M. L. Vasanthakumari

M.L.Vasanthakumari,  popularly refered to as MLV was a vidushi of outstanding merit. The initials MLV could be an acronym for her  Melody, Laya and Vidwat.  Surely, she was great in all these aspects of carnatic music. Endowed with a melodious voice, MLV was a much sought after musician. She could appeal to all sections of  rasikas. She could very easily render an elaborate ragam-tanam-pallavi in uncommon talam with an unusual eduppu,  sing  kritis set in two kalai talam  or  regale her audience with popular and semiclassical songs.

MLV was the daughter of  Smt.Lalithangi and Sri.Kuthanur Ayyaswami Iyer-both musicians. Her mother,Lalithangi was a concert  performer. Having grown in this ambience, MLV used to give vocal support to her mother as a young teenager.   Naturally, MLV had the initial training from her mother and later from  G.N.Balasubramaniam, (GNB).

MLV imbibed some of GNB's style in her renditions. She was a fast paced singer with a brigha laden voice,but  in the later years, she slowed down. She had the natural flair for rendering ragams. She would handle ragams like Kalyani, Todi, Bhairavi, Kharaharapriya,  Latangi, Harikambodi, Kambodi, Keeravani, Purvikalyani, Shanmukhapriya, Shankarabharanam, Madhyamavati,  Shuddasaveri  effortlessly and render them with full of raga bhavam. She was adept in grahabhedam or modal shift. She used to glide through easily from the main ragam to the derived ragam.  Unless, a musician had strong grasp of the basics and was quick thinker, it is difficult to do grahabhedam in a concert setting. In a lec-dem situation, grahabhedam can be handled at leisure.  At the same time, she was at ease in rendering uncommon ragas like Bhavani, Hamsa vinodini, Urmika, Sumanesha ranjani etc.  A senior violinist once remarked  'MLV is a genius and her raga delineations are so original that from one day to the next, she  would  render  ragas with totally new  sancharas.'  I have heard her render many ragas like Rishabhapriya, Nathabhairavi,  Natakapriya  with uncommon ease.

Many music organizations all over the globe had honored  MLV with titles and awards.  In recognition of her scholarship, service to Carnatic music.  She was honored with a Doctorate degree, a Padma bhushan from the Govt. of India, a title of Sangita Kalanidhi
from the  Madras Music Academy, just to name a few.

MLV popularised  Purandara Dasa and other Dasa  kritis just like her mother did a generation before. She had a wide repertoire of songs and sang compositions of many modern day composers. She was a popular play-back singer in many movies.  She trained several students, many of them are the front-ranking musicians today. Some of the notable musicians who have studied under MLV include Trichur Ramachandran, Charumathi Ramachandran, A. Kanyakumari, Sudha Ragunathan, Vanaja Narayanan, T.M Prabhavathi, Meena Subramaniam and Jayanthi Mohan.  MLV also helped young percussion vidwans like Mannargudi Easwaran, Srimushnam Raja Rao, Tiruvarur Bhaktavatsalam, R.Ramesh, Karaikudi Krishnamurthy, G. Harishankar (kanjira) and others establish themselves by encouraging them and giving them opportunities to accompany her in concerts.

She was generous to a fault.  Whenever a fellow artiste was in need, she was always ready to help her or him financially.  She used  to interact well with her rasikas and talked well and she  delivered formal speeches with confidence and grace.

As a child growing up she had dreams of becoming a physician. Thank God, she decided to be a concert singer or else, we would have missed listening to a great vidushi like MLV. She was an gifted musician and music came naturally to her. A.Kanyakumari  who had accompanied  MLV on violin for almost two decades says, "MLV-akka had a sharp mind and good memory and I have never seen her practice a song or a ragam or for that matter a ragam-tanam-pallavi also before a concert."  Music was in her blood.

She was a trail blazer and a trend setter.

Written by Ashok Madhav

For more information see Sruti Issue 76/77 Dec 1990.
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