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Asian Tribune is published by World Institute For Asian Studies|Powered by WIAS Vol. 12 No. 2422

Sunday Celebrity: Subbu Arumugam’s name is synonym with ‘villu pattu’

By Gopal Ethiraj, Chennai

[caption id="attachment_2651" align="alignright" width="207" caption="Subbu Arumugam"]Subbu Arumugam[/caption]

This popularly known Villu Pattu (translated literally in English “bow-song”) is a simple and catchy folk music form which still stands as a symbol of a cultural wealth of the Tamils.

Bow-- the age-old weapon of warriors - paradoxically lends itself to be used as a primary musical instrument for the Villu Pattu artists. Udukku, Kudam, Thala, Kattai are used as supplementary instruments in performances. The two ends of the bow are tied by a strong high tension string. The centre of the convex side of the bow is made to rest on the neck of a large sized earthen pitcher. There are numerous bronze bells hanging from the bow in a row from top to bottom.

Subbu Arumugam as the chief vocalist or the main story teller of the party sits in the centre of the bow, with two slender wooden rods called the Veesu kol with cymbals attached, one in each hand . “Thanthanana yendru solliye…,” so saying he commences his programme. While singing well, artfully he raises and moves his hands, holding the rods as to express the mood and the bhava portrayed in song, and deftly strikes against the bow string producing the tala or the time beat, synchronizing it with the stresses and the time beats in the song. After he completes a line of the song, the persons accompanying on Udukku and other instruments repeat the last phrase of the line or they say in chorus 'aama', 'aama' . The whole ensemble is an interesting fare. He is much sought-after, and heavily booked.

Media might have developed into many branches over the years, but nothing can replace the ‘reach’ of the folk lore form of communication in landing the message to the people. That is why even the government policies and programmes are carried to the people through the folklore art form. No doubt Subbu Arumugam is invariably the choice of the government to carry its mass media programmes.

For the government mass media communications, Arumugam has performed programmes such as Family Planning, Aids awareness, tree plantation, pollution control, small savings, old age literacy, farm activity, etc

Music, especially, is inter-twined with every activity of our daily life, and one can say that Tamil and Music are inseparable. Subbu Arumugam says ‘Muthamizh’ (Tamil in its three aspects)—Eyal (prose), Iyasi (music) and Natakam (drama)—is in-built in his folk art. A person who is versatile and expert in all the three alone can render well. Besides one has to be a spontaneous poet and sail with rhythm and music.

Arumugam is a Tamil Vidwan and thus a poet himself, bestowed with sharp acumen and presence of mind. “Half the script only I prepare, the rest flows automatically on the stage. I am cut out for this role, thanks to God,” he says.

Subbu Arumugam’s katcheri is mostly on “Ramayana,” “Maha Bharatha,” “Bhagwat Geeta,” “Silapathikaram,” “Periapuranam” and “Thiruvalluvar”. He does other programmes based on the need of the people. A Gandhian to the core, he never ends a performance without mentioning Gandhiji, the Father of the Nation. “Gandhiism is grousing through my blood,” he says proudly.

His message of patriotism, moral values, philosophy is impeccable in that he gives them in the language of common man with music and rhythm. “My body language is the ‘drama’ and my literary ‘spill’ is the flavor,” he says.

The minimum required strength for villu pattu is six persons, he says. When less in number, the performers in ancient times divided into two groups and rendered as question-answer session, it was called lavani pattu; in ancient times women had exclusively folk music art form, called ammanai (sung by women playing seeds thrown into air and catching) and kummi (singing by group of women with claps and dance in a circle.) In all these versatility, literacy, music and rhythm plays a main role, he says.

His wife, daughters, son and son-in-law all are part of his performing team. Subbu Arumugam has given more than 6000 villu pattu performances so far. “I am proud my three generations are into the folk art. Initially my daughter Bharathy Thirumagan and son S.Gandhi were in my team. Later my so-in-law Thirumagan, who is a principal of a college, also joined us. Now my grand son who is doing his Plus Two is coming up as star performer, and people are asking for his inclusion whenever we are booked.”

Subbu Arumugam, who hails from Tirunelveli, performs Villu paattu to this day with the same verve and sense of humour that he showed at the initial stages of his career. "Our ancestral place is Sathirapudhukulam near Thirunelveli. Villupaattu was born here and I grew up in a sorrounding where I could hear Villupattu throughout the day", explains Subbu Arumugam as to how he was attracted to the art form.

When he was 14, Arumugam chanced upon Bharatiar’s ‘Kannan Paattu,’ which left a deep impression on him. From this was born his first book ‘Kumaran paattu,’ in which Subbu Arumugam composed songs about Lord Muruga, seeing him just as Bharati saw Lord Krishna — as mother, father, child, lover, friend and servant. The book had a foreword by his teacher, Navaneethakrishna Pillai, and it received excellent reviews

He adds further that the great poet Subramanya Bharathi belonged to Tirunelveli and one could hear the sound of a bow in his songs. There was a semblance of villu paattu in all his songs, especially in 'Naladisandham', 'Kummi sandham', 'Kaavadi sindhu', 'Nondi sindhu', 'Kili paattu', 'Uzhavan paattu', and 'Padagu paattu'.

The turning point in his life came when N S Krishnan visited 'Hindu College' in 1948. Having read his Kumaran Paattu, N S Krishnan asked Subbu Arumugam to sing a song on Mahatma Gandhi. He complied. The song was about those who were initially against the attempts made by Gandhi to attain freedom, but eventually had the national flag flying atop their homes, and about those who brought sticks to attack Gandhi, later tied the Gandhian flag at the end of the same sticks.

N S Krishnan, impressed by Arumugam's spontaneity, invited him to Chennai. Subbu Arumugam was then 19 years old.N S Krishnan provided the necessary comforts to Subbu Arumugam in Chennai. His first Villupaattu written was about the Father of the Nation, Mahatma Gandhi, under the title 'Gandhi Mahan Sarithiram', which NSK presented on the stages besides being busy in films. After NSK’s death Subbu Arumugam picked up the role on stage.

Slowly, he came into the limelight and became popular. He conducted a Villupaattu programme on Mahatma Gandhi on Sundays, in AIR Chennai, and the duration of the programme was 55 minutes. His programmes are being broadcast even now. Through his Villupaattu, he promotes many ideas on various subjects.

'Chinnanjiru Ulagam' was the first film through which Subbu Arumugam entered the tinsel world. The story and the comedy track of the film were contributed by him. The movie, which had popular stars like Nagesh and K R Vijaya, was a big hit. Later, he penned the dialogue for comedy scenes of several films.

Subbu Arumugam was presented the 'Kalaimamani' award by the Tamil Nadu Government and later he was approched by the Annamalai University to teach Villu paattu. He says that a person learning Villu paattu should necessarily follow the six commandments namely, Individual Discipline, Patriotism, Sense of Humour, Mastery in Prose, Music and Drama.

He was conferred with D.Litt degree by the 'World Academy of Arts and Culture', California in 1995. He has given performances in Singapore (12 times), Sri Lanka ( 2 times) and Muscat. In India he has given performances in almost all capitals of the states.

- Asian Tribune -

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