Balasaraswati and MS Subbulakshmi Smoking Cigarettes: Fact Check

Image about Legends Balasaraswati and Subbulakshmi Smoking Cigarettes
Legends Balasaraswati and Subbulakshmi Smoking Cigarettes, Picture


Rare photograph of Legendary Indian women artists Balasaraswati and Subbulakshmi Smoking Cigarettes in their Teenage. Dressed in Western style..

Fact Check:

A fascinating and ‘controversial’ picture in circulation on social media purports to show Indian legendary women Balasaraswati and MS Subbulakshmi Smoking Cigarettes. The black and white photograph appears to show the world famous artists dressed in western style in their teenage. The photograph is real, but as such the women – well-known for their traditional south Indian dressing style – are not smoking cigarettes. They were just having some fun in a photo studio.

Balasaraswati and Subbulakshmi Not Smoking Cigarettes

While T Balasaraswati is a legendary Bharatanatyam dancer, MS Subbulakshmi is a world-renowned Carnatic singer. Both the Indian women are in fact known for their traditional south Indian dressing style. So, their teenage picture appearing to show them dressed in Western sleepwear and smoking cigarettes comes as a surprise to the viewers. The old black and white picture is real, but the context is something on a lighter note.

One day in 1937, the two young long-haired women in saris stepped into a small photo studio in Madras (now Chennai). Dressed in striped pajama suits, they both posed for the cameras holding unlit cigarettes – pretending to smoke. The two teenage friends were in fact having a bit of fun. The iconic picture of the world famous artists breaking stereotypes would have raised several eyebrows back in 1930s. But it was made public decades later, in the 2010 biography of Balasaraswati: Her Art & Life penned by her son-in-law Douglas M. Knight Jr. The caption of the photograph says: ‘The two teenaged friends both became world-famous artists. From strictly disciplined households, the two asserted their independence by secretly arranging this photograph of themselves dressed outrageously in Western-style sleepwear and pretending to smoke cigarettes.”

The fascinating picture of Balasaraswati and Subbulakshmi pretending to smoke cigarettes also appeared on Madras Local History Facebook group. It started doing rounds on social media since then.

Hoax or Fact:

Mixture of Hoax and Facts.


With pajamas and cigarettes, singer M S Subbulakshmi and dancer T Balasaraswathi broke stereotypes back in 1937

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Prashanth Damarla