Transformational impact: Subbu Arumugam modernised singing methods and the texts, and introduced stories with social themes.
Subbu Arumugam, who popularised Villupaattu, a folk art of the southern districts of Tamil Nadu, died on Sunday. He was 95.
The Padma Shri awardee’s art showcased a perfect blend of Tamil and folk forms
Kavignar Subbu Arumugam, who popularised Villupaattu, a folk art of the southern districts of Tamil Nadu, died on Sunday.
He was 95, and is survived by his wife Mahalakshmi, son Gandhi and daughter Bharathi Thirumagan — both of whom accompanied him during his performances — and another daughter, Subbulakshmi.
While Villupaattu is performed in the temples of folk deities such as Sudalai Madan, Esakki Amman and Mutharamman during Kodai, a festival during summer, Subbu Arumugam modernised the singing methods and the texts, and introduced stories with social themes. References to Villupaattu could be found in minor literary works such as Mukkudarpallu and Viralividu
Thoothu. The Padma Shri awardee’s art showcased a perfect blend of Tamil and folk forms. Innumerable Villupaattu artistes lived and continue to live in Kanniyakumari, Tirunelveli, Thoothukudi and Virudhunagar districts, and perform in temples of folk deities. Arumugam’s knowledge of the Tamil language and literature and his exposure to folk art forms drew him to Villupaattu.
In an interview to The Hindu in 2010, Arumugam, a native of Tirunelveli, said he was brought to Chennai by the late comedian, N.S. Krishnan, to popularise Gandhiji’s life story using Kalki’s Maandharul Oru Deivam, based on My Experiments with Truth. The show premiered at Carnatic vocalist M.S. Subbulakshmi’s house in Kilpauk.
“N.S .Krishnan was impressed with his singing skills and his ability to write poetry when he first listened to him at a school function. He obtained permission from his mother and brought him to Chennai,” said Bharathi Thirumagan.
In Chennai, he wrote comedy tracks for N.S. Krishnan’s films, and worked on films starring Sivaji Ganesan and Nagesh. Chinnanchiru Ulagam, a film directed by K.S. Gopalakrishnan with Nagesh in the lead role, is the story of Arumugam.
It is a memorable experience to listen to Arumugam, with his perfect pronunciation with a tinge of Tirunelveli dialects, quick mind, pun, and the great gift of repartee.
Actor Kamal Haasan, a fan of Arumugam, introduced him in the film Uttama Villain, in which he performs Villupaattu. “Kamal Haasan cherished the line “Arasiyalvathi avan unmaiayai sonnar pol athisayam naanum kanden (It is a wonder that a politician speaks the truth)”. He also liked the speed with which he produced lines for the song,” said director Suka.
Won various awards
Arumugam was conferred the Padma Shri — the country’s fourth-highest civilian award — in 2021.
Earlier, he was presented with the Sangeet Natak Akademi Award by the President. He was also honoured with the Kalaimamani Award and the Bharathi Award by the Tamil Nadu government in 1975 and 2017, respectively.
Governor R.N. Ravi and Chief Minister M.K. Stalin condoled Arumugam’s death.
A social media post from the Raj Bhavan said: “Governor Ravi expressed his heartfelt condolences, on the demise of Padma Shri Subbu Arumugam, to the family members. The nation has lost a great musician, writer and outstanding Villupaattu exponent. May his soul rest in eternal peace.”
In his condolence message, Mr. Stalin said Mr. Arumugam was a ‘Villisai Vendhar’ and recalled that the artiste had worked with actors N.S. Krishnan and Nagesh. The Chief Minister extended his condolences to the bereaved family.