M L Vasantha Kumari - 1960
|Sivakama Sundari||Jaganmohini||Rupaka||Gopalakrishna Bharati||01:20||Sampler|
|Ni Dayavai Varuvai||Bhushavali||Adi||Ambujam Krishna||01:20||Sampler|
|Ma Ramanan||Hindolam||Rupaka||Papanasam Sivan||01:20||Sampler|
|Kalakalan Kayilai Nathan||Atana||Rupaka||Periasami Tooran||01:20||Sampler|
|Sarasa Sama Dana||Kapinarayani||Adi||Tyagaraja||01:20||Sampler|
|Nithya Kalyani Nihita||Kalyani||taala||raghu||01:20||Sampler|
|Arupadai Veedamarnda||Ragamalika||Adi||M P Sivan||01:20||Sampler|
|Surudimudi - Vazhia Sentamizh||Madhyamavati||Chaturasra Dhruva||Arunagirinathar||01:20||Sampler|
MLV ? Melodious, Lilting and Vibrant
Many are the expansions that the fans of the late ML Vasanthakumari, derived out of her initials. Some said the three letters stood for Melody, Laya and Vidwat. Others said they stood for Marvellous Lady Vasanthakumari. They all agreed on one thing and that was MLV?s brilliance that embellished her music.
Vasanthakumari was born on 3rd July 1928 as the only child of Koothanur Ayyaswami Ayyar, a music teacher known for his extensive knowledge of rare kritis and his wife Madras Lalithangi who was a singer hailing from a family dedicated to the arts. The cradle ceremony of the infant witnessed an impromptu concert performance by the maestro Maharajapuram Vishwanatha Iyer. Lalithangi?s was a fairly well known name in the field of music. She had released many gramophone plates, notable among which were ?sudandira dIpam? in kalyANi which was the first Carnatic song with a Nationalist theme to be recorded and her elegy on the death of the patriot Chittaranjan Das. Ayyar was well known in Madras city as a music tutor.
A chance meeting in the mid 1930s with Narasimha Dasa, a seer from Mysore, changed the lives of father, mother and child. Fascinated by the holy man?s knowledge of Purandara Dasa kritis, Lalithangi and Ayyar persuaded him to stay in Madras for over a year so that she could learn the songs. When he departed, Lalithangi became the expert on Purandara Dasa kritis in Madras and together with her husband and daughter, released a book of the composer?s kritis for the first time in Tamil in 1941 with enormous personal sacrifice. When Lalithangi?s health began to fail due to asthmatic attacks, her daughter, who in 1941, had first provided vocal support to her mother at a concert in Simla, was forced to occupy centrestage. The debut happened in Bangalore where the billboards announced her as Madras Lalithangi Vasanthakumari and so arose a new star on the horizon.
In 1938, mother and daughter were at the All India Radio, Madras, where Lalithangi, along with DK Pattammal and GN Balasubramaniam was to record Jayadeva?s aShTapadis. The superstar of Carnatic Music, GNB, heard the young girl humming to herself and impressed with her talent, offered to teach her. When the offer was renewed in 1942, the parents agreed. Thus began a new chapter, when the master of the bhriga, who perfected a completely different style of singing, began teaching all that he knew to the bright youngster. In 1943, she released her first commercial recording, Swati Tirunal?s sarasijanAbha murArE in tODi.
There was more to come. In 1946, MK Tyagaraja Bhagavatar, desperately seeking a fresh lease of cine success, begged Ayyaswami Ayyar to allow young Vasanthi to sing playback for the film. The first song, enna Anandam, was a duet with MKT himself. The film bombed but the female voice was noticed. MLV began a dual career, that of concert artiste and also playback artiste. To her credit, her first career never suffered due to her second. She enjoyed a long and successful innings in films, singing her last song in the early 1970s for the Kannada film Hamsegeethe.
By 1950, MLV was a fixture on the Carnatic Music firmament. She had pole vaulted to the top slot, reaching the bracket of MS Subbulakshmi, DK Pattammal and NC Vasanthakokilam all of them many years her senior. Having reached her zenith, Vasanthakumari was to remain there for the rest of her life. To her Guru GNB?s great joy, she became a successful artiste even during his lifetime and he would mention this with pride to one and all. With his death in 1965, she became the torchbearer of the GNB bhANi, out of which she successfully carved her own style.
What was the MLV style? Given her quick grasp of all aspects of music, she acquired an enormous repertoire that was large enough to begin with thanks to her father?s stock of Tyagaraja kritis and mother?s store of Dasa kritis. To this was added GNB?s imaginative style of AlApanas, song rendition and pallavis. Mudicondan Venkatarama Iyer had further honed her pallavi singing style. From this heady mix, MLV drew her own inferences. Her concerts featured new and old songs, AlApanas in traditional and unusual rAgas, with daring forays into the realms of sruti bhEdam. Her tAnam singing was extraordinary. As for her control on laya, it was perfection personified. She presented pallavis in complicated tALas such as mishramukhi which had even leading vidwans struggling to keep up. On svaras she was on a plane of her own. In an interview she had said that when a song was taught her, she had from childhood, learnt to observe and study only its svara structure first and later the words. This stood her in good stead for she could render svarAs effortlessly. At the tail end of the concert came the ugabOgas and dAsAra padagaLu for which she and her mother were famous. A combination such as this could have never failed. Another plus was a supreme confidence in her own performing abilities, which saw her cheering the Indian cricket team at Chepauk for a full day, before rushing home to change and arrive at the Music Academy for a full length concert.
In the early 1970s many personal and financial problems, resulted in her moving over to Rishi Valley Public school at Madanapalle, where the legendary Palghat Mani Iyer was also teaching. The two geniuses worked together on many musical productions for the school?s students. Mani Iyer admired MLV?s singing to such an extent that he dropped his stance of not accompanying women singers in order to play the mridangam for her concerts. This came about for the first time at the Sastri Hall in Mylapore.
She received all the awards that are conferred on Carnatic Music artistes. Her health was however proving to be her Achilles heel. Overcoming all her setbacks Vasanthakumari sang on, enthralling audiences all over the world. At times the voice did suffer, but the brilliance more than made up for it. But by the 1980s, even with all her grit and determination, her health was giving way more rapidly than ever. Even then she was not willing to disappoint her fans and there were occasions when she was brought on a stretcher to the concert hall, after which she gave stupendous performances. The end came on 31st October 1990, when surrounded by her husband R Krishnamurthy, actress daughter Srividya and son Sankararaman, MLV breathed her last.
Like her Guru she too trained any number of talented disciples lavishing love and affection on them all, besides giving them opportunities to perform with her. Similar was her attitude to young and talented accompanists. A list of her proteges would include personalities such as Charumati Ramchandran, A Kanyakumari, Sudha Raghunathan, Tiruvarur Bhaktavatsalam and the late Kanjira Harishankar. As for her unrecorded acts of generosity, they are legion.
The voice that thrilled many generations would continue to do so through recordings, but the large physical form, together with the large and generous heart it concealed has vanished. Had she been alive, MLV would have turned 75 this year. This is a tribute to a great genius, a woman of infinite talents in music.