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Devotional mystic MS Amma
By T.M. Anantharaman
BANGALORE, May 4: Any mention of M.S. Amma for me begins with the inimitable devotional flair she brings to her singing. As a youngster I and my uncle Raman had heard her sing “kaatrinile varum geetham”, a memorable melody that wafted the beauty of music through the very air we were breathing. She had the rare knack of imparting a sublime touch to even the most ordinary lyrics because her voice had both sweetness and soul.

Over the years, I have listened to her music many times, and almost always she surprised me with her instinctive flourishes even to sedate compositions. She conveyed the magic of the singer yearning for the unknown, the eternal seeker after emancipation into higher realms of devotion. It was not for nothing she was known as the Nightingale of Carnatic classical music. She had the sweetness in her voice to make you want to listen to more of her kind of music and she had the verve to impart a sense of sublime perfection into her singing. The two qualities together compelled attention and small wonder people flocked in their thousands to listen to her concerts.

To me, MS presented a regal presence, typically a South Indian Brahmin lady with an ever present smile on her face and a huge tilak marking her forehead and lots of flowers in her ‘jooda” and the silk saree gracefully adorning her whole frail body. As she sat the on the stage to commence her concert there was hushed silence for a minute or two till she tweeted her tambura, and once she began singing, people seemed to relax and nod in appreciation for her choice of rendering the songs and show utter glee when they heard their favourites. The beginning of “Rama nannu brovara” almost always elicited an “ahaa” from the listeners. As she rode her muse into various ragas such as Sankarabaranam, Bhairavi, Kalyani and Thodi, for example, she seemed to invoke the Goddess in her music through keen inter-play of swara-phrases soaked in bhava. Something which you enjoyed every time you listened to her sing these ragas. Or even her venture into Shanmukhapriya or Keeravani or Mayamalava Gowla or Simmendhra Madhyamam or effervescent ragas such as Hindolam, Mohanam, Abheri, Abhogi, Arabhi or Ahirbhairavi evoked an unexpected experience of joy and a sense of inexplicably pleasurable richness hitherto not felt.

MS Amma transported you to another world of beauty - where the sweetness of words, notes and gamakas ruled to capture your heart and often your envy at her ability to impact with such a sensuous grip over such an effusive medium. Her depiction of Thodi varnam “Eraa naa paii” was truly riveting for its clarity, fluency and sweetness of the melody. Or the “Ninnuvina nama janthu” in raga Navarasakannada wherein she brings in astonishing sangathis in the naadaswara-baani, something most musicians would never even dream to attempt. Her “Nagumomum ganale” in raga Abheri or “Brocheva revarura” in raga Khamas were truly examples in evocative singing. Her rendition of the ragamalika “Bhavayami” was sublime and evoked a deep sense of the awesome mystic of the timeless epic Ramayana for all, young and old alike.

I can go on and on with innumerable such examples but I will confine myself with a mention from Shyama Shastri kriti “Saroja dala netri” and its neraval with the phrase “sama gana vinodhini” were rendered with exquisite perfection. But even more appealing and arresting to me were the Brindavansaranga “Sri Ranga pura Vihara” and “Siva siva siva O mahadeva Shambo” in raga Nadanamakriya were simply not only mellifluous in melody but also soaked in soul stirring bhava. I can only conclude by saying MS Amma we will miss you. You truly enshrined all that is beautiful in life…. Music, elegance, flavour, colour, originality, dignity, culture, devotion, generosity and a spirit of service and humility rarely witnessed and ensconced in a single individual. MS Amma you were indeed a rare jewel of our own Mathrubhoomi. ….and the Bharat Ratna was never more honourable and you have done the nation proud.

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