Courtesy: Sri.PP.Ramachandran

12.SMT.M.L.VASANTHAKUMARI ( 1928 --1990)
Madras Lalithangi Vasanthakumari or MLV was the only child of Ayyaswami Iyer and Madras Lalithangi. The father hailed from Koothanur noted for Saraswati temples. He got trained under Kothavasal Venkatarama Iyer, a famed composer and musician. He specialized in Tyagaraja kritis. Also he became well versed in Hindustani music. Not finding much popularity he moved to become a tutor in Calcutta and Hyderabad.

He shifted to Madras and started teaching music to Coimbatore Thayi and Tiruvarur Rajayee, two famed singers. He also began teaching Lalithangi daughter of Perumalkoil Narayanamma, a devadasi. Iyer and Lalithangi set up home despite their age difference of 20 years. Lalithangi was a competent singer who was the first to record a nationalist song. She also sang an elegy on C.R.Das.


Vasanthi was born in this artistic milieu as the couple's only child. For her cradle ceremony there was a concert by Maharajapuram Viswanatha Iyer. Even as a three year old child Vasanthi had developed a remarkable sense of swaras and ragas.


Iyer became guru to the children of Dr.Rama Rau, a famous physician who was the Founder-President of Madras Music Academy and later President of the Madras Legislative Council. To his house came a Yogi from Mysore who knew several songs of Purandara and other Dasas. She and Iyer learnt the songs and taught them to their daughter.


Owing to strained circumstances several wards left Madras and the Iyers faced difficulty. Help came in the form of Ranga Ramanuja Iyengar an eminent musicologist. Iyer brought out the Purandara Mani Mala with notations by mother and daughter. MLV was only 13 when she worked on the music book. The book was a great success and Lalithangi got invitations to perform in Simla and Bangalore. Just before the Bangalore concert Lalithangi had a severe bout of asthma and the organizers decided to allow the daughter to sing. The concert was a great success. A few months later she released her first 78 rpm—which was also a great success.


Impressed with her performance at an All India Radio concert GNB accepted Vasanthi as a disciple. Encouraged by him and her parents she embarked on her concert-career in mid-1940s. She rapidly reached the level of M.S and Pattammal. She underwent training under Mudicondan Venkatarama Iyer and acquired mastery over pallavis. She sang racy Tamizh songs and devotion filled Dasa padas taught by her mother.


MLV played a major role in playback singing for movies.MKT influenced her father to allow her to sing for his film Raja Mukti. The song Enna Anandam, a duet between MKT and MLV became a great hit but the film was a flop..She sang many dance songs for artists like Lalitha, Padmini and Ragini. The most popular songs were Ellam Inba Mayam and Chinnamchiru Kiliye from the film Manamagal.


MLV was married to R.Krishnamurthy in 1951 in Tirupati. Kalki Krishnamurthy and Kasturi Srinivasan of Hindu signed the register as witnesses. A daughter Srividya and a son Shankararaman were born to the couple. Srividya became a film actress.


Bade Ghulam Ali Khan, when he visited Madras in 1954 stayed in the first floor of MLV's residence. He liked her programmes. Once on his way back to Bombay on learning MLV was in the same train, he moved over to her compartment and the two performed jugalbandis to the delight of fellow passengers.


MLV began travelling overseas for performances in Sri Lanka, U S A, Malaysia, Singapore and Nepal. She bagged several awards, The Sangeetha Ratnakar was conferred on her in Coimbatore for popularising Purandara Dasa. She got the Padma Bhushan when she was only 39. She was the fifth lady to receive the Sangeetha Kalanidhi award.

MLV was fluent in English and loved to watch cricket. She would cheer the cricket team in Chepauk and rush off to a performance in the city. MLV taught music in the Rishi Valley Public School where Palghat Mani Iyer taught mridangam.

Her last years were one of suffering from cancer. She passed away in 1990. To a journalist who had once asked her to sum up her life in one word, she had in a mood of despondency said,"Tragedy".

One Request
Revised para for Viswanatha Iyer--Kindly incorporate this para instead of the original one on Nandanar.

"In 1935 he accepted an offer to act in the film Nandanar. He played the role of the Brahmin landlord. The role of Nandan was played by K.B.Sundarambal. The Opera had been written by Gopalakrishna Bharati. The film did not click. While Iyer was paid a paltry sum of Rs 3000. Sundarambal was given Rs 100,000. The opera had a scene where the landlord realizing Nandan's greatness falls at his feet. Sundarambal was very reluctant to have Viswanatha Iyer, who was a good friend and her elder by a few years touch her feet. The Brahmin community waited with bated breath to see the outcome. The director solved it smoothly by getting both of them to fall at each other's feet."


Additional Information

My brother-in-law, Shri. P.N.V.Krishnan, from USA, suggested that I give the periods of the artists.

Here they are---

1. Ariyakkudi-- 1890--1967

2. Semmangudi--1908--2003

3. Subbulakshmi--1916--2004

4. Dwaram--1893--1964

5. Chembai 1896--1974

6. Madurai Mani Iyer 1912--1968

7. Palghat Mani Iyer--1912--1981

8. G.N.Balasubramaniam 1910--1965

9. D.K.Pattammal 1919-- 2009

10. Maharajapuram Viswanatha Iyer 1896--1970

11. Alathoor Brothers-
Srinivasa 1911--1960
Sivasubramania 1916--1965

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