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First musician awarded Bharat Ratna

First Musician To Receive Bharat Ratna

The Bharat Ratna is the highest civilian award in India, bestowed upon individuals who have made exceptional contributions to various fields. While many renowned personalities from different domains have received this prestigious honor, one musician stands out as the first recipient of the Bharat Ratna. This article delves into the life and achievements of this remarkable artist, highlighting their significant impact on Indian music and culture.


Subbulakshmi, also known as Kunjamma within her family, came into the world on 16th September 1916 in Madurai, Tamil Nadu. She was born to Shanmukavadiver Ammal and Subramania Iyer, both of whom were involved in music. Interestingly, her grandmother Akkammal possessed remarkable skills as a violinist.

She began her musical journey at a young age and received training in Carnatic music from renowned teachers.

Subbulakshmi, the daughter of a renowned musician from her community, was raised in a musical environment that greatly supported her learning. She had the privilege of interacting with esteemed musicians like Mazhavarayanendal Subbarama Bhagavathar, which further influenced her passion for music.

Subbulakshmi made her debut in the public sphere at the tender age of eleven, back in 1927. Her first performance took place in a renowned venue called the 100 pillar hall, accompanied by Mysore Chowdiah on the violin and Dakshinamurthy Pillai on the mridangam. This event was organized under the guidance of a prominent leader from Tiruchirappalli.

Relocate to Chennai

In 1936, Subbulakshmi relocated to (now Chennai) and ventured into the film industry in 1938. She made her first appearance on the silver screen alongside…

First Musician To Be Honored With Bharat Ratna

In 1938, a photograph captured M.S. Subbulakshmi alongside S. Varalakshmi.

Singing career

M.S. Subbulakshmi commenced her training in Carnatic classical music under the guidance of her mother, Shanmukhavadivu. She also received Hindustani classical training from Pandit Narayan Rao Vyas. At the age of 10, Subbulakshmi released her initial recorded performance.

At the age of 13, Subbulakshmi showcased her talent by performing at a renowned academy in 1929. This was a remarkable opportunity for her as she was invited to sing Hindu hymns, breaking the tradition of selecting only established artists. Her mesmerizing performance garnered immense praise from both critics and fans, who hailed her as a musical prodigy. Following this successful debut, Subbulakshmi quickly rose to prominence and became one of the leading figures in Carnatic vocal music.

At just seventeen years old, Subbulakshmi began performing solo concerts, which included notable appearances at prestigious venues.

She represented India as a cultural ambassador, performing in various countries including London, New York, Canada, the Far East, and other places. Some notable concerts she gave were at the Royal Academy of Music and Drama in 1963, New York on UN day in 1966, London in 1982, and the Festival of India in Moscow in 1987.

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In 1969, she visited Rameswaram with Advisor SN Venkata Rao and sang multiple songs in front of each deity. She had a friendly connection with Sree Ramaseva Mandali Bengaluru and gave 36 concerts for them.

Following the demise of her spouse in 1997, she ceased all public appearances. She concluded her career with a final performance in 1997 before retiring from live concerts.

On 11th December 2004, M. S. Subbulakshmi passed away at her residence in Kotturpuram, Chennai.


M.S. also dabbled in acting during her younger days and made her debut in the film industry with a movie called . Released on 2 May 1938, the film starred as the main actor alongside Subbulakshmi. Directed by , it received positive reviews from critics and was well-received by audiences, both commercially and artistically. The film was particularly praised by on 8 May 1938:

We should always expect something from Subramaniam’s direction – for instance depiction of social ills. If we have to say only two words about this talkie based on Premchand’s story it is – Go see (it).

Sevasadanam stands out as one of the initial Tamil movies that portrayed a modern-day society and promoted progressive social initiatives.

The renowned Marxist leader praised the film Sevasadanam for its bold choice of addressing the issue of marriages between young girls and old men, which was socially accepted at that time. He commended the film for effectively portraying the suffering endured by the girl and the mental anguish experienced by her elderly husband. According to Tamil film critic Aranthai Narayanan in his book Thamizh Cinemavin Kathai (The Story of Tamil Cinema), Seva Sadhanam marked a significant turning point in Tamil cinema history. The climax scene, where the transformed aged husband contemptuously discards his sacred thread symbolizing Brahmin superiority, had a profound impact on orthodox Brahmins at that time.

MS Subbulakshmi also played the male role of in Savitri (1941) to raise money for launching , her husband’s nationalist Tamil weekly. Her title role of the saint-poetess in the eponymous 1945 gave her national prominence. This movie was re-made in Hindi in 1947.

Year Film Language Role Co-Star Director Music Banner

1938 Sumathi Tamil Sumathi N/A N/A N/A Madras United Artists Corporation

1940 N/A Tamil N/A N/A Thuraiyur Rajagopala Sarma & N/A

1941 N/A Tamil N/A N/A Y. V. Rao Papanasam Sivan Royal Talkie Distributors

1945 N\A Tamil N\A Ellis R. Dungan Chandraprabha Cinetone

1947 Meerabai Hindi Meerabai Dilip Kumar Roy Chandraprabha Cinetone

1947 N\A Tamil Dancer N\A Ellis R. Dungan

Who was the inaugural musician to receive the Bharat Ratna award?

Madurai Shanmukhavadivu Subbulakshmi, also known as MS Subbulakshmi, was a famous singer from Madurai in the state of Tamil Nadu, India. She specialized in Carnatic music, which is a traditional form of Indian classical music. Born on September 16, 1916, she became widely recognized for her exceptional talent and mesmerizing voice.

In recognition of her immense contribution to the field of music and promoting Indian culture through her performances worldwide, MS Subbulakshmi received the Bharat Ratna award. The Bharat Ratna is the highest civilian honor given by the Government of India to individuals who have made outstanding achievements in various fields. It is considered a prestigious accolade that recognizes excellence and significant contributions towards society.

Awards and honours

M. S. Subbulakshmi adorned herself with a saree in the distinctive shade known as MS Blue, which has become closely associated with her name.

M.S. Subbulakshmi was highly praised by a prominent national leader who referred to her as the “Queen of Music” and himself as a mere Prime Minister in comparison. She was also given various other titles such as Tapaswini, Suswaralakshmi, and Aathuvaan Sur, highlighting her exceptional musical talent. Another respected figure called her the “Nightingale of India”. Among her notable performances were the recitation of Pancharatnam (a set of five hymns), rendering the 1000 names of Lord Vishnu, and singing devotional songs to awaken Lord Balaji in the morning.

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She received widespread recognition, admiration, and accolades. Some of the notable ones include:

  • in 1954
  • in 1956
  • in 1968
  • (often considered Asia’s Nobel Prize) in 1974
  • in 1975
  • in 1975 by The Indian Fine Arts Society, Chennai
  • in 1988
  • Indira Gandhi Award for National Integration in 1990
  • in 1998

M.S. Subbulakshmi, a renowned musician, was recognized for her contributions to the arts by being appointed as a resident artist of Tirupati Urban Development Authority (TUDA). In honor of her achievements, TUDA erected a bronze statue of M.S. Subbulakshmi at the Poornakumbham circle in the sacred town. The unveiling ceremony took place on 28 May 2006 and was attended by the Chief Minister of Andhra Pradesh.

The renowned Congress party member and philanthropist, Sri Muthu Chettiyar, named the shade of Kancheepuram Saree as MS Blue in honor of her. This happened during a meeting at the residence of Sri R. Aiyadurai and Smt. Thangam Aiyadurai on Lady Desikachari Road in Madras, who were close friends of MS Subbulakshmi and her husband Sadasivam.

On December 18, 2005, a special stamp was released in honor of her achievements.

The United Nations has chosen to release a commemorative stamp in honor of the 100th birth anniversary of M.S. Subbulakshmi, the renowned musician from India.

She was bestowed with enormous prize moneys with these awards, most of which she donated to charity. She has given more than 200 charity concerts and raised well over Rs. 10,000,000. She was awarded honorary degrees from several Universities. She was an ardent devotee of and she rendered his composition “Maithreem Bhajatha” (O World! Cultivate peace) in her concert at the UN in 1966. She made a 20-minute recording of “Venkatesa Suprabhatam” for , the royalty from which goes to the Veda Patasala run by the Tirupati Tirumala Devasthanam. She donated many of the royalties on several best sold records to many charity organisations.

Bharat Ratna Award Recipient in the Field of Music

Bhimsen Joshi, a renowned musician, was born on 4 February 1922 in Karnataka, India. Even at a young age, he had a deep passion for music. When he was just 11 years old, Bhimsen Joshi left his home in search of a Guru (teacher) who could guide him and help him develop his musical talent.

Leaving home at such a tender age shows how dedicated Bhimsen Joshi was to pursuing his love for music. He understood that finding the right mentor would be crucial in honing his skills and learning the intricacies of Indian classical music.

By leaving home to find a Guru, Bhimsen Joshi demonstrated immense determination and commitment towards achieving excellence in music. This decision marked the beginning of an extraordinary journey that eventually led him to become one of the most celebrated musicians not only in India but also globally.


Some books and articles have been written about M.S. Subbulakshmi, the first musician to receive Bharat Ratna. These include “M.S. Subbulaksmi, the Voice Divine” by V. Gangadhar, “MS – A Life in Music” published by HarperCollins in 2004, an article by Gowri Ramnarayan titled “MS & Radha – Saga of Steadfast Devotion,” and a book called “Of Gifted Voice: The Life and Art of M.S. Subbulakshmi” also published by Harper Collins.

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The information about the first musician to receive Bharat Ratna can be found in the archives of the National Geographic Society, as of November 14, 2006.

Who achieved the first Indian musician to?

The first musician to receive the prestigious Bharat Ratna award in India is MS Subbulakshmi. She holds a significant place in Indian classical music history and has made remarkable contributions to the field. Not only was she honored with this esteemed award, but she also achieved several other notable milestones throughout her career.

MS Subbulakshmi gained international recognition as the first Indian classical musician to perform at the United Nations General Assembly in 1966. Her mesmerizing performance captivated audiences from around the world, showcasing the beauty and depth of Indian classical music on a global platform. This groundbreaking achievement not only brought her immense fame but also helped popularize Carnatic music internationally.

Who possesses Bharat Ratna?

This historic achievement by Sachin Tendulkar serves as an inspiration not only for sports enthusiasts but also for anyone striving towards excellence in their respective fields. It highlights how sporting achievements can transcend boundaries and be acknowledged at the highest levels of national recognition like the Bharat Ratna.

Who receives the Bharat Ratna award in singing?

In 1998, a significant milestone was achieved in the world of music when Subbalakshmi became the first musician to receive the prestigious Bharat Ratna award. This recognition not only celebrated her exceptional talent but also marked a historic moment for Indian classical music. Following in her footsteps, other legendary musicians were honored with this esteemed award in subsequent years.

In 2001, two more luminaries from the world of music were bestowed with the Bharat Ratna – Utad Bismillah Khan and Sushri Lata Mangeshkar. Utad Bismillah Khan was a masterful shehnai player who had mesmerized listeners with his soul-stirring performances. On the other hand, Sushri Lata Mangeshkar was hailed as the “Nightingale of India” due to her enchanting voice that graced countless Bollywood films over several decades.

Number of Bharat Ratna recipients who were Prime Ministers

In a significant announcement, Prime Minister Narendra Modi has revealed that three eminent individuals will be honored with the prestigious Bharat Ratna award. The recipients of this highest civilian honor in India are former prime ministers P V Narasimha Rao and Charan Singh, as well as M S Swaminathan, known for his pioneering work in the field of green revolution.

These exceptional individuals have made immense contributions to their respective fields and have left an indelible mark on Indian society. By conferring them with Bharat Ratna, their invaluable efforts are being recognized at a national level, honoring their outstanding achievements and inspiring future generations.

Who received the Bharat Ratna in 2001 as a musician?

Pandit Bhimsen Gururaj Joshi was a renowned Hindustani classical vocalist hailing from Karnataka. He is considered one of the greatest musicians in India.