“The noble couple of M.S. Subbulakshmi (MS) and Sadasivam is in a serious financial crisis and need some urgent help. Please plan something to bring them out of this crisis immediately”. In the beginning of 1979 PVRK Prasad, the Executive Officer Of Tirumala Tirupati Devasthanam (TTD) received two such urgent telegram messages from His Holiness the Paramacharya of Kanchi Kamakoti Peetham Sri Chandrasekharendra Saraswati and from His Holiness Bhagwan Sri Satya Sai Baba Of Puttaparthi.
Messages like that from holy giants can unnerve any mammoth personality and the poor Prasad was no exception. But what shocked Prasad more at that moment was not the status of the senders but the content of their message.
“What happened to MS and why did she land in such a situation that demanded the intervention of divine personalities?” and why do the divine personalities want Prasad to help?
MS has millions of fans all over the world and they will not keep quite if they come to know that their beloved music queen is going through such a bad financial crisis. However, the noble couple will not accept any unsolicited favor and it is now for the TTD to plan something for her and see that she’s adequately compensated for that. TTD has done that earlier and something similar should be done now and that is also what the holy giants are expecting Prasad to do.
However again, it is not as simple as it sounds and there is no better person than Prasad to understand that. Prasad conducted an immediate inquiry through his official sources in the city of Madras, where the noble couple lives, and found out that “MS and Sadasivam have sold off their Kalki estate in Madras and moved into a small rented house in Valluvar Kottam, a desolate place those days in the suburbs of old Madras.Sadasivam was running a newspaper by name Kalki that unfortunately ran into huge losses forcing the couple to resort to such an extreme measure of selling their huge asset to clear off a large amount of loans”.
This unpleasant information really saddened Prasad, a great fan of MS. Wiping off his tears he stood in front of the huge portrait of Lord Venkateswara with folded hands and made a very humble submission. ”Swamy, singing your bhajans all over the world this great lady served you with utmost devotion so far in her life. Organizing everything for her in time Sadasivam was always there with her at every point.
Although she could have demanded any amount of money from the organizers of her concerts she was always happy with whatever was offered to her. Above all, she has donated most of her earnings to charity and now at this stage of her life is this what you offer her Swamy ? Don’t you think this is unfair? They are also couple of high self esteem and do not seek favors from anyone not even from God.. How do you expect them to lead a normal life hereafter? I am really feeling sad for them now and don’t know what to do. Swamy Venkateswara, it is for YOU to guide me properly and help me in doing something for her immediately.”
Without wasting any more time Prasad called for an emergency meeting of the TTD Board and sought measures from its experts to provide whatsoever relief possible to MS immediately.
Almost all in one voice all the members said “Sir, we are very unhappy and sad to hear about the pathetic state of Smt.MS and Sri.Sadasivam. However sir, it is our duty to remind you that she is already the Asthana Vidwan of TTD and is as such enjoying some honorarium and privileges from us. Although we are all eager to help her in this hour of crisis, we are afraid, there’s nothing more we can do at this juncture sir. TTD is answerable to the ministry of endowments and is not empowered to take certain decisions on its own.”
A real tricky situation arose for the government run body to offer some relief to a great personality like MS who definitely deserves a better and more appropriate attention. But quite miraculously and almost immediately that appropriate attention came from none other than The Holy Lord Sri Venkateswara Himself. And this incident is a standing testimony to that.
That evening a much disturbed Prasad went to offer his last prayers of the day to Lord Sri Venkateswara, the presiding deity of the holy Tirumala temple. After offering his prayers, Prasad was walking out of the main temple and exactly at that time a very small incident occurred there…Quite miraculously; this small incident later heralded a golden era in the history of Indian classical music. As he was walking out of the main temple Prasad found a small group of poor singers sitting right in front of the temple singing bhajans in praise of the holy Lord. As though halted by an invisible hand Prasad stood there for a few minutes. He was spellbound by the amazing talent of those folk singers and more so by their rustic style of singing.
After a few more moments of silent listening Prasad smiled and smiled with a great sense of relief and smiled with an amazing feeling of satisfaction. Watching Prasad smile the holy Lord smiled and watching the holy Lord smile the whole of Tirumala smiled and watching the whole of Tirumala smile the five elements of Nature too smiled. And later those historic smiles scripted an epoch making chapter in the history of Indian classical music that not only provided immense relief to MS forever but also launched her into immortality in the world of devotional music that later earned her a well deserved highest civilian award of India, the “Bharat Ratna”.
The very next morning a much more relaxed Prasad left for Kanchi and met Kanchi Paramacharya in His holy abode. After he was granted private audience by the Paramacharya of Kanchi,Prasad explained Him in detail about his plan of action to offer assistance to MS . Prasad said “Swamy, after receiving your telegram about MS amma I was very disturbed.I called for an emergency meeting of the TTD executive board and asked for suggestions but nothing concrete came out. With a disturbed mind, the same evening I visited Lord Venkateswara and sought His guidance and blessings in helping MS amma immediately. As I was coming out of the holy sanctum sanctorum I saw a group of poor singers sitting in front of the main temple singing Annamacharya keerthanas in praise of the holy Lord. Not only was I spell bound by their devotional singing but also felt immensely light and happy as a great idea to help MS was born in my mind at that moment. I have then decided to visit your Holiness and explain in detail about my plan of action”
As though He knows what Prasad was about to say, Paramacharya smiled and asked Prasad to continue. Prasad continued “Centuries ago Saint Annamacharya wrote and composed a number of keerthanas (raaga based devotional songs praising the divine qualities of Gods) on Lord Venkateswara but only a few of them have seen the light of the day..However there are many more gems groping in darkness that need to be brought out and publicized further. Earlier TTD has done some work in this direction but there is a lot more that still needs to be done now”
Prasad continued “According to my plan, your Holiness,TTD will now identify a few unknown keerthanas of Annamacharya and I on behalf of TTD will personally visit MS and request her to sing those keerthanas for TTD.So far in her career she has only recorded Saint Thyagaraja’s keerthanas and never attempted Annamacharya keerthanas. That way, I am sure she will be impressed with my proposal and will agree to record Annamacharya keerthanas for us. Later, TTD shall sell those records to millions of devotees who visit the holy Tirumala every year. This will generate a lot of revenue and will help MS a great deal as she becomes eligible to enjoy the royalty generated from the sales.After that, her family will never need to look around for their survival”
Pleased with what Prasad has said the ever smiling Paramacharya stated ”Prasad, God expresses Himself in many inexplicable forms and exposes His presence in many mysterious ways. May be the Lord Venkateswara Himself appeared before you in the form of those poor singers you say you have seen in front of the temple..May be the group itself was an optical illusion created by Him.May be those singers are Gandharvas in human form and sang those Annamacharya keerthanas only for you to give you an idea about what needs to be done for MS. May be you are the only one who has seen them or heard them singing. May be those singers have disappeared after you smiled and left the place. Who knows? ”
Unable to believe what the Paramacharya was trying to convey a frozen Prasad remained speechless as His Holiness continued. “Dear Prasad, everything in this world is part of Nature’s cosmic scheme and every worldly act, whether good or bad, has a divine purpose behind it. Do you think God will keep quite when someone who served Him for decades is suffering from pain..?? Since He cannot present Himself before us, He uses tools like you and me for getting His things done..God knows His job pretty well Prasad so don’t be ignorant and do not ever blame Him for anything.”
Still unable to believe what he had experienced, a visibly shaken Prasad prostrated himself before the divine feet of Paramacharya who is revered by many in the world as an AVATAR” (reincarnation)of Lord Siva.
Blessing Prasad, the Paramacharya said “Your idea is brilliant Prasad.. MS has millions of fans all over the world and they will come running to help her in this hour of crisis. But MS and Sadasivam are a very reserved couple with an unimaginable degree of high self esteem and honour. So far they lived life on their own terms and will never accept any unsolicited favor not even from God. So be careful. They should not think you have come to them to offer financial assistance. If they smell it they will reject your offer outright. This is a sensitive situation, so handle carefully. Good luck”
Later things moved in quick succession and it didn’t take much time for Prasad to get the necessary approvals for the proposed Annamacharya music album project from the TTD Board. Ramesan, the then chairman of the TTD board was very much pleased with his executive officer’s idea as he felt that it will not only empower the TTD Board to help a legendary divine singer like MS in her hour of crisis, but will also provide a great deal of publicity to many hidden melodious keerthanas of Saint Annamacharya…
One fine morning, carrying a neatly packed portrait of Lord Sri Venkateswara,Prasad along with Ramesan and a couple of other officials went to the small rented house of MS in Madras. First, MS’s husband Sadasivam came out. Ramesan handed over the portrait to him and Sadasivam very happily received it with a warm “thank you very much”. Then Prasad explained Sadasivam in detail about the reason behind their visit to the house of the noble couple.
Prasad said “Maastaaru,you know pretty well that TTD does quite a lot of promotional activities to promote rich Indian culture and traditional values. Now we want to actively promote many Annamacharya keerthanas that are so far unknown to the world..Our plan is to bring out a five volume LP records (Long Play microgroove record used for recording sound in analog format for gramophone records in olden days) containing some rare Annamacharya keerthanas. Each volume may have up to ten keerthanas and all in all there may be about fifty keerthanas in the whole album.”
Initially Sadasivam felt very happy with the offer but rejected it when he came to know that the keerthanas are written in Telugu language. He said “Our sincere thanks to TTD for coming up with this offer but you know pretty well that M.S likes to have command over the language she sings in. Though in Telugu, she has still recorded many Thyagaraja keerthanas earlier as she was practicing them since her childhood. However, to do the same now at this age will be very difficult for her since she never practiced Annamacharya keerthanas so far and it will be a herculean task for her to do it now..She needs at least one week time to practice one Telugu keerthana and you say there are about fifty keerthanas for which she may need almost an year…At this age of sixty three it’s not fair to trouble her with such a strenuous job…It doesn’t work Prasad and am very sorry for that.”
As the problem came back to square one, Prasad started feeling jittery and nervous. With all the helplessness in the world he gave a blank look at Lord Venkateswara in the portrait lying in front of him. And it was exactly at that moment, the Great Music Queen walked In Prasad and other TTD officials quickly got up in her honor and greeted her with folded hands. Requesting them to feel comfortable she then looked at the portrait of Lord Venkateswara that was kept on a small table in front of her.
What happened later was a scene to be seen to be believed. With extreme devotion MS immediately picked up the portrait with both her hands; closed her eyes for almost a minute; offered silent prayers to her beloved Lord Venkateswara in the portrait; later with tears running down her cheeks she gently placed her head at His holy feet saying in a low tone “Perumaal,ennai aasirvadhikka ithana dhooram neengale vandhuttela .. ??” (Tamil) (Oh my Venkateswara did you come all the way to bless me).
What a voice? What a devotion? And what a total surrender to her Lord Perumal? How did she get it and where did she get it from..??But why is that hidden pain in the great singer’s voice..??What happened? Is it due to the poor and stress filled conditions this evergreen queen of music is forced to live in for some time? Hey Bhagwan, what a painful time for this great lady?
Prasad who has grown up listening to MS’s devotional songs could not stand the pathetic condition of his favorite music queen, who in her times of glory walked many Red carpets around the world, now standing in front of him in a simple cotton saree.He was finding it extremely difficult to control his emotions but a tear drop still emerged at the right corner of his left eye, which he silently erased before someone else noticed it.
In the meantime Sadasivam gave a brief explanation to MS in Tamil about the Annamacharya music album proposal from TTD. She immediately said”..It’s a God sent opportunity to me and am ready to face any hardships to accomplish this task.I have got a chance to offer my services to Perumal and I will not let this opportunity go” With her firm statement MS brought smiles on everyone’s face there.
After a lot of deliberations it was decided not to burden the music queen with too much of practice and confine Annamachaya keerthanas only to first three LP records and then fill the rest of the two records with great Sanskrit literary works of other divine personalities.
Thus according to their revised plan the Annamacharya music album shall contain three LP records with rare Annamacharya keerhanas like Brahma kadigina paadamu, Naanaati batuku naatakamu,Jo Acyutananda Jojo Mukunda,Sri Mannarayana and a few more gems.
The other two LP records shall include Ganesha Pancharatnam, Madhurashtakam, Gita Govindam, Nama Ramayanam, Hanuman Chalisa, Lakshmi ashtotram, Sri Venkateswara Karavalamba Sthotram, Govindashtakam, Kanakadhara Sthavam, Durga Pancharatnam, Ranganadha Gadyam, Dwadasa Sthotram and Sivashtakam.
After all the discussions related to the music album are over, then came the most crucial phase of finalizing remuneration to the music queen which Prasad was feeling very nervous about.
Since that was the main motive behind their gathering there, Prasad mustered some courage to initiate the dialogue by saying “Amma,we are all very happy that you have agreed to take up this assignment. .May your Perumal’s blessings be with your family forever..Now with your kind permission Ammaa, I would also like to discuss about the remuneration” Prasad has not yet completed the sentence…
The music queen quickly interrupted him saying -”What remuneration? ? No remuneration .It’s a service to Perumal and am honored to get this offer.Don’t bring money in between. I will not take a single rupee for this work.”
A fully sweat filled Prasad looked worriedly at every one of his colleagues. They were all looking at him with a request to carry their burden too. Prasad knows pretty well that these are the most crucial and sensitive moments the Paramacharya cautioned me about. Folding his hands and silently offering his prayers to Lord Sri Venkateswara, Prasad started saying in a very humble tone “Amma,I agree fully that you are offering your services to your Perumal and who am I to put that to question..I also have a great respect for your feelings and your devotion towards Perumal. However Amma,I have a very humble submission to make and I hope you appreciate and understand me for that..”
MS was listening to Prasad quietly. Prasad continued.”Amma,TTD is not going to donate this album free of cost to every devotee visiting Tirupati..In fact TTD is planning to promote this album in a commercial way by selling it across all its counters in India and abroad.This will generate a lot of money for TTD and we are only requesting you to take a little amount of money from it as you are
legally entitled to receive that. The holy body of TTD is not in a position to take the services of a great devotee like you free of cost and later be blamed for that”
As everyone was listening to him, Prasad continued with folded hands. “Amma,as the executive officer of TTD am also a humble servant of Lord Venkateswara and will always be answerable to Him for every work done in the organization..I also feel that this album is the design of your Perumal Himself and that is why we are all here today. Anyways Amma, I am like your son and I said what I wanted to say. Please forgive me Amma, if you find anything wrong in what I have conveyed, I now leave the decision to you and your Perumal.”
The absolute honesty in Prasad’s emotion filled voice impressed everyone there including the noble couple of MS and Sadasivam. There was an echoing silence there for about a few minutes with blank faces staring at each other.
Finally the ice was broken as the music queen smiled and agreed with Prasad’s view point. Prasad looked thankfully at the portrait of Lord Sri Venkateswara that is there in front of him. After discussing a few more points the historical meeting concluded on a positive note leaving every one there with utmost satisfaction.
Finally Prasad shot the million dollar question.”What should be the title of this Annamacharya music album?” Prompt came the reply from the music queen-“Balaji Pancharatnamala”
Later HMV recording company entered into an agreement with TTD to market the proposed music album “Balaji Pancharatnamala” and agreed to bear with all its recording expenses. As part of their understanding TTD immediately deposited rupees four lakhs in the name of MS, two lakhs in the name of Sadasivam and one lakh in the name of their daughter Radha Viswanathan who will also be taking part in the music album project. This amount will be kept in a fixed deposit and the accrued monthly interest will be going to them as long as they so desire.
After successfully completing its recording in 1980, the album”Balaji Pancharatnamala” was simultaneously released all over India in an unprecedented fashion…While the first LP was released by the then President of India Neelam Sanjeeva Reddy, the second was released by the Prime Minister Indira Gandhi. Rest of the three albums was released by the chief ministers and governors in their respective states. The fifth album was released by the Peetadhipathis of various Peethams spread all over India.
In the very first year of its release the “Balaji Pancharatnamala” album received tremendous response from all over India generating a record amount of revenue recovering the entire money spent on it. This album went on to break all the previous records in India making MS a household name all over the country.
In 1998 the government of India honored MS with the country’s highest civilian award the “Bharat Ratna” for revolutionizing devotional music in India and also for earning global recognition to Indian classical music. Unfortunately Sadasivam was not there to witness this once in a life time event as he passed away just a year before that in 1997.
Most of the literary masterpieces by great sages would have remained unknown to the world if they were not given that magical touch by the mellifluous golden voice of MS.
Finally on 11th December2004, leaving behind a legacy of devotional classicism and leaving every music fan in an emotional sea of tears and melancholy, music queen MS left this human world and entered the holy abode of her beloved Lord Perumal and remained there rested in
peace at His divine Lotus feet.
“Puttutayu nijamu,povutayu nijamu… Nattanadi mee pani natakamu..
Yettanedhuta galadi prapanchamu.. Kattakadapatidhi kaivalyamu..
Naanaati batuku naatakamu..Naatakamu..Naatakamu..”
– Saint Annamacharya
Categories: Devotee Experiences