English தமிழ்

Share the Article

Many collections of Subramaniya Bharathi’s poets come with his recommendations for which raga they should be sung in. Many of the songs sung today are set in ragas different from his recommendation, but, in his time, there was a Carnatic musician who earned Bharathiar’s praise for the way he sang the poet’s songs. Born Nallappasami Pandian, better known as Vilathikulam Samigal, Bharathiar would show his appreciation with the words, “Bale! Pandia”.

Born in 1889, Vilathiluam Samigal hailed from the Kaadalkudi Zamindar family and mastered Carnatic music purely by effort and hours of practice. This self-taught musician was a legend when it came to Raga Karaharapriya just like Thiruvavaduthurai Rajarathinam Pillai was for Raga Thodi.

Samigal saw music in everything starting from the honking of the steam locomotive to the horn of factories that were coming up in the region those days. According to him, the world revolved in a perfect rhythm and nature brimmed with the sound of music. Tamilisai scholar V P K Sundaram recalls one such incident from Samigal’s life. “Vilathikulam Samigal went to the agricultural fields once and was overwhelmed by the sounds from nature. Music was in the air everywhere for him and he sang his favourite Karaharapriya Raga for three hours. He realized he had an audience — the women who had come to the fields to cut grass for cattle. Spellbound, they offered him what they brought for food, Ragi balls, and he obliged. His music was for the working class”, said Sundaram.

He realized he had an audience — the women who had come to the fields to cut grass for cattle. Spellbound, they offered him what they brought for food, Ragi balls, and he obliged. His music was for the working class

Vilathikulam Samigal had the distinction of recording Poet Subramanya Bharati’s song ‘Parukkulle Nalla Nadu’ in a gramophone record. A recording company, Broadcast, recorded Bharathi’s song using the voice of Vilathikulam Samigal in 1924. Samigal was also a childhood friend of Bharathi. Samigal used to sing young Bharathi’s poems in and earned his praise.

Not just Bharathi, the fans’ list of Vilathikulam Samigal was a bit lengthy. It included big names like V V S Aiyar, Konerirajapuram Vaidyanatha Iyer, Mariappa Samigal, Madhurakavi Baskara Das, Rajarathinam Pillai, T K Chidambara Mudaliyar, Kirubananda Variyar, K P Sundarambal, Thyagaraja Bhagavathar and writers like K Alagirisami, K Rajanarayanan and many more.

Vilathikulam Nallappa Sami Pandian

It is intriguing why Vilathikulam Samigal chose Karaharapriya as his signature raga. He had revealed the reason once to  Vellore Sambandhamoorthy Achariyar that Karaharapriya was the Raga the ancient Panas (court musicians) of the Sangam era taught to aspiring musicians who wanted to learn music from them. It was called Kodipalai then.

It is intriguing why Vilathikulam Samigal chose Karaharapriya as his signature raga. He had revealed the reason once to  Vellore Sambandhamoorthy Achariyar that Karaharapriya was the Raga the ancient Panas (court musicians) of the Sangam era taught to aspiring musicians who wanted to learn music from them. It was called Kodipalai then.

Vilathikulam Samigal had earned a name for handling any raga of Carnatic music with ease. He also had the reputation of finding something new in that raga to sing every time. The creativity he weaved into the raga was a one-time affair and he would not repeat it. Not just Karaharapriya, his forte, but he was also meticulous when it came to Ragas like Thodi, Bhairavi, Shanmugapriya, Hindolam, Sankarabharanam and Charukesi. He would also use Ragas that were not common, namely Kanaganangi, Rathnangi, Vagatheeswari, Soolini and Yagapriya. Impressed by this feat, famous musician Thiruvananthapuram Lakshmana Pillai penned a short poem on Vilathikulam Samigal. The poem goes like this, ‘there is no match for Nallappa Samigal (Vilathikulam Samigal) just like there is no match for peacock in beauty and a cuckoo for voice’.

Vilathikulam Samigal would sing Sankarabharanam and Hindolam ragas in Western-style much to the awe of his audience. He saw and approached daily life from the musical point of view. He would compare everything to music. For instance, if the side dishes while dining were not up to the mark, he would say that the accompaniment was not satisfactory.

Vilathikulam Samigal’s friendship with Madhurakavi Baskara Das was noteworthy. They were contemporaries and very close friends who enjoyed each other’s company very much. The otherwise introverted Samigal would spend hours chatting with Baskara Das and it usually revolved around music and drama. On a few occasions, Baskara Das conducted dramas and used the money collected to support Samigal financially.

As a concluding note, we should pause a moment and thank the erstwhile Broadcast recording company for recording Vilathikulam Samigal’s voice. Else, we would have missed Vilathikulam Samigal’s truly magnificent voice.


Share the Article