An Incident That Earned M.S.Subbulakshmi The Bharat Ratna
“The couple of M.S.Subbulakshmi and Sadasivam are in a serious financial crisis and need some urgent help.Please plan something to bring them out of this crisis”.In the beginning of 1979 PVRK Prasad,the Executive Officer Of Tirumala Tirupati Devasthanam received two such urgent telegram messages from His Holiness the Paramacharya of Kanchi Kamakoti Peetham Sri Chandrasekharendra Saraswati and from His Holiness Bhagwan Sri Satya Sai Baba Of Puttaparthi.
Messages like that from holy giants can unnerve any mammoth personality and the poor PVRK Prasad was no exception.But what shocked Prasad more at that moment was not the status of the senders but the content of their message.
“What happened to M.S.Subbulakshmi and why did she land in such a situation that demanded the intervention of divine personalities..?? ”
Why Do The Divine Personalities Want PVRK Prasad To Help..??
M.S.Subbulakshmi has millions of fans all over the world and they will not keep quite if they come to know that their beloved music queen is going through such a bad financial crisis.
However,the noble couple will not accept any unsolicited favor and it is now for the Tirumala Tirupati Devasthanam(TTD)to plan something for her and see that she’s adequately compensated for that.TTD has done that earlier and something similar should be done now and that is also what the holy giants are expecting Prasad to do.
However again,it is not as simple as it sounds and there is no better person than PVRK Prasad to understand that.
But What Happened To M.S.Subbulakshmi And Sadasivam
PVRK Prasad conducted an immediate inquiry through his official sources in the city of Madras,where the noble couple lives,and found out that “M.S.Subbulakshmi and Sadasivam have sold off their Kalki estate in Madras and moved into a small rented house in Valluvar Kottam,a desolate place those days,in the suburbs of old Madras.Sadasivam was running a newspaper by name Kalki and it unfortunately ran into huge losses forcing the couple to resort to such extreme measure to clear off a large amount of loans”.
This unpleasant information really saddened Prasad, a great fan of Subbulakshmi. Wiping off his tears he stood in front of the huge portrait of Lord Venkateswara in his office and made a humble submission “Swamy,all through her life this great lady served you with utmost devotion singing your bhjans all over the world. Organizing everything for her,Sadasivam was always there with her at all times..Though she could have demanded any amount of money from the organizers she was always happy with whatever was offered to her..She has donated most of her earnings to charity and now at this stage of her life is this what you offer her Swamy.. ??Don’t you think this is unfair..??Above all they are also couple of high self esteem and do not seek any favors not even from God..How do you expect them to lead a normal life hereafter..??Am really feeling sad for them now and don’t know what to do…Swamy Venkateswara,it is for You to guide me properly and help me in doing something for them immediately..”
Without wasting any more time Prasad called for an emergency meeting of the Tirumala Tirupati Devasthanam Board and sought measures from it’s experts to provide whatsoever relief possible to M.S. Subbulakshmi immediately.
Almost all in one voice all the members said “Sir,we are very unhappy and sad to hear about the pathetic state of Smt.M.S.Subbulakshmi and Sri.Sadasivam.. However sir,it is our duty to remind you that she is already the Asthana Vidwan of Tirumala Tirupati Devasthanam and is as such enjoying some honorarium and privileges from us.Although we are all eager to help her in this hour of crisis,we are afraid,there’s nothing more we can do at this juncture sir.. TTD is answerable to the ministry of endowments and has it’s own share of problems ..”
A real tricky situation for the government run body to offer some relief to a great personality like M.S.Subbulakshmi who definitely deserves a better and more appropriate attention.
But quite miraculously and almost immediately that appropriate
Attention Came From None Other Than The Holy Lord Sri Venkateswara
And this incident is a standing testimony to that..
That evening a much disturbed PVRK Prasad went to offer his last prayers of the day to Lord Sri Venkateswara,the presiding deity of the holy Tirumala temple.
After offering his prayers he was walking out of the main temple and that time a small incident occurred there.Later this small incident heralded a golden era in the history of Indian classical music.
But What Was The Incident And How Did It Occur
As he was walking out of the main temple Prasad found a small group of poor singers sitting right in front of the temple singing bhajans in praise of the holy Lord.
As though halted by an invisible hand Prasad stood there for a few minutes.
He was spellbound by the amazing talent of those folk singers and more so by their rustic style of singing.
After a few more moments of silent listening Prasad smiled and smiled with a great sense of relief and smiled with an amazing feeling of satisfaction. Watching Prasad smile the holy Lord smiled and watching the holy Lord smile the whole of Tirumala smiled and watching the whole of Tirumala smile the five elements of Nature too smiled. And later those historic smiles scripted an epoch making chapter in the history of Indian classical music that not only provided immense relief to M.S Subbulakshmi forever but also launched her into immortality in the world of devotional music and later earned her a well deserved highest civilian award of India, the “Bharat Ratna”.
The very next morning a much more relaxed PVRK prasad left for Kanchi and met His Holiness the Kanchi Paramacharya in His holy abode.
Now..Please bear with me..
Before proceeding further into the story it is highly important to know a few things
Born in Madurai,Tamilnadu on the 16th of September 1916, Madurai Shanmukhavadivu Subbulakshmi more popularly known as M.S.Subbulakshmi was a singer extraordinary and a composer beyond comparison.
Her mother Shanmukavadiver Ammal was a veena player and her grandmother Akkammal was a violinist.Extremely devotional in nature M.S.Subbulakshmi composed various bhajans and krithis in praise of Hindu Gods and Goddesses.
In an illustrious career spreading over seven decades of dedicated singing M.S. Subbulakshmi performed at every prominent place across the globe leaving each and every listener spellbound with her exceptional style of singing, rendering,tone and quality.
Although her list of fans include many eminent personalities from all over the world,the most prominent among them was Pandit Jawahar Lal Nehru, the first and the most distinguished prime minister of India,from whom she received the best compliment of her life when he said “Who am I a mere prime minister before you,the queen of music..” after listening to her sing the famous “Vaishnav Janato Tene Kahiye” bhajan penned by the legendary fifteenth century Gujarati poet Narsing Mehta.
M.S.Subbulakshmi And Sri Venkateswara Suprabhatam
Though M.S.Subbulakshmi recorded her first song in Tamil in 1926,she has spent most of her later part of life acting in Tamil and Hindi films,the notable among them being her portrayal of the character of famous bhajan singer Meera in the film “Meera”(1947).
However,her first major accomplishment as an established singer was the album of Sri Venkateswara Suprabhatam which she recorded for the Gramphone Company Of India in 1963.
Sri Venkateswara Suprabhatam is a series of hymns written in poetic form by Pratvada Bhayankara Sri Anantacharya in 1430 A.D…This work of poetic art was meant for singing praises of Lord Sri Venkateswara while waking Him up early in the morning every day..It contains four major parts namely Suprabhatam, Sri Venkateswara Stothram,Srinivasa Prapatti and Mangalaasasanam.All the vedic scholars,brahmins,archaks and purohits of the holy Tirumala Tirupati Devasthanam stand in front of the main entrance of the sanctum sanctorum of the Lord Sri Venkateswara temple in Tirumala at 3 a m every day and recite Sri Venkateswara Suprabhatam in chorus to wake up the holy Lord.
Called Suprabhata Seva this is a holy ritual in practice in Tirumala ever since Venkateswara Suprabhatam was written.
With this album M.S.Subbulakshmi became an iconic personality in the world of Indian classical music and today there is hardly any Hindu house in Southern India that doesn’t play this album and hardly any Hindu who doesn’t recite it fully.
The Gramphone Company Of India later became HMV-Saregama and according to their business sources Venkateswara Suprabhatam is still their largest selling music album today.
Long ago M.S.Subbulakshmi had given standard instructions to HMV to donate all her royalty earnings from this album to the Veda Patasala run by the Tirumala Tirupati Devasthanam.
Please click here to listen to Venkateswara Suprabhatam by M.S.Subbulakshmi
M.S.Subbulakshmi And Some Of Her Prominent Performances
>A special concert in 1944 to raise funds for the Kasturba Memorial Fund founded by Mahatma Gandhi…C.Rajagopalachari,the last governor general of India, personally requested M.S.Subbulakshmi to do this concert for Mahatma and after this concert the Mahatma became a big fan of M.S.Subbulakshmi.
>A concert in 1955 to raise funds for the Kamala Nehru Memorial Hospital, Allahabad.
>A concert at Edinburgh,Scotland in the Festival Of Arts,1963.
Subbulakshmi gave a special concert at the United Nations on the 23rd of October,1966.This historical concert was attended by many eminent personalities from all over the world.In fact Subbulakshmi lost her voice a day before this concert and it is believed that it was restored after she offered prayers to His Holiness the Paramacharya of Kanchi.At the end of this concert,M S S received a tremendous applause from everyone present there.This concert was originally scheduled to be held in 1965 but was later canceled due to the Ino-Pak war.
Please click here to view this rare video of M.S.Subbulakshmi’s concert at the U.N
>In 1977,to raise funds for Hindu temples in New York and Pittsburgh,M.S. Subbulakshmi did a scintillating coast to coast tour in the United States Of America.Thrilled by her stunning performance people from all religions gave her a standing ovation at every concert.
>In the same year she also gave a special performance at one of the world’s oldest and the most prestigious concert venues,the Carnegie Hall,New York.
Bouquets And Only Bouquets
>Music queen M.S.Subbulakshmi was called “Nightingale Of India” by Mrs.Sarojini Devi Naiudu.
>The one and only Lata Mangeshkar used to call M S S a “Tapaswini”.
>Legendary Hindustani classical vocalist Bade Ghulam Ali Khan of the Patiala gharana termed her “Suswara Lakshmi”.
>Another noted Hindustani classical music singer Kishori Amonkar,a renowned performer in the classical genre “Khyal”,used to call M.S. Subbulakshmi ”The Eighth Note” or “Aathvan Sur”.
Now..Let us come back to the present story..
Crucial Meeting With His Holiness The Paramacharya Of Kanchi
After he was granted private audience by His Holiness the Paramacharya of Kanchi,PVRK Prasad explained Him in detail about his plan of action to offer assistance to M.S. Subbulakshmi (M.S. Amma as she is fondly called by the people of her home state,Tamilnadu)
Prasad said “Swamy,after receiving your telegram about M.S.Amma I was very disturbed…I called for an emergency meeting of the TTD executive board and asked for suggestions but nothing concrete came out..With a disturbed mind,the same evening I visited Lord Venkateswara and sought His guidance and blessings in helping M.S.Amma immediately..As I was coming out of the holy sanctum sanctorum I saw a group of poor singers sitting in front of the main temple singing Annamacharya keerthanas in praise of the holy Lord.Not only was I spell bound by their devotional singing but also felt immensely light and happy as a great idea to help M.S.Amma was born in my mind at that moment..I have then decided to visit your Holiness and explain in detail about my plan of action”
As though He knows what Prasad was about to say,The Kanchi Paramacharya smiled and asked him to continue..
Prasad continued “Centuries ago Saint Annamacharya wrote and composed a number of keerthanas(raaga based devotional songs praising the divine qualities of Gods)on Lord Venkateswara but only a few of them have seen the light of the day.. However there are many more gems groping in darkness that need to be brought out and publicized further..Earlier TTD has done some work in this direction but there is a lot more that still needs to be done now..”
The Master Plan And The Birth Of A Path Breaking Music Album
“According to my plan,TTD will now identify a few unknown keerthanas of Annamacharya and I on behalf of TTD will personally visit M.S.Ammal and request her to sing those keerthanas for TTD..So far in her career she has only recorded Saint Thyagaraja’s keerthanas and never attempted Annamacharya keerthanas.That way am sure she will be impressed with my proposal and will agree to record Annamacharya keerthanas for us. Later,TTD shall sell those records to millions of devotees who visit the holy Tirumala every year..This will generate a lot of revenue and will help M.S.Amma a great deal as she becomes eligible to enjoy the royalty generated from the sales..After that,her family will never need to look around for their survival..”
Pleased with what Prasad said the ever smiling Kanchi Paramacharya said.. “Prasad,God expresses Himself in many inexplicable forms and exposes His presence in many mysterious ways..May be the Lord Venkateswara Himself appeared before you in the form of those poor singers you say you have seen in front of the temple..May be the group itself was an optical illusion created by Him..May be those singers are Gandharvas in human form and sang those Annamacharya keerthanas only for you to give you an idea about what needs to be done for M.S.Amma..May be you are the only one who has seen them or heard them singing…May be those singers have disappeared after you smiled and left the place..Who knows..??? ”
Unable to believe what the Paramacharya was trying to convey,a frozen PVRK Prasad remained speechless as His Holiness continued..
Does The Paramachaya Know About Prasad’s Thoughts And Actions
“Dear Prasad,everything in this world is part of Nature’s cosmic scheme and every worldly act,whether good or bad,has a divine purpose behind it..Do you think God will keep quite when someone who served Him for decades is suffering from pain..?? Since He cannot present Himself before us,He uses tools like you and me for getting His things done..God knows His job pretty well Prasad so don’t be ignorant and do not ever blame Him for anything..”
Still unable to believe what he had experienced,a visibly shaken PVRK Prasad prostrated himself before the divine feet of His Holiness the Paramacharya of Kanchi Kamakoti Peetham Sri Chandrasekharendra Saraswati who is revered by many in the world as an “AVATAR”(reincarnation)of Lord Siva.
(In fact there are many miracles of his Holiness the Paramacharya of Kanchi Kamakoti Peetham that deserve a separate write up)
Blessing PVRK Prasad the Paramacharya said “Your idea is brilliant Prasad.. M.S.Subbulakshmi has millions of fans all over the world and they will come running to help her in this hour of crisis..But M.S Subbulakshmi and Sadasivam are a very reserved couple with an unimaginable degree of high self esteem and honor..So far they lived life on their own terms and will never accept any unsolicited favor not even from God..So be careful..They should not think you have come to them to offer financial assistance..If they smell it they will reject your offer outright..This is a sensitive situation so handle carefully..Good luck”
Later things moved in quick succession and it didn’t take much time for PVRK Prasad to get the necessary approvals for the proposed Annamacharya music album project from the Tirumala Tirupati Devasthanam Board.
Ramesan,the then chairman of the board was very pleased with his executive officer’s idea as he felt that it will not only help the noble family of M.S.Subbulakshmi but will also provide a great deal of publicity to many hidden keerthanas of Saint Annamacharya.
One fine morning
Carrying a neatly packed portrait of Lord Sri Venkateswara,PVRK Prasad along with Ramesan and a couple of other officials went to the small rented house of M.S.Subbulakshmi in Madras.
First,M.S.Subbulakshmi’s husband Sadasivam came out.
Ramesan handed over the portrait to him and Sadasivam very happily received it with a warm “thank you very much”.
Then PVRK Prasad explained Sadasivam in detail about the reason behind their visit to the house of the noble couple..
Prasad said “Maastaaru,you know pretty well that TTD does quite a lot of promotional activities to promote rich Indian culture and traditional values.Now we want to promote many Annamacharya keerthanas that are not known to the world so far.Our plan is to bring out a five volume LP records (Long Play microgroove record used for recording sound in analog format for gramophone records in olden days)containing some rare Annamacharya keerthanas.Each volume may have up to ten keerthanas and all in all there may be about fifty keerthanas in the whole album..”
Initially Sadasivam felt very happy with the offer but rejected it when he came to know that the keerthanas are written in Telugu language.
He said “Our sincere thanks to TTD for coming up with this offer but you know pretty well that M.S likes to have command over the language she sings in…Though in Telugu,she has still recorded many Thyagaraja keerthanas earlier as she was practicing them since her childhood. However,to do the same now at this age will be very difficult for her since she never practiced Annamacharya keerthanas so far and it will be a herculean task for her to do it now..She needs at least one week time to practice one Telugu keerthana and you say there are about fifty keerthanas for which she may need almost an year…At this age of sixty three it’s not fair to trouble her with such a strenuous job…It doesn’t work Mr.Prasad and am very sorry for that.”
As the problem came back to square one,Prasad started feeling jittery and nervous.With all the helplessness in the world he gave a blank look at Lord Venkateswara in the portrait lying in front of him.
And it was exactly at that moment
The Great Music Queen Walked In
Prasad and other TTD officials quickly got up in her honor and greeted her with folded hands.Requesting them to feel comfortable she then looked at the portrait of Lord Venkateswara that was kept on a small table in front of her.
What happened later was a scene to be seen to be believed..
With extreme devotion M.S.Subbulakshmi immediately picked up the portrait with both her hands; closed her eyes for almost a minute; offered silent prayers to her beloved Lord Venkateswara in the portrait; later with tears running down her cheeks she gently placed her head at His holy feet saying in a low tone “Perumaal,ennai aasirvadhikka ithana dhooram neengale vandhuttela .. ??” (Tamil) (Oh my Venkateswara did you come all the way to bless me).
What a voice..??What a devotion..??And what a total surrender to her Lord Perumal..??How did she get it and where did she get it from..??But why is that hidden pain in the great singer’s voice..??What happened..??Is it due to the poor and stress filled conditions this evergreen queen of music is forced to live in for some time..??Hey Bhagwan,what a painful time for this great lady..??
PVRK Prasad who has grown up listening to M.S. Subbulakshmi’s devotional songs could not stand the pathetic condition of his favorite music queen,who in her times of glory walked many Red carpets around the world,now standing in front of him in a simple cotton saree.He was finding it extremely difficult to control his emotions but a tear drop still emerged at the right corner of his left eye,which he silently erased before someone else noticed it.
In the meantime Sadasivam gave a brief explanation to M.S.Subbulakshmi in Tamil about the Annamacharya music album proposal from TTD.
She immediately said”..It’s a God sent opprtunity to me and am ready to face any hardships to accomplish this task..I have got a chance to offer my services to Perumal and I will not let this opportunity go ..”
With her firm statement M.S Subbulakshmi brought smiles on everyone’s face there.
After a lot of deliberations it was decided not to burden the music queen with too much of practice and confine Annamachaya keerthanas only to first three LP records and then fill the rest of the two records with great Sanskrit literary works of other divine personalities.
Thus according to their revised plan the Annamacharya music album shall contain three LP records with rare Annamacharya keerhanas like Brahma kadigina paadamu, Naanaati batuku naatakamu,Jo Acyutananda Jojo Mukunda,Sri Mannarayana and a few more gems.
The other two LP records shall include Ganesha Pancharatnam, Madhurashtakam, Gita Govindam, Nama Ramayanam, Hanuman Chalisa, Lakshmi ashtotram, Sri Venkateswara Karavalamba Sthotram, Govindashtakam, Kanakadhara Sthavam, Durga Pancharatnam, Ranganadha Gadyam, Dwadasa Sthotram and Sivashtakam.
After all the discussions related to the music album are over,then came the most crucial phase of finalizing remuneration to the music queen which PVRK Prasad was feeling very nervous about.
Since that was the main motive behind their gathering there,Prasad mustered some courage to initiate the dialogue by saying “Amma,we all are very happy that you have agreed to take up this assignment..May your Perumal’s blessings be with your family forever..With your permission I would also like to discuss about the remuneration..”..
Prasad has not yet completed the sentence…
The music queen quickly interrupted him saying..”What remuneration..??No remuneration ..It’s a service to Perumal and am honored to get this offer..Don’t bring money in between..I will not take a single rupee for this work..”
A fully sweat filled Prasad looked worriedly at every one of his colleagues.. They were all looking at him to carry their burden too..
Prasad knows pretty well that ” these are the most crucial and sensitive moments the Paramacharya cautioned me about..”
Accomplishment Of The Task
Silently offering his prayers to Lord Sri Venkateswara, Prasad started saying in a humble tone “Amma, I agree you are offering your services to your Perumal and who am I to put that to test..I have a great respect for your feelings and for your devotion towards Perumal.. However Amma,I have a very humble submission to make and I hope you appreciate and understand me for that..”
M.S.Subbulakshmi was listening to Prasad quietly..
Prasad continued..”Amma,TTD is not going to donate this album free of cost to every devotee visiting Tirupati..In fact TTD is planning to promote this album in a commercial way by selling it across all it’s counters in India and abroad..This will generate a lot of money for TTD and we are only requesting you to take a little amount of money from it as you are legally entitled to receive that..The holy body of TTD is not in a position to take the services of a great devotee like you free of cost and later be blamed for that..”
As everyone was listening to him,Prasad cintinued..
“Amma,as the executive officer of TTD am also a humble servant of Lord Venkateswara and will always be answerable to Him for every work done in the organization..I also feel that this album is the design of your Perumal and that is why we are all here today…Anyways Amma,am like your son and I said what I wanted to say..Please forgive me if there is anything wrong in what I have said..I now leave the decision to you and your Perumal..”
The absolute honesty in Prasad’s emotion filled voice impressed everyone there including the noble couple of M.S.Subbulakshmi and Sadasivam.There was an echoing silence there for about a few minutes with blank faces staring at each other..
Finally the ice was broken as the music queen smiled and agreed with Prasad’s view point..
Prasad looked thankfully at the portrait of Lord Sri Venkateswara that is there in front of him..
After discussing a few more points the historical meeting concluded on a positive note leaving every one there with utmost satisfaction..
Finally PVRK Prasad shot the million dollar question..
“What should be the title of this Annamacharya music album..??
Prompt came the reply from the music queen..
>Later HMV recording company entered into an agreement with TTD to market the proposed music album “Balaji Pancharatnamala” and agreed to bear with all it’s recording expenses.As part of their understanding TTD immediately deposited rupees four lakhs in the name of M.S.Subbulakshmi, two lakhs in the name of Sadasivam and one lakh in the name of their daughter Radha Viswanathan who will also be taking part in the music album project.This amount will be kept in a fixed deposit and the accrued monthly interest will be going to them as long as they so desire.
>After successfully completing it’s recording in 1980,the album”Balaji Pancharatnamala”was simultaneously released all over India in an unprecedented fashion…While the first LP was released by the then President of India Mr.Neelam Sanjeeva Reddy,the second was released by the Prime Minister Mrs.Indira Gandhi.Rest of the three albums were released by the chief ministers and governors in their respective states.The fifth album was released by the Peetadhipathis of various Peethams spread all over India.
>In the very first year of it’s release the “Balaji Pancharatnamala” album received tremendous response from all over India generating a record amount of revenue recovering the entire money spent on it.
>This album went on to break all the previous records in India making M.S.Subbulakshmi a household name all over the country.
>In 1998 the government of India honored M.S.Subbulakshmi with the country’s highest civilian award the “Bharat Ratna” for revolutionizing devotional music in India and also for earning global recognition to Indian classical music.Unfortunately Sadasivam was not there to witness this once in a life time event as he passed away just a year before that in 1997.
>Most of the literary masterpieces by great sages would have remained unknown to the world if they were not given that magical touch by the mellifluous golden voice of M.S.Subbulakshmi.
>Finally on 11th,December,2004,leaving behind a legacy of devotional classicism and leaving every music fan in an emotional sea of tears and melancholy,music queen M.S.Subbulakshmi left this human world and entered the holy abode of her beloved Lord Perumal and remained there rested in peace at His divine Lotus feet.
“Puttutayu nijamu,povutayu nijamu… Nattanadi mee pani natakamu.. Yettanedhuta galadi prapanchamu.. Kattakadapatidhi kaivalyamu.. Naanaati batuku naatakamu..Naatakamu..Naatakamu..” – Saint Annamacharya
Source : Based on a miracle story “M.S. galam lo Perumal” from the Telugu language book “Sarva Sambhavaam” written by Sri.PVRK Prasad,IAS,former Executive Officer Of Tirumala Tirupati Devasthanam