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Hailed as the Queen of Indian Stage, Kodumudi Balambal Sundarambal was a class apart from her contemporaries. The relationship or love affair between Sundarambal and her husband S G Kittappa was brief but it was a perfect match. Sundarambal’s troupe was conducting dramas in Sri Lanka and the fellow actors unable to match Sundarambal were returning back one after another. It was on this occasion, Kittappa went to act with her. Kittappa managed to raise up to her talent. Soon people started lauding them as the perfect pair on stage.

Kittappa was blessed with a magical voice of that time and he made commoners enjoy Carnatic music. He was born to Gangadhara Iyer in 1906 and had ten siblings. Along with his brothers, he joined the Sankaradas Swamigal troupe at the age of five. The aim was to escape poverty.

He never went to school but soon learnt the nuances of the stage and singing. As a child actor, he acted in Nallathangal, Ali Badusha dramas. He was tutored by Sankaradas Swamigal and later by Madurai Mariappa Swamigal.

Sundarambal’s troupe was conducting dramas in Sri Lanka and the fellow actors unable to match Sundarambal were returning back one after another. It was on this occasion, Kittappa went to act with her. Kittappa managed to raise up to her talent

Sundarambal in her own words narrates how she agreed to his proposal. They were living in Tirunelveli at that time. “One day, he came home looking for me. My mother, assuming that he had come to rehearse songs, sent him to the terrace. His intention was evident on his face. I asked him why he had come. He continued staring at me not uttering a word. I said yes only after he promised that he would take care of me for the rest of his life,” Sundarambal said.

Kittappa and Sundarambal married in 1928 and she suffered a stillbirth in 1929. The couple continued acting on stage earning a lot of fame.

Kittappa did not live long and died in 1933 at the young age of 27. Sundarambal never remarried nor appeared on stage after Kittappa’s death. She concentrated on cinemas and later ventured into politics.

She recalled her acting stints with Kittappa many times. The couple staged Gnanasoundari drama in Rangoon. Sundarambal played Gnanasoundari. As per the plot, she has to sing after her hand is severed and she asked Kittappa to teach her songs. He refused. “You are also paid and you should sing,” he said. Scared, she practiced alone and appeared on stage. Kittappa thought she would stumble on lyrics but she sang gracefully. Kittappa was hoodwinked and he expressed it on stage, Sundarambal said.

Sundarambal said that he never practiced at home. But his voice was magical. They acted in many dramas together namely Bama Vijayam, Kovalan, Sathiyavan Savithri, Thookuthooki, Pavalakodi, Sarangathara and he maintained that charm in his voice. “People would have heard him sing Ayalottum Penne and my singing on Meesai Narachu Poche Kizhava hundreds of times but they would still come to see the dramas. When we staged dramas in Thanjavur, people would come from Mayavaram and Tiruvarur,” she once said.

Kittappa did not live long and died in 1933 at the young age of 27. Sundarambal never remarried nor appeared on stage after Kittappa’s death. She concentrated on cinemas and later ventured into politics.

Kittappa has acted with all the senior actors and famous ones on stage. But his singing was unique. He had the perfect sync of Shruti and Laya of Carnatic music. His contemporaries and Carnatic vidwans lauded his skill. “Whatever Raga Kittappa sang, he would bring it to life. The raga will have all its characteristics when Kittappa sings. No other singer had the voice like him,” said Muthiah Bagavathar.

Rajarathinam Pillai said that no matter how fast he sang ragas or gamakas, Kittappa made no mistake. Kittappa’s sudden demise was a great loss not only for Sundarambal but for Tamil Isai and theatre. Nevertheless, his magical voice from the 60 odd gramophone records continues to captivate us.


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