The skyline of the city may be akin to an upward piercing graph; the persistent hum and distant drone of traffic the background score for the urban soul. However, way before day breaks, perhaps one of the earliest notes to waft through the air waves would be the Venketeswara Suprabhatam sung by the late and renowned Carnatic vocalist MS Subbulakshmi, from the very many temples punctuating the urban landscape, ushering in the dawn.
‘Kausalyasupraja rama purva sandhya pravartate uttishta narasardula karttavyam daivamahnikam’
‘O! Rama! Kausalya’s auspicious child! Twilight is approaching in the East.
O best of men (Purushottama)! Wake up, the divine daily rituals have to be performed.”
The mellifluous notes waft from the nearby Thrikkakara temple, one of the few temples in India dedicated to Lord Vamana, the fifth incarnation of Lord Vishnu.
When it comes to awakening the deity early in the morning the Venketeswara Suprabhatam rendered by Carnatic exponent MS Subbulakshmi inevitably comes into the picture. “Temples all over play the Suprabhatam sung by MS. The idea of waking the deity in the morning can be traced to the Tamil Bhakti movement,” says Jeevan, sopanam singer at the Thrikkakara temple.
The Venketeswara Suprabhatam was composed around 1430 AD by Sri Anantacharya . Compelling imagery and metaphors mark the holy chant: the deities, their incarnations, lotuses, parrots, bees, arecanut trees, parijata, the veena, the womenfolk churning curd, the nine planets, the Ganges, spices, wealth and virtues of the cosmos are brought to the fore.
The rendition of the Suprabhatam by MS, also resonate through the temples dedicated to Lord Venketeswara worldwide: Birmingham (UK), Sydney (Australia), and in locations like New Jersey, Greater Chicago, Pittsburg, Bridgewater and Atlanta (USA).
“In fact, the three -- MS, Suprabhatam, and Lord Balaji - form an inseparable triad,” says Lalgudi GJR Krishnan, renowned Carnatic violinist, vocalist and composer. “Her voice has the quality of arresting the attention, calming and disciplining the mind of the listener. Her sonorous voice has the ideal overtones that a singer can ascribe for.”
The Suprabhatam comes closest to the Madhyamavathi scale of the Carnatic ragas. This rendering reminds one of Lord Balaji and a perfect divine morning, he adds.
MS’s mellifluous renditions of devotionals, classical and semi-classical music are played over and over in the minds of her avid fans and music lovers. “MS can be aptly called the ultimate eighth note of music, which is above the seven musical notes. The diction and tempo of her rendition of Suprabhatam is unique,” says M N Moorthy, renowned violinist and Head of Department of Violin, Swathi Thirunal College of Music. He fondly recalls the many concerts of MS held in the college in the 1970s.
The sale of the Suprabhatam records has witnessed a steady trend over the years. Among the devotionals , MS’s
Venketesawara Suprabhatam followed by her Haja Govindam hold the sway, with undiminished popularity. Under the Carnatic vocals, her concert Naadasudharasa tops the charts, said the manager of Music World.
The pristine voice of the artist, thus befit to coax the world of deities and beyond, captivates the cognoscenti and ordinary folks alike. The 96th birth anniversary of the renowned Carnatic vocalist falls on September 16.