aarohi Music - Well Done Sushma and Sowmya

If I had to count the hours in my life that were spent well, the one hour I spent last Sunday listening to Sushma and Sowmya Nittala and their mother Subhashini Nittala, at Lamakaan, paying a tribute to the legendary Carnatic vocalist M.S. Subbulakshmi, would figure among the better ones. Representing Aarohi music, they enthralled the audience with some fine renditions of M.S. Subbulakshmi's famous pieces, but to me what was bigger was the sincere effort they made to pay a tribute to a legend on her birthday and in the way of true practitioners, tried to educate the audience with a fine commentary about the meaning and the intention behind what they were singing. They also gave a glimpse into the life of a huge personality - M.S. Subbulakshmi's achievements begin from being recognized as a musical genius at 13, being an exponent at both Carnatic and Hindustani classical music, an actress who acted in Tamil and Hindi movies, and a personality who transcended many barriers with her single minded devotion to her art. It was perhaps the most educative hour I spent in glimpsing the vast heritage that greats like M.S. Subbulakshmi have left behind. Thankfully it is in good hands with groups such as Aarohi Music who wish to take music to everyone.
From the Lamakaan show - courtesy fb page of Aarohi Music

On September 15, 2013 Aarohi Music and its fans, followers and well wishers got together at Lamakaan to celebrate the music of M.S. Subbulakshmi with renditions of her famous bhajans, keertanas and sthothras. The threat of rain meant that we had to cram into the room indoors but that was hardly an issue. The hall was packed on dot. I spotted the versatile actor Bharani garu, Professor Ram and a few other familiar faces. Shobha and I got ourselves a couple of seats in advance and waited for the show to begin. After the introduction the vocalists launched headlong into the music which was the best way to do it - let the music speak for itself.

The first visual reminded us why the event was being held - a tribute to M.S. Amma on her 97th birthday which would fall on September 16, the next day. As M.S. Subbulakshmi started her  concerts with a Dhyana slokam, so did the evening start. And then the Ganesha Pancharatnam (all the words written down and explained on the AV - great work), Malahari raagam, Kalyana Vasantha raagam, Kuntalavaraali raagam, and Madhyamavathi raagam. Onwards to Meera bhajans that started with a snippet - M.S. Subbulakshmi starred as Meera bai in a 1947 Tamil film 'Meera', later made into a Hindi movie which gave her a huge following. The songs sung by her in the movie were very popular. So we moved into another of her famous renditions 'Hari thum', a bhajan followed by sthothralu. Another mind boggling snippet - M.S.'s Sri Venkateshwara Suprabhatam recorded in 1963 has sold over a million copies. The sthothras - Sri Venkatesa Karavalamba sthothram, Kanakadhara sthothram, Sri Lakshmi Ashtotharam, Bhaja Govindam, Nama Ramayanam had many in the audience singing and swaying along. On to Madhruashtakam and then the Annamacharya keertanalu - Bhavayami Gopalabalam, Nanaati Baduku. Next were M.S. Ragamaalikalu - Bhavayami Raghuramam, Kurai Onrum Illai. The last part was a piece on M.S. Subba Lakshmi's signature style - which appealed to all, the masses and the classes - with Geetha Dhuniku, Maithreem Bhajata (rendered at the UN).

Never was an hour so small. Delivered with all sincerity and passion, Sushma and Sowmya, who handled most of the show after an initial push from Subhashini, brought the crowd spontaneously to its feet in applause - well deserved. I came away enriched and have since been listening to M.S. Subba Lakshmi's compositions on you tube. I will delve some more into understanding this wonderfully pleasing form of music and I am most grateful for this fantastic gesture by Aarohi music to organise this show - free of cost and open to all. Many a philistine like me would have got enlightened. 

I looked up M.S. Subbulakshmi when I got home. Born in 1916 in Madurai as Madurai Shanmukhavadivu Subbulakshmi, in a family that was rich with musical lineage - her mother was a veena player and her grandmother a violinist - M.S. Subbulakshmi learned Carnatic music at an early age. She learned Carnatic music from Semmangudi Srinivasa Iyer and Hindustani classical music from Pandit Narayanrao Vyas and soon earned herself the reputation of being a musical genius. In her twenties M.S. Subbulakshmi moved to Madras and acted in a few Tamil films, of which Meera was remade in Hindi - all popular hits. She gave up acting after that to focus on singing. In 1973 she won the Ramon Magsasay Award and was India's first musician to receive it, and in 1998, she received the Bharat Ratna, again the first Indian musician to receive India's highest civilian award. M.S. Subbulakshmi travelled the world, received many awards and citations, and gave liberally for charity. She passed away in 2004.

A word about Aarohi Music. It is a 30 year old organization that "contributes to music passionately - bringing out forgotten and untouched music genres and producing original content and thematic music" - and has taught Carnatic Classical and Devotional music to students in India and abroad. It has recently held a workshop at Lamakaan in Telugu Padyalu and Paatalu which was the first such attempt in the city.
Sushma and  Sowmya are Carnatic singers. They are also multifaceted personalities who deal with many more art forms - I have seen a hilarious play of theirs, with feminist overtones ("Four women and a Bill"), which I do think is one of the better ones I have seen in my life. Aarohi Music has so far released 5 albums - Subhamastu (Telugu slokas), Telugu padyalu, Jaya Bharatavani (patriotic songs), Pahimam Sreerajarajeshwari and Jaya Gananayaka Namo Namo - 'and counting' as their page says. Music certainly is their forte and they balance it well with their other creative pursuits - acting, plays and writing. I was also happy to find that Sushma contributed to the 'Ashta Chamma' music by lending her vocals to the theme music.

I highly recommend their music, more specifically the Carnatic music capsule which they can modify and enhance to suit, educate and entertain the audience. Schools and colleges, organisations and groups, could certainly benefit from their audience friendly methods of taking music to audiences in a language that they understand - something that I always felt was the big divide in our system. This divide can be bridged by the use of technology as they did with the simple of use an AV and a lovely capsule that showed a glimpse of something as complex and seemingly out of reach as Carnatic music. Such efforts must be encouraged and widely appreciated because they can become a fine way to increase appreciation of Carnatic music, and later, to help us delve deeper into this magnificent art form. Something that the AP Tourism Department could also look at in their many cultural shows. Visit their facebook page at

All in all well done Aarohi Music and very well done Sushma and Sowmya. Wishing you both many more wonderful performances that bring wealth, fame and recognition to you and to Aarohi Music. Meanwhile I will wait for more of your performances in the near future.

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