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September 15, 2016

The inimitable M.S. Subbulakshmi

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Author : Srinivasan Venkatraman

A Hundred Years ago, i.e. on September 16, 1916, M.S. Subbulakshmi, the ‘Nightingale of India’, was born at Madurai in Tamil Nadu. Her father Subramania Iyar was a practicing advocate and her mother Shanmuga Vadivu, a Veena player. At home, M.S. was affectionately called as ‘Kunjamma’.

Subbulakshmi was precocious in the matter of vocal music. mschilHer earliest public performance was a Marathi Bhajan when she was barely eight. She had accompanied her mother to a Veena recital event; and playing on sand outside the music arena. It was then her mother announced that Subbulakshmi would perform a song. The girl, who was playing moments ago, like any girl of her age, unhesitatingly began singing that enthralled the audience. Many in the audience predicted a great future for her. They were correct.

On January 1, 1932 Subbulakshmi made her mark at Madras Music Academy programme in
the presence of exponents of Carnatic vocal and instrumental music. They included virtuosos like T. N. Rajarathinam Pillai, Chembai Vaidyanatha Bhagavathar and Mysore T. Chowdiah. Subbulakshmi, in reality, had been called as a substitute performer as Ariyakkudi Ramanuja Aiyangar, the great vocalist, could not attend the programme. Subbulakshmi performance mesmerized masters and audience alike. Karaikadu Sambasiva Iyer felt Subbulakshmi had a hidden Veena in her throat. Subbulakshmi incidentally became the first women performer at Madras Music Academy Annual Conference. Subbulakshmi also acted in several memorable films in 1930s and 40s.

Her first movie ‘Seva Sadhanam’ (1938)was on social reform, a pet theme of director K. Subramanyam.

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Screenshot from 1938 Tamil film Sevasadhanam. M.S. Subbulakshmi on the left and S. Varalakshmi on the right.

On July 10, 1940 she was married to Thaigaraja Sadasivam (1902-1997), a freedom fighter and journalist, 14 years her senior. Their association was destined to last for 57 years, and become most fruitful in terms of service to music, arts and literature.

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Marriage photo of Thiagarajan Sadasivam and M. S. Subbulakshmi

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In 1940 they together produced a movie Sakuntalai based on Kalidasa’s play Abhigyanam Shakuntalam.

Since K. Subramanyam was unavailable, they hired Ellis Roderick Duncan (1909-2001), an American film director who directed several popular Tamil films in the 1940s without understanding a word of Tamil. The film was a hit, and songs of Subbulakshmi were rapturous.

A film poster for the 1940 Tamil film Shakuntala.

Sadasivam wanted Subbulakshmi not to remain a provincial musical figure. He wanted her to attain national acclaim that she richly deserved. In 1943, Subbulakshmi participated in the Mumbai Vikramaditya Festival. She sang Raga Sankarabharanam, an exquisite raga, rendered in masterly style. She also sang bhajans by Tulsidas, Mira Bai, Guru Nanak that captivated the audience completely. Ustad Bade Ghulam Ali Khan described her a ‘Suswara Lakshmi’- the goddess of melodious voice.

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This is a poster for Meera (1945 film)

Finding Subbulakshmi’s bhajans having traction with all sections of listeners, Sadasivam wanted to bring their magic to the silver screen. The result was the Tamil film ‘Meera’ (1945), which became a musical sensation. Based on the life of Mirabai, the 16th century devotee of Lord Krishna from Rajasthan, the film directed by Ellis Duncan ran for more than 25 weeks.

Subbulakshmi, in the eponymous role of Meera (Mirabai), made a natural choice. During the film’s shooting at Dwarka, onlookers could hardly believe she was not Mirabai. Duncan felt Subbulakshmi did not act as Mirabai, but changed her soul to her being.

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Poster of the Hindi version, published in 1947

The Hindi version of Meera was released in Plaza Theatre of New Delhi on December 5, 1947.

Amongst the audience was Lord Mountbatten, Edwina Mountbatten, Jawaharlal Nehru, R.K. Shanmugam (Finance Minister) and Sarojini Naidu. Naidu, after watching the film, said she was happily surrendering to Subbulakshmi the title ‘Nightingale of India’, which she as a poetess had held for decades.

 

Mahatma Gandhi wanted to listen to her, and said he became Subbulakshmi’s fan, after she performed bhajans at Sevagram, Wardha.

The devotional songs of Subbulakshmi captivated people’s imagination across India. There are thousands of connoisseurs who would swear that songs of Mirabia, Kabir, Tulasi Das or Punardhar Das should be heard only in her voice. It is said that feeling aroused by her “Saroja Dhala nethri saama gaana vinodhini” in Sankarbharanam raga cannot be described in words. Subbulakshmi Mela Ragamaliga song was written by Mahavaidyanatha Sivan composed in 72 ragas on the instructions of Paramacharya Sri Chandrasekharendra Saraswati of Kanchi Kamakoti Peetham. Subbulakshmi was a bit nervous, but the Paramcharya encouragingly said ‘”Do you think you are going to sing? The Lord will sing through you”. When the recording was completed and the first disc was released, Maha Periyava blessed M.S. “Your glory will be eternal as long as the Sun and Moon are in the sky.”

Sadasivam passed away in 1997 at the ripe age of 95. Subbulakshmi felt her life completely darkened as their 57 year old companionship ended. She became averse to food, unable to sleep, reduced her singing and avoided going out. But within a few months she had something to cheer about. She had won her Padma Bhushan in 1954 .

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M. S. Subbulakshmi receives Padma Bhushan from Governor of Madras, Sri Prakasa, in March 1955 at an event in Raj Bhavan

MS Subbulakshmi receives Sangeeth Natak Academy Award in 1956.

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MS with the other recipients of the Sangeet Natak Akademi

In 1968, M.S. became the first woman musician to be honoured with the Sangita Kalanidhi title by the Music Academy, Chennai.

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Music Academy Group photograph with MS as Sangeetha Kalanidhi

1974 – MSS selected to receive the Ramon Magsasey Award for public service and Padma Vibhusan in 1975.

In 1988 MSS receives Kalidas Samman awarded by the Government of Madhya Pradesh and in 1990, The Indira Gandhi Award for National Integration.

Now the Government of India declared Bharat Ratna for her. The highest civilian award was conferred upon her by the then President K.R. Narayanan on January 14, 1998 at a function held in Rashtrapati Bhavan in New Delhi.

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Receiving the Bharat Ratna Award from the President K R Narayanan

Subbulakshmi’s was deeply immersed in the devotional music of Saint Thyagaraja. The only time she was out of touch of Thyagraja’s bhajans were in 1940s when was a part of a Tamil Isai Movement to popularize Tamil music. Thyagraja’s bhajans, though most popular in Tamil Nadu, are actually in Telugu and some Sanskrit. But she could not remain far from Thyagraja’s songs for long. She reverted to them, as they appealed to her soul.

Subbulakshmi passed away on December 11, 2004 at the age of 88. She had mesmerized audiences both in India and abroad with her music.

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As a person she was humble and had a deep compassion for the poor. She represented the soul of Indian music.

*Author Shri. V. Srinivasan popularly known as VSV is a prolific writer and renowned Carnatic music critic. He has interviewed MS several times during her music journey and has also written her biography.

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Engineers are Nation Builders

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Author : Priyadarshi Dutta

September 15 is observed as the Engineers’ Day in the honour of Dr. Mokshagundam Visvesvaraya (1861-1962), India’s pioneering engineer and administrator, who was born on that date.

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The centenarian was so thoroughly a man of action that his memoir, written at the age of 90, begins only with his entry as Assistant Engineering in Public Works Department of Bombay Government in February, 1884. He leaves out his birth and family details as much as his boyhood days. The memoir focuses only on his working life, containing little personal details. Even his foreign visits that were six in number were generally filled with visits to institutions, factories and workshops with hardly any time for leisure. His mind was focused on nation’s progress, as evident in several books that he authored.

Our scroll of nation builders generally contains names of freedom fighters, politicians and engineeringadministrators. Most of them hailed from professions like law, teaching, journalism and even medicine etc. But the role of engineers who actually built modern India brick and mortar remain understated. Though medicine and engineering were conventionally coveted disciplines to study in India, engineers were perceived only as a professional class working for salary. Their contribution towards nation building was ignored. There is a crying need for an authentic history of engineering in modern India.

Engineering as an academic discipline was introduced by the British in the mid-19th century. construction-project-managementThe initial object was to produce civil engineers who could assist the British in the development works. These development works consisted of road building, bridge construction, canal excavation, irrigation work, drinking water connection, sewerage work etc.

The Thomason College of Civil Engineering, Roorkee (now IIT Roorkee) was established in 1847.

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The Thomason College of Civil Engineering, Roorkee (now IIT Roorkee)

Its establishment could be attributed to the Ganga Canals project that British were taking up- on the lines of Western Yamuna Canals and Eastern Yamuna Canals on which work were continuing since 1817.

Millions of devotees who watch Ganga Aarti on the banks of Har Ki Pauri in Haridwar perhaps do not know it is product of Ganga Canals project in which many unnamed Indian engineers had worked under the British. Sir Ganga Ram (1851-1927) of Lahore, the first Indian engineer of repute was an alumnus of Thomason College.

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Department of Architecture & Planning

Later he turned an agriculturalist, who turned thousands of acres of arid land in Punjab arable with his knowledge of irrigation engineering.

A College of Engineering at Pune, from where M. Visvesvaraya graduated in 1884.

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College of Engineering, Pune (CoEP)  was started in 1854

In 1859, came the Madras College of Engineering, which trained civil engineers in both military and civil disciplines. In 1880, the Government College of Howrah, later called Bengal College of Engineering- Shibpur, was founded.

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Bengal College of Engineering, Shibpur

It started producing India’s first batch of mechanical engineers apart from civil engineers.

The names of most of the early Indian engineering graduates who must have played seminal role in building roads, bridges, canals, water supply facility, sewerage, irrigation is apparently lost to history.

bhu_tourism_062414065400When Benaras Hindu University was established in 1916 these different engineering disciplines were already recognized amongst Indians. Mahamana Madan Mohan Malaviya got included the studies of different engineering disciplines like metallurgy, mining, industrial chemistry etc in the university curriculum. Pt. Malaviya realized the importance of engineers in advancing nation’s prosperity.

Mr. Visvesvaraya stands out as the pioneering Indian engineer. sir-mv-with-nehruHe began as a civil engineer in Bombay Presidency in 1884. But it was his engineering feat at Sukur in Sindh Province (then part of Bombay Presidency) in 1893-1895 that brought him fame. He devised an ingenious method to filter the muddy and discoloured water of Indus by digging a well on riverbed and creating a tunnel below the river to bring drinking water for the city to the pumping station. Later on, he specialized in irrigation, water supply and drainage works. He was involved in Pune suburban water supply project.

He devised sluice gates at Lake Fife in Khadakvasala, Pune for which he took patent.

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Khadakwasla Lake & Dam, Pune

This technology stopped the loss of excess water. He also lent consultancy services to Nizam of Hyderabad after the great Musi floods of 1908. The two projects he advised the Nizam government was related to sewerage and reservoir of river Musi, a tributary of Krishna in 1909.

 

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The role played by Dr. Visvesvaraya in setting up of Hindustan Aeronautical Limited in Bangalore in 1940 is less discussed. He was a close friend of Seth Walchand Hirachand, one of the promoters.

Today Indian engineers have entered global big league. Vinod Dham, Sundar Pichai, Satyendra Nadela, Padmasree Warrior, Vinod Gupta are some of the well-known names to succeed abroad. However, there is a worrying trend that many qualified engineers tend to divert to non-engineering professions like banking, civil services and journalism. While the new IITs and NITs are being commissioned, thousands of seats in engineering colleges are going vacant.

The Lok Sabha was informed in March this year that the number of students enrolled in engineering colleges has been coming down. In 2012-13 it was 10,09584; in 2013-14 it was 986817 and in 2014-15 it was 91,9603.

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The Government of India’s ‘Make in India’ drive with major focus of manufacturing sector will require thousands of qualified engineers.

25-sectorsThus engineers should be motivated to take the challenge and should willingly adhere to their profession. They need to be recognised as nation builders.

*The writer is an independent researcher and columnist.

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