Pattukkottai Kalyanaasundaram


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Pattukkottaiyaar (Pattukkottai Kalyanasundaram): A brief biography 


Duraiswamy Navaneetham

1930 - 1959

Who was Kalyanasundaram? 

Sengam Padaithan Kadu, as Pattukkottaiyaar liked to call it, was the village, that gave rise to Pattukkottai Kalyanasundaram, who in turn, left behind a wealth of simple but immortal lyrics to the world. His beautiful village, now being called in a corrupt form, Sengappaduthan Kadu, is located Southeast of local revenue head-quarters, Pattukkottai (10o15'36'' North / 79o19'37'' East), in Thanjavur District of Tamilnadu, India. 

Kalyanasundaram was born to Arunachalanaar and Visalatchi Ammaiyaar in a humble farming family on April 13, 1930. Nobody witnessed any sign of a poet-in-the-making in young Kalyanasundaram. Neither did he have a formal education, nor did he complete his schooling. However, as it may be unfair not to expect a poet from a family that had a tradition of poets, Kalyanasundaram will transform to be a poet and will come to be known as 'Pattukkottai Kalyanasundaram'. Kalyanasundaram's father is known to have written a treatise called Musukundanaattu Vazhinadaik Kummi. This book was written in traditional Kummi, a distinct Tamil poetical style. His surviving brother Mr. Ganapathisundaram, a poet and a playwright, played the role of a constructive critic and helped Kalyanasundaram grow into what we know him as today. Therefore, it may not be inappropriate to say that young Kalyanasundaram was basically 'equipped' with talents and expressed them at his earliest opportunity. 

In his mid-teens, perhaps around fifteen, his first song, based on a real event, was composed. One fine evening, Kalyanasundaram was returning from the paddy field and was walking along the bank of Thuraiyankulam, a pond in his village. Something beneath the ripples caught his attention. The observation transformed into words,

It was not just the moment of birth of a song, but of a poet. He would soon embark upon building a bridge between common people and literature. His first song was not written down then, but was simply orally recited and became familiar among his friends. The song does have Monai in it, which gives it rhythm, even though it does not have complex grammar! 

What was Kalyanasundaram going to be?

Kalyanasundaram soon grew into a tall handsome young man. His family was not an influential one and he had only limited alternatives to contemplate. He himself did not seriously consider poetry for his career. His attention turned towards acting. Yes, acting, indeed! In the mean time he had many opportunities to learn first-hand, the sufferings of common folk, who toiled dawn to dusk tilling their tiny pieces of lands. He himself worked alongside them. His labors and struggles were not just physical, but a kind of resource that enriched his thoughts, which will later transform into immortal lyrics. It may be a wild guess, but what if Kalyanasundaram had been born in a wealthy family in the same village and educated in formal Tamil literature? Perhaps, a typical feudal lord, or a poet of higher order who never cared for common folks' miseries! 

He had an inclination for the 'Self-respect Movement', which was storming across the length and breadth of the extreme south of the erstwhile Madras Presidency and was spearheaded by the legendary EVR Periyar. Young men were gravitated towards Periyar's thought provoking speeches, which did make sense to those who had been let down for too long in the name of destiny. No wonder then that Kalyanasundaram too was attracted by it. During this time he also had opportunities to listen to the fiery speeches of Self-respect Movement's indisputable pillar, Pattukkottai Azhagiri. 

Had career been chosen?

An actor from Pattukkottai named T. S. Durairaj was then with Modern Theaters, a movie making company in Salem (This company used to make cowboy-style movies as late as 1970s. The Eastern Ghats around Salem was well suited for this kind of movies). Upon approach, Mr. Durairaj suggested Kalyanasundaram to join drama before attempting for movies and sent him to 'Sakthi Naataka Sabha' in Madurai. He started out not as an actor, but as a crew member. One of his earliest dramas was 'Kaviyin Kanavu'. He played the role of Rajaguru in Kaviyin Kanavu. This was in October 1951. It is not clear what his first drama was, as this company was managing quite a few dramas around that time, such as, 'D.S.P.', 'En Thankai', 'Muthal Rowdy'. During this period he was known as A.K. Sundaram, a shortened form of his lengthy name - Arunachalam Kalyanasundaram! He also played comedy roles. The drama troupe moved from place to place. Thus Kalyanasundaram came to Pondicherry along with the troupe. His moving to Pondicherry would have bearings in his future endeavors. 

He had a chance to meet 'Paavendhar' Bharathidasan in Pondicherry, during the first half of 1952 and became well acquainted with him. During his association with Bharathidasan, copying his poems and documenting them properly were his chores. In other words, he was a student of Bharathidasan. Kalyanasundaram even wrote poems with the pseudonym 'Akalya', an acronym coined from his lengthy name! Bharathidasan was then writing dialogues and lyrics for Modern Theaters. This enabled Kalyanasundaram to visit movie production companies along with his mentor. Later Bharathidasan quit writing for Modern Theaters, but Kalyanasundaram stayed on for a while. However, the latter himself does not appear to have written songs for movies at this juncture. For a while, he also worked for Bharathidasan's magazine 'Kuyil'. 

His sojourn with Bharathidasan sharpened his poetry skills. Though both were poets, technically Paavendhar and Kalyanasundaram were poles apart. Bharathidasan was known for handling sophistication, in the modern tradition of Bharathiyar, while Kalyanasundaram was interested in simplicity and incorporated plenty of dialectical Tamil words. Though their styles differed, their works catered to the demands of both common folk as well as literate Tamils. 

Soon 'Sakthi Naataka Sabha' was dissolved. Kalyanasundaram moved to Madras and joined 'Sivaji Naataka Mantram' and continued acting. This was probably in 1953 (exact time is not traceable). After an initial phase of financial hardship, writing songs to this and other drama companies and acting, eased his monetary constraints. 

Kalyanasundaram's stay in Madras brought him several new contacts. One of them was 'comrade' Jeeva, who was then the editor of the communist mouth-piece 'Janasakthi'. Kalyanasundaram's first published poem appeared in 'Janasakthi' in 1954 under the name 'Pattukkottai Kalyanasundaram'. 

His first songs were written for a drama, 'Kannin Manikal'. The story of this drama revolved around labor issues and voiced communist principles. Jeeva recommended Kalyanasundaram to write songs for 'Kannin Manikal'. 

Career had been chosen and no turning back  

Even as he continued acting and writing lyrics for drama, Kalyanasundaram turned his attention to Kodampakkam, which was a hot-spot for film making. Initial attempts were not so encouraging. Nevertheless Kalyanasundaram's determination and self-confidence propelled him to siege the fort. His relentless assault on Kodampakkam paid him handsome dividends! In 1954 he made his debut as lyricist in the film 'Paditha Pen', which was released only in 1956. The song was written for the situation of a photographer  soliciting the bystanders to have their photos taken. 

His second movie was 'Maheswari' in 1955. He wrote five songs for this movie and it was released prior to 'Paditha Pen'! Hence 'Maheswari' was the first movie that carried Kalyanasundaram's songs. This was a windfall for Pattukkottai Kalyanasundaram. From here, he never looked back, both professionally and financially. He quit acting and devoted all his time to composing lyrics. 

The 'promotions' in Kalyanasundaram's personal lifeKalyanasundaram married to a wonderful woman, Gowravambal from Athikkottai (a village adjacent to Pattukkottai) at the age of 27. His mentor Bharathidasan presided over the nuptials on September 11, 1957 at Madras and it was well attended. In 1959, this couple gave birth to a fine baby boy. They named him Kumaravel. 'Makkal Kavignar' Pattukkottai KalyanasundaramIn 1958 Tamil cinema magazine, 'Pesum Padam', chose Kalyanasundaram as the best lyricist of the year. The title 'Makkal Kavignar' was conferred on him by Coimbatore Labor Union (?) sometime in 1959. Poems reflect the principles held by poets. With Kalyanasundaram, sympathizing with the poor and the under privileged, and exposing those who predate on them, were the governing principles. There is a high frequency of such ideas, in the form of giving advice to the common man, in his lyrics. Thus he wrote and lived for common folk. He indeed deserves to be called 'Makkal Kavignar'. 

Candle in the wind. But the wind turned violent - a bit too early

Within five years (1954 - 1959) he made remarkable ascent in the filmdom of southern India. This may be termed as an accomplishment. His meteoric rise was not any chance, but his preparedness to make use of opportunities well. The candle was burning brighter as days passed by. However, nature had for him and the Tamil country an altogether different agenda. Yes, it all started with a minor headache that progressed into severe migraine. It was sometime around late September 1959. Pattukkottaiyaar underwent a surgery on his nose. It was supposed to have been a minor surgical operation. But the wind was determined to show its strength. Pattukkottaiyaar got into post-operative complications. Bleeding due to the surgery became more severe. It appeared he did indeed recover from bleeding shortly after, but a sudden massive bleeding took its toll on October 8, 1959.  The bright roaring meteor went into tranquillity at the same velocity that it came. The man who was made to leave marks in history, did so within a short period of three decades and became immortal by his lyrics. 

After the untimely demise of Pattukkottaiyaar, there were several movies released that had his lyrics, thus stretching his legacy for another half-a-decade. The last movie was 'Mahane Kel', released in 1965. In total he had written lyrics for 58 movies. 

Pattukkottai Kalyanasundaram remembered

First compilation of Pattukkottai Kalyanasundaram's songs appeared in 1965 in print form. This was possible by the tireless work of P.E. Balakrishnan and his publisher 'NCBH'. Later various authors took up the cause and worked on it. Some of them were dedicated to bring out complete or near complete versions of Pattukkottaiyaar's works. P.E.B. and K. Jeevabharathi have done their best. Comparative studies and criticism have also been published in the form of books by several authors, like Irakuladasan, M.P. Manivel, Tha. Pandian, Su. Solamon Pappaiah, Ki. Sembiyan, Paa. Veeramoni,  Paa. Udayakumar and others. Such books by experts are much needed. In such books, researchers weigh poets against other comparable poets and criticize their poems and bring forth justifications for it, which reveal hidden meanings of the poets' verses. In other words, poets and their poems are 'exposed'! A personal documentary with special reference to Pattukkottaiyaar has been published by 'Dilrooba' Shanmugam. This book provides insight into Pattukkottaiyaar's personal dimensions. Also, innumerable articles on Pattukkottaiyaar have been published, since his death, in various Tamil magazines. University of Madras has an endowment that funds research projects on Pattukkottaiyaar's works. 

Tamilnadu Murpokku Ezhuthalar Sangam, Pattukkottai, brought out souvenirs on 50th, 56th and 60th birth anniversaries of Pattukkottaiyaar. A bronze statue was unveiled at a busy junction in Pattukkottai town and a special souvenir was released on the statue unveiling ceremony in 1995. (See 'References' for complete information).

The Government of Tamil Nadu has fittingly done its part by recognizing Pattukkottaiyaar. In 1981, then Chief Minister of the state, Mr.M.G. Ramachandran conferred posthumously the prestigious Bharathidasan Award to Pattukkottaiyaar. Later in 1993, then Chief Minister Ms. Jayalalitha Jayaram declared nationalization of Pattukkottaiyaar's literary works. A memorial structure, Pattukkottai Kalyanasundaram Manimandapam, has been erected in Pattukkottai and was inaugurated by then Chief Minister Mr. Muthuvel Karunanidhi in 2000.

'Makkal Kavignar' is a reformer in principles

Kalyanasundaram was a simple rustic lad from an obscure hamlet, who launched himself into the spotlight of literary circles and became one of the very few luminaries who cared for the illiterate and the oppressed. He was compassionate to the downtrodden and despised the unfaithful. He treated friends with extreme respect and maintained lasting friendship with several of them. He was a progressive thinker and expected the society to be so. He criticized the shackles of rigid caste practices. He sarcastically questions God, 

In yet another song, he lambastes the 'creators' of the caste barriers and wonders about the consequences of these (in)visible barriers. 

When it comes to marriage, for the Tamil society, blind faith in traditions overwhelm rationality. As time cascades and society evolves, there are certain rituals and formalities which need to be jettisoned, as they become obsolete, in order to strengthen the foundation for the future generations. As 'Mahakavi' Bharathi said 'Ini Oru Vithi Seivom', Pattukkottaiyaar too chalks out his plan to meet the time-demanded changes. Here it goes, 

Raja Ram Mohan Rai brought about the liberation of widows by legally putting an end to the infamous 'Sati'. But this did not protect widows from fire, the social fire. Widows are considered a social burden, even today. Bharathidasan lashed out at this in several of his poems.  Pattukkottaiyaar too contributes his share.

His ideas were revolutionary. But revolutionaries alone cannot make big changes to the society. It is the followers, who have the responsibility to bring about the development. But this part  largely remains undone.

Tributes to Pattukkottaiyaar

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Select Songs of Pattukkottaiyaar

(This lyric was written in 1954, but the movie was relaesed in 1956) 

References and Further Readings

This article is dedicated to my school-time friend Mohan, who is no more.

Acknowledgments and Notes Thanks are due to K. Manoharan, who came up with the idea of establishing an exclusive website for Pattukkottaiyaar and patiently waited for me to complete this article. R. Mathivanan for arranging source materials and accepting the expenses incurred by the process of collecting and mailing them. Dr. Ravikumar Aalinkeel at the State University of New York at Buffalo, who spared his time to correct the manuscript at a short notice. Anandhi Narayanswamy for fine-tuning the manuscript. The author acknowledges  T. Govindaraj, creator of Palladam Tamil font and Dr. K. Kalyanasundaram, creator of Mylai Tamil font, which are used in this article. This article is intended to give a brief account of Pattukkottaiyaar's personal history, but not his literary accomplishments. Though based on available literature on Pattukkottaiyaar, it does not claim the chronological accuracy of events depicted here. The content of this article is for academic and personal use only and may not be used for commercial purposes.

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  © Copyright 1999 - 2013 Pattukkottaiyaar (Pattukkottai Kalyanasundaram): A brief biography by Duraiswamy Navaneetham

This article was created and first published on July 17, 1999 and last updated on July 3, 2011. 

No substantial change has been made to contents of the original version. But the current version has tandem addition of two previously separate articles.

Plagiarism - The above article, in part or full, has been copied by several others. Please read this section to understand the background of the story!

Plagiarism is an unauthorized use of another author's work, literary or otherwise, and representing it as one's original work. The standard moral practice is that when a person writes an article (or creates a work) on a topic and this person takes information from someone else who has written on the same topic earlier, it is customary to refer the earlier work in the 'References' section. Such practice recognizes and gives credit to the original 'creator' of the work. However, in many a situation authors who are not familiar with standard writing practices or perhaps knowingly resort to 'lifting' the entire work of others and publish it as their own. This may loosely be said as 'thievery'.

In this case, the above article on Pattukkottaiyaar (Pattukkottaiyaar - Pattukkottai Kalyanasundaram: A brief biography) was originally published online in 1999. In 2001,, a now defunct organization, copied the entire article (excluding 'Acknowledgement' section and author information) and used in their site, thus effectively and purposefully excluding the original author and claiming and plagiarizing the entire work. My request to delete their version of my article or  to reinstate the deleted section fell on deaf ears initially but later they reinstated the authorship credentials. But in the meantime, I witnessed a chain reaction of copying, including an attempted posting in Wikipedia. Wikipedia functions professionally and has software machinery to detect piracy and reject pirated contributions.  (Visit this link to learn about Pattukkottaiyaar article's Wikipedia episode).

Following list includes website and a book that I am aware of, that use the above Pattukkottaiyaar article in part, or to its entirely without referring to the above original article. While the websites plagiarize the text and/or images, the book  apparently copied two Pattukkottaiyaar's images on this page (These images were morphed by me from an original version in 1999 specifically for this article) and used in their book. Thank you for reading this part of the article and getting to know this work's background. Please take a moment to inform me about any plagiarism of this article elsewhere that you might happen to come across, at:

Thankfully - Duraiswamy Navaneetham

மேலேயுள்ள கட்டரை கருத்துக்களவு செய்யப்பட்டு பல இடங்களில் வெளியிடப்பட்டுள்ளது. 

The following list contains above Pattukkottaiyaar article plagiarized in part or full as of July 3, 2011.

Websites, where plagiarism noticed :

Book, where plagiarism noticed:

Viyarvaikalin Muhavarikku Vizha... Malar. Author: Pichinikadu Elango, Makkal Kavignar Pattukottai Kalyana Sundaram Kalai Elakkia Kuzhu, (ISBN: 981-05-3516-3), Stamford Press, Singapore, 2005.