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Remembering Kannadasan, the Tamil lyricist who wrote over 5,000 songs & 4,000 poems

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Credited with bringing prominence to lyric writing in Tamil cinema, Kannadasan also won a Sahitya Akademi award for his novel Cheraman Kadhali.

Tamil lyricist, poet and novelist Kannadasan etched his place in the history of Tamil Nadu with the prolific work he did in his over four-decade career.

Besides several honours to his name, including a Sahitya Akademi award, Kannadasan also dabbled in politics.

On his 37th death anniversary, here’s a look at the legend’s life.

Early life

Born as Muttaiah on 24 June 1927, in Sirukoodalpatti village of Tamil Nadu’s Sivaganga district, Kannadasan was the eighth child in his family.

As part of the Chettinad region’s established practice of giving away one’s children to a childless couple, Muttaiah was given to Palaniappa Chettiar and Sigappi Aachi. The foster parents renamed him Narayanan.

Although he had to drop out of school in the eighth grade, Narayanan was always inclined towards reading and writing. His dream was to publish stories in widely distributed magazines. At the age of 16, he left for Chennai chasing that dream.

Also read: K.B. Sundarambal — the first film artiste to get elected to a state legislative council

The Krishna legend

While traveling in search of a job, Muttaiah was struck by the thought that his name was, perhaps, quite old-fashioned. So, based on the legend of Lord Krishna (Kannan in Tamil) who was born as the eighth child to Vasudevan and Devaki, Narayanan gave himself a new name — Kannadasan.

No one had an inkling that this name would become so famous in the years to come.

Kannadasan also wrote under various pseudonyms such as Karaimuthu Pulavar, Vanangamudi, Kamakapriya, Parvathinathan and Arokiaswamy.

He had three wives — Ponnama, Paarvathi and Valliammai — and 15 children from them.

Film and writing career

In 1949, Kannadasan started out as a lyricist with the film Kanniyin Kaadhali. He never looked back, and eventually wrote more than 5,000 songs and 4,000 poems, apart from several essays and novels.

The song ‘Mayakama Thayakama’ from Sumaithaangi (1962), one of his big hits, was illustrative of the philosophical kind of writing he believed in.

After decades of success, Kannadasan stopped writing songs himself and got his assistants to pen the lyrics as he dictated them. Prominent directors, like S.P. Muthuraman, Panchu Arunachalam, among others, worked as his assistants early in their careers.

Also read: Sivaji Ganesan, the actor who even Marlon Brando was said to be in awe of

Former Tamil Nadu chief minister and actor M.G. Ramachandran’s biggest hit, ‘Acham Enbathu Madamaiyada’ from Mannadhi Mannan (1960), which was also believed to be his favourite, was penned by Kannadasan.

Among his greatest songs were ‘Buthi Ulla Manithar’ from Annai (1962), ‘Atho antha Paravai Pola’ from Aayirathil Oruvan (1965), ‘Kasethaan Kadavulapa’ from Kasethaan Kadavulada (1972), ‘Paramasivan Kazhuthil Irunthu’ from Suryagandhi (1973).




Kannadasan’s work gave prominence to songs in Tamil cinema.

As a novelist, some of his best works include Cheraman Kadhali (1980), Oru Kavingnanin Kathai (1978), Manam Pola Vazhvu (1981), Manathukku Thukkamillai (1981), Aval Oru Hindhu Pen (1992), among others.

Kannadasan also served as editor of various journals and translated a few religious texts besides writing scripts for theatre.

Religious and political views

An atheist, Kannadasan involved himself in the Dravidian movement and the political party Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK). But later in his life he showed inclination towards Hinduism.

He was also one of the founding members of actor Sivaji Ganesan’s political party Thamizhaga Munnetra Munnani.

His political life, which started with DMK, ended with a leaning towards Congress.

His 10-part treatise on Hinduism, Arthamulla Hindu Matham (Meaningful Hinduism), is one of the highest selling Tamil books. He also wrote Yesu Kaviyam (Life of Jesus), a notable poetic work.

Kannadasan also wrote about himself extensively in the autobiographies Vanavasam, Manavasam, Enathu Vasantha Kalangal, and Enathu Suya Saritham.

Awards and honours

In 1978, Kannadasan was honoured as the ‘Poet Laureate’ by the Tamil Nadu government. The state also built a memorial in his hometown Karaikudi along with a library.

His novel Cheraman Kadhali was awarded the Sahitya Akademi award in 1980.

With the moniker of ‘Kaviarasar’ (king of poetry), Kannadasan remains a legend in the history of Tamil poetry.

He died on 17 October 1981, in Chicago while attending a conference.

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