When love for Khadi turned violent

An earlier post on Gandhi Jayanti couple of years ago covered in brief his influence on Tamil stage. This post elaborates on an incident during the staging of a play mentioned therein, Khadar Bhakti. 

It was the time MG Ramachandran and his brother MG Chakrapani were part of the Madurai Original Boys Company, run by SM Sachidanandam Pillai. The troupe was staging plays by TP Krishnaswamy Pavalar, the famous playwright who used Tamil stage to great effect to propagate the ideals of the freedom movement and social messages. Some of his successful plays were Pathi Bhakti (on the evils of drinking), Governor’s Cup (betting on horses) and Bombay Mail.

Khadar Bhakti was originally a play titled Khadarin Vettri (The victory of Khadi) and was written by Krishnaswamy Pavalar at a time when the freedom struggle was at its peak. A call had been given for the boycott of foreign garments and the promotion of the Swadeshi fabric, Khadi. The play revolved around the travails of a couple and the role of Khadi in their lives. Needless to say, the play incorporated scenes that were commonplace then, such as picketing of shops selling foreign goods and setting fire to clothes that were made in the mills of England. These invariably were followed by policemen resorting to lathi charge and arrest.

The troupe at that time was staging plays at the famous Othavadai theatre on Wall Tax road. One particular scene in the play involved the protagonist and a group of boys lying down before a shop selling foreign cloth and pleading with people going into the shop to buy Khadi instead. This would be followed by a group of actors playing policemen lathi charging them. As the blows rained on them, they would shout the chants that resonated at many a gathering across the country, Vande Mataram and Mahatma Gandhi Ki Jai. As if on cue, the audience would join in and the entire atmosphere would become an emotionally surcharged one. MG Ramachandran in his autobiography Naan Yaen Pirandhen writes that the roof would echo the resounding voices, in agreement with the sentiments of the public. This scene was deemed to be the highlight of the play.

One day, just before the play started, the proprietor received a message from the police stating that this particular scene had to be cut. A worried Sachidanandam Pillai was at a loss as to how to proceed without it, given its special status. MGR writes that the play started with an assurance given by Razzak Khan, the Police Inspector who had communicated the orders to Sachidanandam Pillai that nothing untoward would happen.

As the audience eagerly awaited the arrival of the scene that they held so dear to them, the play proceeded without it and moved to the next scene. As anticipation gave way to disappointment and confusion, there were angry shouts from the audience calling for it to be staged. Such was the anger that a piece of wood hurled by an irate member of the audience landed within inches of MG Chakrapani (who was lying dead on stage as per the play. Needless to say, it was enough to revive him). Though the proprietor and the rest of the troupe had heard the calls, it was only when MG Chakrapani ran in and narrated what happened that the enormity of the situation dawned on them.

It was decided that Krishnaswamy Pavalar go onstage and explain the situation to the restless and increasingly violent audience. He was however met with jeers and was forced to retreat. Razzak Khan then came onstage and appealed for calm. As he was speaking, a missile of wood flew from the audience and missing its intended target hit the light above, breaking it into pieces. The policeman decided that it had gone on long enough and that immediate action was required. Requesting Sachidananam Pillai to give him fifteen minutes, he rushed out of the theatre. With many young boys under his care, the proprietor decided to leave no stone unturned to ensure their safety. They were locked up inside the makeup room. MGR writes that though his reflexes had slowed down due to age, Sachidanandam Pillai was an expert at Silambam. He obtained two long poles and kept them ready at the entrance to the stage to be used in case of any necessity.

Razzak Khan returned with reinforcements after a short while and gave the audience an ultimatum to disperse peacefully within five minutes. As the countdown ensued, yet another piece of wood flew right through the curtains as the policemen ducked for cover. This prompted the Inspector to jump into the audience and start the action. MGR writes that after fifteen minutes or so, the sounds came to a gradual halt and they were escorted by the police to the place where they were residing. One question that racked the minds of the boys was as to how the uprising was quelled. They however lacked the courage to ask the proprietor. The answer came the next day in the newspapers. It turned out that the police had lathi charged the protestors outside and several of them had been grievously injured.

With an event of such a magnitude, it was deemed that the days of the play, and the troupe were numbered. Much to everyone’s surprise, a week or so later, the Original Boys Company advertised the staging of Khadar Bhakti yet again, with a note that the special scene could not be staged on the orders of Mahatma Gandhi. The crowds swelled as usual, the memories of the events of a short while earlier almost obliterated.  It later transpired that the events had reached the ears of the Mahatma, who communicated that the official orders had to be obeyed and the scene could not be staged.

The Mahatma’s voice had won, yet again.

 

 

 

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Major Chandrakanth: From Stage to Celluloid

Major’ Sundarrajan was one of Tamil cinema’s most well-known character actors.  His dialogue delivery which mixed English and Tamil phrases was sophisticated and unique and rather unsurprisingly, he was the first choice when it came to portraying characters such as a rich father. For someone with no connection to the armed forces whatsoever (he was employed with the Telephones Department), his identity as ‘Major’ Sundarrajan was came about thanks to Major Chandrakanth, the successful stage play and movie.

Tamil cinema over the years has seen many directors who can be considered trendsetters. One of the biggest names in the list is that of Dadasaheb Phalke awardee, late Kailasam Balachander. Born in Nannilam in 1930, Balachander developed a keen interest in Tamil theatre at a young age and as a boy used to write, act and direct small skits in his village. He moved to Madras around 1949-50 after graduating from the Annamalai University and a brief stint as a teacher and joined the Accountant General’s office. It was around this time that the amateur theatre movement, which would see its heydays in the 1960s and 1970s had started to take roots, with the likes of United Amateur Artistes, Triplicane Fine Arts Club, Mylapore Fine Arts and Indian National Artistes (run by VS Raghavan) regularly performing to packed audiences. Added to this were the recreation clubs of the various Government and private sector offices. The Accountant General’s office had an active recreation club and soon K Balachander started becoming part of the theatre circuit, writing and acting plays.

‘Major’ Chandrakanth was born in the Accountant General’s office. A new Accountant General from Bengal had taken charge in Madras and a function had been organised to welcome him. The mantle of writing a play to be staged on the occasion fell on K Balachander, who decided that it had to be in English to ensure that the Accountant General understood the play. The story, titled “Courage of Conviction” revolved around a blind Major. K Balachander played the role of the protagonist and received great appreciation for his authentic portrayal of a blind man’s mannerisms.

K Balachander decided to expand the play into a full length script for Ragini Recreations, the troupe that had been formed by his friend PR Govindarajan (later Kalakendra Govindarajan) in 1958. By this time he had developed close friendships with people such as S.Raman (later more famously known as ‘Nair’ Raman), Harikrishnan, ISR and Venky. They were an integral part of the plays staged by the troupe. Over the next few years, the troupe would attract the likes of Nagesh, Major Sundarrajan and Sowcar Janaki, making it one of the most formidable ones on the amateur theatre circuit.

The story of ‘Major’ Chandrakanth dealt with an honest and morally upright blind army officer who gives asylum to a murderer on the run from the police for having killed a person in a fit of rage. The victim had been his sister’s lover, who had cheated her on promise of marriage leading to her suicide unable to bear the shame. On the case to find the murderer is the Major’s elder son, a police officer. It then comes to light that the person who had been murdered was the Major’s younger son and that both the Major and the murderer were unaware of each other’s identity for a long time. The story ended with the officer arresting the murderer and the Major for having harboured a criminal.

The role of the Major was played by Sundarrajan, who was then performing small roles with the Triplicane Fine Arts, while that of the elder son was played by Venky. Govindarajan donned the role of the younger son. Interestingly, the character of the sister was an invisible one with only references to her being made onstage and was developed into a full length role only in the movie, while the brother’s character was played by Gokulnath. The play was a stupendous success and before long, it had been adapted into a movie. The adaptation was in Hindi, the movie Oonche Log. Produced by M/s Chitrakala Films and directed by Phani Majumdar, it won the Second Prize in the Hindi movies category at the 13th National Film Awards for the year 1965. It was Feroz Khan’s first major hit, where he held his own against veterans such as Ashok Kumar (who played the Major) and Raaj Kumar. The Tamil version of the movie was produced by AVM Productions and came out the following year. Directed by K Balachander himself, the movie was a stupendous hit.

The play led to two other christenings. Venky, who was then employed in the American Consulate was named Srikanth after the character by K Balachander. He would go on to feature in several other plays and movies by Balachander and become a popular actor in the 1960s and 1970s. A decade or so later, Balachander gave the name of the younger son’s character to a person who today is the country’s biggest superstar, Rajinikanth.

This post was first written for The Cinema Resource Centre blog.

Kaasedhaan Kadavulada: From Stage to Celluloid

Chitralaya Gopu is one of Tamil cinema’s most well-known humour writers. His association with his classmate and close friend from school, the legendary director CV Sridhar and his unit Chitralaya has been responsible for some of Tamil cinema’s most memorable movies such as Then Nivalu, Nenjil Or Alayam, Policekaran Magal and the evergreen Kadhalikka Neramillai.

Unlike many of his colleagues from the film world who came from a theatre background, Gopu’s association with stage came about quite by chance.  “It was the time of the Chinese aggression. The Tamil Nadu Government requested Sivaji Ganesan and Sridhar to arrange for an entertainment programme involving all the top stars of that time that could be staged across all the major districts of the State for fund raising. I was asked by Sridhar to write short plays for the programme. I wrote two pieces, one a ten minute skit involving Gemini Ganesan and Savitri titled Naveena Dushyanthan Sakunthalai and the other, a multi-starrer 45 min play about a man and his attempts to get his four daughters married. This was Galatta Kalyanam, which was later made into a movie by the same name. It was my first proper attempt at stage plays”, says Gopu.

“It was around this time that an amateur theatre troupe called the Unity Club was functioning in Triplicane”, he continues. “Primarily comprising members who were lawyers or employed with various offices, its star attraction was Major Sundararajan. Following his exit, the troupe was on the lookout for a suitable replacement, who could help their cause with obtaining performance opportunities. Thanks to my film connections, I was roped into the troupe by my cousin who was its secretary. I managed to get Manorama to act in a script written by Ananthu, who was part of K Balachander’s unit. Since I had approached her to be part of the troupe, I was given a role in the play too. It was probably a way of ensuring that I was committed to be present at all times”, chuckles Gopu, who soon started writing full-fledged plays. The troupe continued its journey continued with fairly successful plays such asSreemathy and Dhikku theriyadha veetil. Its biggest hit was however Kaasedhaan Kadavulada”.

The story of Kaasedhaan Kadavulada revolved around the matriarch, the boss of a wealthy family. The second wife of a henpecked husband, her miserly ways cause great consternation with the son of the first wife and his cousin, who forever look for ways to make her part with the wealth. Taking advantage of an opportunity that arises with the news of the arrival of a Swamiji to their home, they enlist the services of a petty thief turned tea shop owner, a childhood friend to impersonate him and steal the money. The hilarious sequence of events that follow his arrival form the crux of the story.

“By this time, apart from Manorama, we had managed to rope in the likes of Muthuraman, Venniradai Moorthy and V Gopalakrishnan to act in our plays. The first three were part of Kaasedhaan Kadavulada. Muthuraman played the role of the son, while Venniradai Moorthy played his father. The role that was the biggest hit was however that of the Swamiji. It was essayed by Ramani, a popular mimicry artiste who was a colleague of K Balachander at AGS office and also a part of Ragini Recreations. Manorama played Muthuraman’s love interest”, remembers Gopu.

The play was a resounding success. AV Meiyappa Chettiar and his wife enjoyed it immensely and their sons watched it in succeeding shows. “Manorama told me that it was sure to be made into a movie, as the entire family had witnessed the play. Sure enough, I was soon called to AVM Studios. AV Meiyappa Chettiar was particular that I direct the movie. It marked my debut as a director. Muthuraman and Venniradai Moorthy reprised their onstage roles. As Manorama was not a regular heroine artiste, she was made the matriarch of the family, while Lakshmi was brought in to play Muthuraman’s love interest. For the pivotal role of the Swamiji, the name of Thengai Srinivasan was suggested, to which I readily agreed. The onstage success of the character was replicated on celluloid. A huge hoarding of Thengai Srinivasan was put up by AVM at Pilot theatre, where the film was running to packed houses”, recollects Gopu.

An interesting anecdote revolving around the play which was written about in the media was the death of a man who had come to watch one of the shows. His hearty laughter apparently caused him seizures due to which he had to be hospitalised, only to pass away shortly after!

That the movie attracts a great fan following and continues to be regularly shown on television channels to this date is perhaps the greatest tribute to the genial Chitralaya Gopu and his brand of clean humour.

The play has been recently revived by YG Mahendra’s UAA, with a few modifications by Gopu’s son, Chitralaya Sriram.

(Special thanks to Chitralaya Gopu for his inputs and to his son Chitralaya Sriram for having facilitated the interview).

This article was first written for The Cinema Resource Centre blog.

The Mahatma and the Tamil Stage

Today, as the nation celebrates the 146th birth anniversary of Mahatma Gandhi, here is a post commemorating his influence on the Tamil theatre world.

The popularity of Tamil stage as a medium of mass entertainment meant that it became one of the easiest ways to promote the freedom struggle. Artistes such as Viswanatha Dass and T.P.Krishnaswamy Pavalar were foremost amongst the practitioners of Tamil theatre to use it effectively. With Mahatma Gandhi emerging as the leader of the freedom movement, it was but inevitable that his ideals and methods caught the imagination of and inspired many an individual, including theatre artistes. As we saw in an earlier post , Viswanatha Dass took to Khadi on coming into contact with Mahatma Gandhi, who involved him in the freedom movement. T.P.Krishnasamy Pavalar was in regular touch with Mahatma Gandhi and many other senior Congress leaders.  When he was refused permission to stage his play Kadharin Vetri at many places by the police who wanted the scene where Congress workers were beaten up by them removed, he wrote to Gandhiji for advice, who wrote back saying that it was best that the scene was cut, as he did not want the promotion of Khadi to be seen as a means of inciting hatred against the British. Pavalar agreed to this and modified the scene. He also renamed the play “Khadar Bhakti” and staged it many times thereafter.

The distinction however of being probably the only Tamil theatre artiste whose play was witnessed by Mahatma Gandhi belongs to Nawab Rajamanickam Pillai. Hearing that Gandhiji was in Coimbatore in the middle of a tour of South India, Nawab Rajamanickam whose troupe Madurai Devi Bala Vinoda Sangeetha Sabha was in the city went and invited the Mahatma to come and watch them perform. The play chosen for the occasion was Nandanar. Impressed by Nawab’s credentials that was presented by people around him, Gandhi agreed. That the play dealt with an issue close to his heart, untouchability was also an incentive.

“When the curtains went up the Mahatma expressed his wish to be on stage to have a clear view from the wings. As he was being helped the three steps, he noticed the board that said ‘Leave your footwear here.’ Immediately, he removed his sandals, went up and sat on the floor”, recalled K.V.Srinivasan (who as a twelve year old was a part of the troupe), in an interview to The Hindu in 2012. After the play, Mahatma Gandhi showered his praises on Nawab and the troupe. A touched Nawab, who was a patriot at heart reaffirmed his commitment to the nation. He ensured that his entire troupe followed the ideals of the Mahatma. He ordered a charka for each of his troupe member and taught them to spin cloth. In his play Inbasagaran, he also included a scene where the spinning of the charka was demonstrated so that the public too could watch and learn.

The star couple of S.G.Kittappa and K.B.Sundaramabal were undoubtedly the biggest crowd pullers of their times. Congress leader S.Satyamurthy, who himself came from a stage background (having been a part of Pammal Sambanda Mudaliar’s Suguna Vilasa Sabha) hit upon the idea of having them participate in the political meetings and sing patriotic songs. Taking advantage of the huge crowds, he also got them to sell Khadi at the annual Mylapore Festival. After the death of S.G.Kittappa in 1933, K.B.Sundarambal opted for a life in oblivion, taking up the attire by which we know her today, dressed in white Khadi with forehead smeared with viboothi. It is thanks to Mahatma Gandhi that she came back into public life.

Chozhanaadan in his book Kodumudi Kokilam writes that the Mahatma asked her if by isolating herself she thought would obtain powers like Savithri to get back the life of her loved one and counselled her to restart her service to the freedom movement. K.B.Sundarambal, who had earlier in the 1930s started recording and releasing songs commemorating various occasions such as the deaths of Motilal Nehru and Kasturiba, the hanging of Bhagat Singh and his comrades and Gandhi’s visit to the Round Table conference was convinced and thus started the second innings of her life.

In 1935, to commemorate the Golden Jubilee of the Indian National Congress, a record containing speeches of S.Satyamurthy and patriotic songs of K.B.Sundarambal was released. In 1937, when Gandhiji was enroute from Karur to Erode, his car broke down near Kodumudi, Sundarambal’s native town. Satyamurthy, who had accompanied Gandhiji took him to Sundarambal’s house. An overjoyed Sundarambal arranged a feast for him and served him on a golden plate. The Mahatma asked her if he could have the plate too. Sundarambal donated it gladly, which was later auctioned and the funds used for the freedom movement.

Here is K.B.Sundarambal singing “Engal Gandhi London saerndhaar”, clip courtesy Archive of Indian Music.

S.S.Viswanatha Dass

The last day of 1940 was a day like no other in the history of Tamil stage. The scene of action was the famed Salt Cotaurs theatre (Royal Theatre) on Wall Tax road. The play being staged that day was the famous Valli Thirumanam. A huge crowd had gathered in great expectation, for although the play had been staged several times earlier by various troupes, they had come to watch and cheer the man playing the role of Lord Muruga, S.S.Viswanatha Dass. He had captured their imagination with his wonderful voice and had used the stage to good effect to arouse the patriotic fervour and spread the ideals of the freedom movement in them. Little did they anticipate what was in store.

Born into a family from the Maruthuvar community of Sivakasi on 16th June 1886, Viswanatha Dass started acting at an early age, learning the craft from the legendary Sankaradas Swamigal. Having first donned the grease paint at the age of 8, Viswanatha Dass established himself as an actor of repute and by the age of 14 had made a name for himself performing both Rajapart and Sthreepart. He was blessed with a melodious voice, which he put to good effect to attract huge crowds.

A meeting with Mahatma Gandhi in Tuticorin in 1911 led to Viswanatha Dass involving himself actively in the freedom struggle. Invited to sing the prayer songs at the public meetings, Viswanatha Dass was soon drawn into the movement by Gandhiji, who was captivated by his voice. Dass accepted the offer and took to wearing khadi and also ensured that the character he was playing on stage too wore khadi. It was thus not uncommon to see him don the roles of Lord Muruga or Kovalan dressed in Khadi! He would also include patriotic songs penned by the likes of Madhurakavi Bhaskaradas in his plays. With other troupes following suit, this soon became a common occurrence and idea of using the stage to stoke the fire of patriotism gained momentum. Viswanatha Dass traveled to places such as Singapore, Burma, Malaysia and Sri Lanka with his group, the “Shanmukhanandam Drama Troupe” and spread the message of the movement through his plays and songs.

His active participation in the movement meant that he was never far away from trouble. It was commonplace for the police to wait at the venue where Viswanatha Dass was performing and arrest him as soon as he sang patriotic songs. Legend has it that he was arrested 29 times in the 29 years since he first met Mahatma Gandhi, with legendary figures like V.O.Chidambaram and Muthuramalinga Thevar often appearing to bail him out.

With nothing to fall back on for finance save theatre, Viswanatha Dass was regularly under financial strain. In 1940, his ancestral property in Thirumangalam, Madurai had to be given up for auction due to his inability to repay loans raised on it. It was at this time that he was contracted for staging three plays in Madras. With a hope of raising some money to save the house, Viswanatha Dass left for Madras, unaware that it was to be his last visit.

The crowd (and the police) waited with bated breath as the play started. Seated on a peacock, and dressed in full regalia, Viswanatha Dass entered to thunderous applause singing “Maaya Vaazhve im mannmeedhe”. That was as far as he got. With a sudden seizure, he collapsed and lay motionless on stage. The police converged to control the chaos that ensued and doctors were summoned to attend on Viswanatha Dass. They arrived and pronounced him dead from a massive heart attack.

As the news of Dass’s demise spread, huge crowds thronged the theatre to pay their last respects to the man who had given them so much of joy with his singing and exploits on stage. The owner of the theatre, Cunniah Wodaiyar declared the place closed for further shows as a mark of respect to the great personality. On 1st of January 1941, huge crowds joined the funeral procession that started from the theatre and reached the Moolakothalam cemetery, where he was consigned to the flames at around 7 PM.

Today, Viswanatha Dass is a distant footnote in the annals of the freedom movement in Tamilnadu. Save for a statue near his native town, Thirumangalam and his house (which was demolished and converted into a memorial cum marriage hall recently), there is little to perpetuate his memory today.

The Archive of Indian Music website has two of his recordings, which can be accessed here:

http://archiveofindianmusic.org/artist_sound_clips/312

The National Theatres

The 1950s was a pivotal decade in the functioning of Tamil theatre. The Boys Company era had almost faded away , paving the way for the advent of professional theatre (primarily run by film actors) and eventually, amateur theatre (where the players had other day jobs besides acting). The themes dealt with on stage too underwent a change, with the focus shifting from historical subjects to social themes and drawing room dramas. With Nawab Rajamanickam’s Madurai Devi Bala Vinoda Sangeetha Sabha too entering the last decade or so of its active presence, it looked as if it was curtains for mythological themes. That they continued to attract audiences for more than three decades after its existence looked threatened was thanks to R.S.Manohar. November 14th marked the 60th anniversary of the founding of his troupe, National Theatres.

Born in Namakkal in 1925, Manohar’s tryst with theatre started when he was in school. His father was an employee of the Postal Department and had been posted on transfer to various places. On one such transfer, the family shifted to Madras, where Manohar studied at the Ramakrishna Mission School in T.Nagar. It was however during his graduation at the Pachaiyappa’s college that his first major break in acting came about. In an interview to senior journalist Majordasan, Manohar says that he had to substitute for an actor playing the title role in Manohara at short notice. The performance however went off well and Manohar, whose name till then was R.S.Lakshminarasimhan took up the name by which he would be known for the rest of his life.

Manohar founded National Theatres in 1954. The first couple of plays, Inbam Enge and Ulagam Sirikkiradhu interestingly, were social themed. His first hit (and probably the biggest) was Ilankeswaran, which premiered in Madras in 1957.

Written by Thuraiyur K.Murthy, Ilankeswaran was based on the version of Ramayana where Ravana is portrayed as the father of Sita. Needless to say, the play attracted its share of controversy and was not a great success in its initial run in Madras. The play however was a massive hit in Srilanka, where it was staged continuously for more than two months. On his return, organisers could no longer afford to ignore him and over the next 3 decades or so, it became his masterpiece, being staged nearly 2000 times. Other successful plays in the repertoire were Chanakya Sabatham, Thadaga Mudhreyan, Dronar and Malik Khafur, all written by Madurai Thirumaran (who also directed a few films in the 1980s), Narakasuran and Thirunavukkarasar.

Grandiose sets and trick shots were hallmarks of the troupe. Separate rehearsals spanning two or three days were held exclusively for the technical team to perfect the trick shots. Despite his busy film commitments, Manohar made it a point not to miss any performance. His shooting schedules were structured according to his stage commitments, with co actors such as M.G.R and Sivaji Ganesan being understanding enough and supportive of his dedication to theatre. With his stage productions being big budget ones costing more than Rs.50000, the remuneration he earned from films helped immensely.

National Theatres completed its Silver Jubilee in 1979. A Committee with Justice Mohan as the Chairman, V.Emberumanar Chetty as the Secretary and dignitaries such as C.R.Pattabiraman, M.A.M.Ramaswamy and V.P.VRajan (editor of The Mail) was formed to celebrate the occasion. A public function, which was held in April 1980 was a great success.

A freak injury sustained thanks to a trick shot that went wrong put an end to Manohar’s active involvement with the stage in the 1990s and he was never the same force thereafter. He however performed a few benefit shows for the Muthukrishna Swamy Trust in 2003.

Manohar passed away in January 2006. His fifty year association with stage spanned 31 productions and nearly 8000 shows in all, both in India and abroad. Today, his legacy is being kept alive by K.R.S.Kumar (Nadaga Kavalar Kalai Koodam) and D.Balasundaram (Tamizharasan Theatres), people who had been associated with him at various stages in his career.

Lord Muruga and Tamil theatre

The influence of Lord Muruga on Tamil theatre has been immense. Various incidents of His life, particularly his marriage with Valli have been the subject of many plays. The most well known play based on this episode is “Valli Thirumanam”, written by Sankaradas Swamigal, a man whose devotion to the Lord was exemplary. Legend has it that Sankaradas, taking a break from stage following a disagreement with Samy Naidu with whose drama company he was associated with as a playwright and teacher donned the ochre robe went on a pilgrimage to various shrines of Lord Muruga, which earned him the title Swamigal. It was later at the insistence of Kanjira exponent Manpoondia Pillai that Sankaradas Swamigal made a comeback to stage.

Valli Thirumanam was the masterpiece of the Special Drama repertoire, being staged by almost all drama companies of the time. Many a stage actor of those times made a name for themselves acting in the play. Most notable amongst them were the super hit pair of S.G.Kittappa and K.B.Sundarambal. Drama contractors would hire them for this play in particular. Such was the command over the play that at times Kittappa would act as Valli and Sundarambal as Muruga!

Yet another theatre personality whose devotion to Lord Muruga was exemplary was Sathavadhanam T.P.Krishnaswamy Pavalar. Born in 1890, Krishnaswamy Pavalar is noted for having used the far reaching medium of Tamil stage to spread the message of the freedom movement. His plays such as Kadharin Vetri and Desiya Kodi were based on themes aimed at rousing the patriotic spirit of the masses.

Krishnaswamy Pavalar was an accomplished poet too, composing works such as the Tirukazhukundram Tripurasundari Pathigam and the Vembadi Vinayakar Pancharatnam, that are little known today. His works on Lord Muruga too, the Porur Murugan Abisheka Maalai and Kandar Kavacham remain largely untraceable. A dedication of his to Lord Muruga which however stands even today is the idol of Muruga as Pazhaniandavar, which he donated to the Adhipureeswarar temple in Chintadripet.

The harmonium was an integral part of stage plays especially in the early era. Harmonists enjoyed special status and it was common practice of the times to make a special mention of the musician playing the instrument in the drama notices. Some stalwarts who played the instrument were K.S.Devudu Iyer and S.G.Kasi Iyer (the brother of S.G.Kittappa). But the man who towered above them all was Woraiyur T.M.Khader Bhatcha, a man who was renowned for his rendition of songs on Lord Muruga.

In his memoirs Enadhu Kalai Payanam, V.K.Ramaswamy says that T.M.Khader Batcha was  the man to go to in case a drama was not doing well. Such was the popularity he enjoyed that a mere announcement in the drama notice that he was performing as part of the play was enough to ensure a packed audience. Ramaswamy says that dressed in the traditional attire of veshti, jibba and angavasthram made of cloth from the mills of Glasgow, Khader Batcha with his huge frame was a sight to behold. Breaking the tradition of the harmonium players being seated behind curtains and away from the public eye, he was the first person to play the instrument in full public view. Describing his performance, Ramaswamy says that the audience would break into rapturous applause at the sight of Khader Batcha stroking his mustache after singing the first line of his most popular song, “Surulimalai meedhil mevum seela”   on Lord Muruga. Sadly, details of Khader Batcha’s life are very sketchy and he remains largely unknown today. A few records uploaded by old time collectors on Youtube however exist.

Here is Khader Batcha rendering “Saravanabhava Guhane Vaa” :