M.S. Subbulakshmi began her Carnatic classical music training under her mother Shanmugavadivu; and later
in Hindustani classical training under Pandit Narayan Rao Vyas. Subbulakshmi first recording was released
when she was 10 years old.
Subbulakshmi gave her first performance at the prestigious Madras Music Academy in 1929, when she was 13
years old . The performance consisted of singing bhajans (Hindu hymns). The academy was known for its
discriminating selection process, and they broke tradition by inviting a young girl as a key performer.
Her performance was described as spellbinding and earned her many admirers and the moniker of musical
genius from critics. Soon after her debut performances, Subbulakshmi became one of the leading Carnatic
By the age of seventeen, Subbulakshmi was giving concerts on her own, including major performances at the
Madras Music Academy
were significant landmarks in her career. In 1969 she was accompanied by Indian Railways Advisor SN
Venkata Rao to Rameswaram, where she sang several songs in front of each idol in the Rameswaram temple.
She shared a very cordial relation with Sree Ramaseva Mandali Bengaluru for whom she performed 36
After the death of her husband Kalki Sadasivam in 1997, she stopped all her public performances.
M.S. also acted in a few Tamil films in her youth. Her first movie, Sevasadanam, was released on 2 May
1938. F.G. Natesa Iyer was the lead actor, opposite Subbulakshmi, in this film, directed by K.
Subramanyam. It was a critical and commercial success. Ananda Vikatan favourably reviewed the film on 8
We should always expect something from Subramaniam's direction – for instance depiction of social ills. If
we have to say only two words about this talkie based on Premchand's story it is – Go see (it).
Sevasadanam is one of the early Tamil films to be set in a contemporary social setting and to advocate
reformist social policies. The film is an adapted version of Premchand's novel Bazaar-e-Husn. The veteran
Marxist leader N. Sankaraiah, has described Sevasadanam as an "unusual film" for choosing the subject of
marriages between young girls and old men (which had social sanction). According to him, the film
successfully broughtout the "sufferings of the girl" (acted by M.S.) and the "mental agony of the aged
husband".(acted by F.G.Natesa Iyer).Tamil film critic and historian Aranthai Narayanan observes in his
bookThamizh Cinemavin Kathai (The Story of Tamil Cinema) that "Seva Sadhanam proved a turning point in the
history of Tamil cinema. In the climax, the aged husband, now a totally changed man, was shown as casting
aside with utter contempt his 'sacred thread', which symbolises his Brahmin superiority. It came as a
stunning blow to the then Brahmin orthodoxy."
MS Subbulakshmi also played the male role of Narada in Savitri (1941) to raise money for launching Kalki,
her husband's nationalist Tamil weekly. Her title role of the Rajasthani saint-poetess Meera in the
eponymous 1945 film gave her national prominence. This movie was re-made in Hindi in 1947.