Madras Lalitangi Vasanthakumari popularly referred to as MLV was a Carnatic musician and playback singer for film songs in many Indian languages. MLV and her contemporaries D. K. Pattammal and M. S. Subbulakshmi were popularly referred to as the "female trinity of Carnatic Music.A prime disciple of the G. N. Balasubramaniam, she was the youngest among the established musicians of that era, and was the youngest female awardee of the Sangita Kalanidhi award
As well as being a much sought-after playback singer for films, MLV popularised unfamiliar ragas and her Ragam Thanam Pallavis were considered cerebral. Additionally, she popularised the compositions of Purandara Dasa (and other Dasas), and was responsible for popularizing his compositions Baarokrishnayya, Innu daya barade, among others.
MLV was born to a musical family. Her father, Kuthanur Ayya Swamy Iyer, was a noted musician while her mother, Lalithangi, was also a great musician. MLV's school education was in Madras, in a convent, where all was set to pursue a medical career until the great Carnatic musician G. N. Balasubramaniam came into her life. He became her guru. In her own words: My parents had rendered yeomen service to Carnatic music. They were mainly instrumental in popularising the compositions of Purandara Dasa in South India. They were not keen that I should enter the music field and gave me general education. But in the musical atmosphere of my house, I had ample opportunity of practicing vocal music. Once G N Balasubramaniam heard me sing and he prevailed upon my parents to place me under his tutelage. It was he who was responsible for the status I occupy in the music world today.
In 1940, her mother Lalithangi gave a resplendent musical recital in Simla. MLV was then only 12 years old and made her debut by accompanying her mother. Two years later, MLV gave a solo recital in Bangalore. She also cut her first 78 rpm disc which many music lovers of that period recall vividly because it created a sensation. From then on she progressed in geometrical progression as a platform artiste and by 1950 she had established herself as a front-ranker. A learned music critic has said that MLV brought the struggle of women in the world of music to a successful culmination. Her music had more male characteristics than that of any other female musician.
MLV imbibed much of GNB's style, but did not make a fetish of speed and struck out on her own and evolved an inimitable style. Endowed with a fluid voice and rich imagination, were an aural feast to both the lay and the cognoscenti.Her leisurely, explorative and adventurous manner of handling ragas deserves special mention.
While MLV was known more for her cerebral style, rather than her emotional style, this was compensated by her rich and original manodharma. Similarly to GNB, she was a genius in her tricky, instantaneous brilliant manodharma. MLV's mastery over vocal techniques was comprehensive and complete. She could effortlessly render several difficult ragas, with her alapana and kalpana swaras suitably embellished with shruthi-bheda. Her listeners had the same ecstatic experience when she sang and more particularly when in a lightning manner she shifted gracefully from the melodic world of one raga in one pitch to another raga in another pitch. In this context one has to refer to raga combinations like Shanmukhapriya-Sankarabharanam, Bhairavi-Kamas, Abhogi-Valaji to illustrate this point.
Lalithangi, MLV's mother had a vast repertoire of Purandaradasa. She passed on this tradition to her daughter MLV. As a result, like T. Brinda who brought Kshetrayya Padams to the public platform and M. S. Subbalakshmi who brought Annamacharya kritis to the public arena, MLV popularised the Devaranamas of Purandaradasa.
MLV's forte was Ragam Tanam Pallavi where she not only maintained the great tradition brought to the stage by D. K. Pattammal, but enriched it in her own unique way. 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.
By 1946, MLV was also a playback singe. Her first big hit was in the 1951 film Manamagal, where she sang the song Ellam Inbamayam in Ragamalika, and Subramania Bharathiyar's evergreen composition, Chinnanchiru Kiliyae. In the 1960 film Raja Desingu, MLV also sang another Ragamalika, Parkadal Alaimele, which was well received, and later became popular in Bharatha Natyam recitals.
As one of the top ranking platform artistes, MLV was noted for her charm, grace, warmth, self-restraint and humility. Her self-restraint as an artiste can be understood from her own words: Brigas in fast tempo should adhere to the sruthi and above all, true music must touch the listener's heart. MLV however maintained a philosophy: A concert is a daily test of the calibre of a musician. A slight lapse may let the musician down and a constant vigil is essential.
Saraswathy Srinivasan is the first disciple of MLV till the late 1960s. After marriage also Saraswathy Srinivasan jointly with MLV gave some concerts.
Awards and titles
In 1976, MLV was honoured with a doctorate degree from Mysore University for her work with regards to Purandaradasa's contributions to music. MLV also received the third highest civilian honour from the Indian Government, "Padma Bhushan". In 1977, at age 49, MLV became the youngest woman to earn the award and title in Carnatic music, Sangita Kalanidhi.
MLV was a front ranking artiste for more than 50 years. She died in 1990 at the age of 63. Beauty and sublimity were the cardinal characteristics of her music.
A nightingale called MLV