Tiruvarur S Latchappa பிள்ளை.

on Saturday, December 4, 2010

Tiruvarur S Latchappa Pillai – a legend

1925, November 28 was born Tiruvarur S Latchappa Pillai in the musical family of Tiruvarur Saminatha Pillai and Vandammal.

Drawn by histrionic talents:

Chidambaram Jayarama Pillai, the maternal uncle was in those days acting and playing in various roles along with singing in Bala Vinodha Sabha of Madurai. Jayarama Pillai was living with Saminatha Pillai. Naturally drawn by him, young Latchappa who was barely about six years then, followed suit. Young Latchapp was a sensation as he could sing and act well. But all was not too well for more than a year. The company became bankrupt following heavy losses sustained following wash out of its programmes while tented in Virudhachalam when heavy rain played havoc.


Latchappa moved over to Chidambaram at the tender age of seven and was with his sister’s family. Brother in law (Sister’s husband) Natarajasundaram Pillai encouraged the boy to learn vocal music.

At the age of eight, Latchappa was back at Tiruvarur. He learnt about 40 varnam and 200 keerthanam from his brother Balasubramania Pillai. When under ten years of age, Latchappa, had opportunity to play in the processions taken out by the Justice Party members lead by Periyar E V Ramasami. For long Latchappa was the preferred Nadhaswaram player for the party.


On the passing away of his mother, Latchappa moved to his Brother-in law Natarajasundaram Pillai’s place in Kandanur in Chettinad. Here Latchappa learnt nadhaswaram playing and mastered the art under his Guru. He accompanied his Guru in various performances and gained great experience and expertise.

Natarajasundaram Pillai took teenager Latchappa with him to Colombo. In Yazhpanam nadhaswaram playing had large following and hence, Latchappa was invited to perform there for about five years. Latchappa barely 12, would be in Colombo for six months, performing in various nadhaswaram programmes and would return to Tiruvarur for six months.

The King:

Fifteen year old Latchappa got a rare opportunity to perform at the Zamindar Temple near Pattukkottai, for the procession of the deity. His music was well received and was conferred a title by the Zamin, as “Nadhaswara Mannar” meaning the King of nadhaswaram playing.

Sixteen year old Latchappa had now become such popular that he was invited to Colombo for special performances. During these years he played along with Andankoil Kuruppiah Pillai, an accomplished nadhaswaram player.

The Expert and the Expertise:

The years 1942 to 45 were crucial for Latchappa as during these years he was playing along with the celebrated artist Kulikkarai Pichchaiappa Pillai that enabled both the performers to exhibit their best potential competing with each oher.

Past his teens, Latchappa had his own set to perform. He did accompany his Uncle Tirukkuvalai Arunachalam in few concerts. This was followed by playing along with Kulikkarai Kalidas Pillai, Tiruvavaduthurai Kakkayi and Tiruvenkadu Subramania Pillai. Latchappa was paired along with Tiruvavaduthurai Rajarathinam Pillai the most celebrated nadhaswaram exponent of his time for about twelve years. The performances received great acclaim and rave reviews.

The joy of playing together:

Latchappa racalls with pride his accompanying several great artists of yesteryears namely, Tiruvarur Vaidyanatha Pillai, Rajarathnam Pillai, Thiruveezhimalai Govindaraja Vaidyanatha Pillai, Nachiyarkoil Rajadurai Pillai, Mayavaram Mani Pillai, Mamundiya Pillai, Sikkil Kandasamy Pillai, Kottur Rajarathinam Pillai, Mannarkudi Paramsivam Pillai, Tiruchcherai Sivasubramania Pillai, Ramasami Krishnamurthi Pillai, Kalyanasundaram Pillai and his father Tirucherai Abiramasundaram Pillai.

Memorable Duets:

Latchappa also lists other memorable duets as playing with Kadavalakudi Dakshinamoorthi Pillai, Tiruthuraipoondi Rajarathnam Pillai, Valangaiman Soundararaju Pillai, Andarkoil Selvarathinam Pillai, Madurai Sethuraman Ponnusami Pillai, Tiruchi A K C Natarajan, Koilpatti Ramaiah Pillai, Tirunelveli Rangappa, Sankaraiah, Kambar, Sudalaiyandi Kambar, Masilamani Kambar, Aachchanpuram Chinathambi Pillai, Tiruvidaimaruthur Mani Pillai, Therazhundur Ramuseenu Pillai, Vallam Krishna Pillai, Tiruvidaimaruthur Raja, Sembanarkoil Rajarathnam, Thuraiyur Muthukumarasami Vaidyanathan and Thuraiyur Rajakanna Sambandam Pillai.

Mutual Admiration:

Having established himself with T N Rajarathinam Pillai, Latchappa was once playing at AIR Trichy. A telegram from TNR was handed over to him by K C Thyagarajan of AIR Trichy that required Latchappa rushing to Tiruvarur.

Latchappa reached Tiruvarur the same day around 11.30 a.m. only to hear TNR playing nadhaswaram nonstop for hours together from the firstloor hall of his house. TNR invited Latchappa to play along with him and explained several rare ragas and krithis to him. His wife Saradha was surprised to see all this and explaimed: “Ennaikkum illatha thirunala innikki irukkey!. Kakkayi, Pitchaiappa evargalukkellam sollikkudakkatha neengal latchappavirkku solli kudukkureengaley” – What a special occasion!. The likes of Kakkayi and Pitchaiappa did not get to learn these from you? You are teaching Latchappa”.

Rajarathnam Pillai responded: “Saradha! Long years ago, my uncle took me to the Pillayar Temple in Tiruvarur and organized my nadhaswaram playing. The next morning I visited Saminatha Pillai in Tiruvarur, who having heard me blessed me thus: “You will be admired as the Emperor of Nadhaswaram Playing!” (Nee Periya Nagasvara Chakravarthiyaga varuvai). I have been bestowed that title, and am so overwhelmed to see his son Latchappa and hence the fondness and admiration are quite natural. Latchappa preseves the manuscripts of songs and the notations written in the handwriting of T N Rajarathinam Pillai as a rare treasure given to him!

They keep Company:

Latchappa is fresh in memory about the interaction he had with the great names associated with Nadhaswaram playing of his era. Tiruvavaduthurai Rajarathnam Pillai, Tiruvidaimaruthur Veeruchami Pillai, Perambalur Angappa Pillai, Thiruveezhimalai Subramanya Pillai, Natarajasundaram Pillai, Tiruvavaduthurai Kakkayi alias Natarajasundaram Pillai, Injakudi Pichchakannu Pillai, Nachiyarkoil Rajanthurai Pillai, Tirucherai Ramasamy Krishnamurthi Pillai, Tirucherai Kalyanasundaram Rajarathnam Pillai, Tirhucherai T V S Sivasubramanya Pillai, Namagiripettai Krishnan, and Karukkurichi Arunachalam are those contemporaries. A K C Natarajan would insist on Latchappa playing rare ragas popularized by TNR those days and was too glad to play along with Latchappa on several occasions.

The Virtue:

Latchappa was also invited to teach vocal music to two young girls Saraswathi and Vijaya, daughters of Tiruvarur Jawlikkara Street Kalyanasundara Sastriar. The duo could graduate to give public performances in about six months time. Their maiden performance was held at Tiruvaur Yagneswara katta kovil and the sisters became popular musicians within a very short time and carved a special recognition for their teacher.Latchappa has been traditionally playing nadhaswaram in the Tiruvarur temple. It is by virtue of a practice that even today he holds a 15 day (in a year) playing schedule at the Tiruvarur temple.

It was Prof. Sambamurthy, the celebrated music teacher and connoisseur of yesteryears who became a great fan of Latchappa’s nadhaswaram playing that he would listen to his playing for hours together as the temple festivities at Tiruvarur would be held of over 25 days every year when the procession route would be filled with music.

Nadhaswaram would be played on the entire route of the procession and it has very special raga delineation for each street and junction. Each intersection would have more than 15 songs to be played, that had mallari, padams, varnam, raagam, rakthi melam, trikalam, tisra nadai etc., followed by a song on the presiding deity to end the recital.

A Moment to Cherish:

Latchappa was the secretary of the Trinity Sabha, Tiruvarur for over twelve years. This brought him in close contact with all those great personalities of the music fraternity. During this period, the houses of Syama Sastri, Thiyagaraja and Dikishithar were purchased and Latchappa recounts the efforts by all those great luminaries. Latchappa has a very special word about the keen interest and special support extended by (later to be Barat Ratna) M S Subbulakshmi to the cause during his regime. Latchappa had the special privilege to organise a music school in the erstwhile residence of Syama Sastri with about 100 children learning the nuances.

The anniversary functions of this school were graced by eminent men that included Justice E Krishna Iyer, Dr V Raghavan, Vadapathimangalam Thyagaraja Mudaliar, Dr S Ramanathan, to mention a few. They gifted books, Veena, Mrudangam, Tambura, Harmonium and other equipments to the institution, a support that helped Latchappa to pursue his mission. The greatest moments for this institution, include a concert by the great maestro M S Subbulakshmi on a personal invitation by Latchappa.

A teacher identifies another:

Prof. Sambamurthy invited Latchappa to be a Lecturer in Tirupathi Venkateswara Music College and Latchappa gladly accepted the assignment. During one of the concerts at the College Hall, Latchappa was presented a Gold Medal in appreciation of his rendering.

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