‘King Poet’ Kannadasan at 91

Random Thoughts, Part 3

by Sachi Sri Kantha, July 28, 2018

Part 2

Recently, I provided the English translation of poet Kannadasan’s powerful 48 line verse on sympathizing with Eelam Tamils during the 1958 anti-Tamil riots. [http://sangam.org/60-anniversary-1958-anti-tamil-riots-part-3/]

Kavi Arasu Kannadasan bk cover

Kannadasan’s cousin, and assistant cum biographer Rama Kannappan described what many may be unaware of, that, as a consequence to Kannadasan’s protest, the then Sri Lankan government released an edict to ban Kanndasan’s movie lyrics from the radio broadcast of Ceylon Tamil Commercial Services. Subsequently, this ban edict was relaxed with an amendment that the movie lyrics of Kannadasan can be used, BUT his name should not be mentioned!  Finally even this milder version had to be rescinded.

Why? Kannadasan’s victorious statement said it all. ‘How dare they run this Commercial service for long, without using my movie lyrics, among Tamil folks?’ Then, and even now, whatever his politics, personal conflicts and complexities, when it comes to Tamil usage, Kannadasan’s reach and rapport with the mind of Tamils was (is) so influential and his works are considered as worthy of a single scholar’s Tamil encyclopedia.

Tamil politicians (some powerful, some considerate, some effeminate, some collaborators) may come and go. But, Kannadasan still rules the Tamil waves, not only in the Tamil speaking lands, but also on YouTube!

There is also another poignant long verse (160 lines), in 20 stanzas of 8 lines each that Kannadasan composed for Eelam Tamils in late 1950s. The title, ‘Ilankaiyil Vaazhum En Thamil Thozhi’ [My dear Tamil Woman Friend living in Ceylon].  It was written in the format of a response epistle, to a letter he had received from Ceylon.  I provide a pdf file of the original of this long verse at:

Kannadasan’s long verse on Eelam Tamils, late 1950s

In the first stanza, Kannadasan wrote,

First 3 stanzas of Kannadasan long verse on Eelam Tamils from late 50s

‘My dear friend, Saw your letter.

Heart became troubled! Oh No

In the Eelam country, you

and your husband do suffer

from series of waves that

kills many there

This cursed Tamil Land’s

‘Sin’ is that I could think’

Then, in the second and third stanzas, Kannadasan cussed the Tamil empire builders of the 12th century and before – the Pandians and the Cholas respectively. Why did they return, without promptly settling our folks there? If they had done this deed, then contemporary Tamils wouldn’t be a minority in the island, was poet’s thought of concern.

The fourth stanza also stressed the sin of Tamil empire builders. It reads in English, as follows:

“They dropped, what they captured; then,

Became slaves of those who they defeated!

Our forefathers blundered badly – due to that,

Perfidy – all over the world

Tamils suffered a long slumber! The

Sin of those sinners boomeranged

To the next generations

Sufferings only remain”


The sixth and seventh stanza described the current scene of suffering Tamils. In the eighth and ninth stanzas, Kannadasan cussed Pundit Nehru for his inaction and the Indian ‘diplomats’ who enjoy themselves in diplomatic dinners, dances, but don’t care about the sufferings of Tamils. In translation, these stanzas read,

“Deary! ‘Sinhalese

thinking could change,

If Nehru cared to

propose a viable solution-

We believe’ – you’d written!

Nonsense! He’s a globe trotting

gas bag. Will he do it?”


Queen’s feast, Banda

Minister’s shoulder,‘global’

political speech, womens’

dances, singing temptress’s

smiles, wherever

they enjoy these funs.

Do you think they do care that

your mom lives or dies?”

The tenth stanza also was dedicated to further derision of Nehru’s deeds. The usage of Tamil words Veetu Maadu [literally, house bulls] in the fifth line of this stanza, is a derisive put off for servants who work for the big guy.

“He is a great king! Now,

His thoughts are about atom bomb.

For him to think about you,

He isn’t a small fry!

May be his own house bulls

Some Tamils among them

Who will think of you? Own

Blood should speak, deary.”

The eleventh stanza extolled the use of Tamil language in bonding. The lines in twelfth stanza critiqued the ‘don’t care’ stand of other folks. The Thirteenth stanza described the hard work of Tamil laborers who made Ceylon a ‘paradise’, as promoted in tourist literature. Stanzas from fourteen to nineteen revels in inspirational words of war, giving tonic to the fighting spirit of Tamils.

Final two stanzas (19th and 20th) offered the climax to Kannadasan’s fury on the oppressors of Eelam Tamils. The 19th stanza was this.

Final 2 stanzas of Kannadasam long verse on Eelam Tamils from late 50s

“You begin the War there!

The next war is in Tamil Nadu!

Here, the language that bites our tongue

Hindi should be in pyre

[We] beat the drums

Carry the burning fire pot

even an inch of bone

cannot escape us! Truth!”

Will you believe that the first ‘literal’ call for Eelam war came from Kannadasan in late 1950s! The use of the word ‘thuvaku’ in the first line of 19th stanza is a play on its noun and verb forms. Thuvaku in noun means gun; in verb, it means begin.

The final stanza is this.

“Those who tell Southerners to study Hindu

Are not at all Tamilians!

Northerners who coited the Mother

Are bastards – those guys!

One with a narrow waist! If

They ask you to study Sinhalese,

Do tell this message

Yes! This is [our] Tamil blood.”

Kannadasan’s contemporaries in the Tamil movies in the 1950s included the following eleven poet lyricists: Bharathidasan, Udumalai Narayana Kavi, C.A. Lakshmanadas, Kothamangalam Subbu, Tanjai Ramaiah Das, Aiyampillai Maruthakasi, K.D. Santhanam, K.M. Balasubramaniam, Ka Mu Sheriff, Suratha aka Rajagopalan and Pattukoddai Kalyanasundaram. All except the last mentioned were seniors to Kannadasan. It was only Kannadasan who consoled the hurt feelings of Eelam Tamils at the opportune moment by his inspirational verses. Thus, he proved by deeds that the ‘king poet’ tag in front of his name was not a bauble decoration. While other poet-lyricists had sympathized with a few political parties, it was only Kannadasan who was an active politician, which provided the fire in his belly.


Kannadasan’s thoughts on his poetry

In a 1968 preface he wrote to the combined first two volumes of his poems, Kannadasan had written:

“This is a collection of poems which I had written from 1949. The first collection (vol.1) of my poems appeared in 1957. The second collection ‘(vol.2) appeared in 1958. What you have in hand now, is a combined volume of first two collections. Most poems were written when I was a member of the DMK party. Call it rage poems! If a poet is also a politician, the conflicts in his thoughts are proven in this collection. Whoever have been praised, have also been ridiculed. Whoever were ridiculed, have also been praised.

Now you can recognize, who were at the receiving end of my ridicule. You may ask, why publish such a collection with conflicting thoughts? Whatever be the thoughts expressed, poetry is mine. Let the Time decide whether the politics I conducted while as a member of the DMK, or as a non-DMK man now is realistic. I have no doubt that future critics will have a good feast with this volume.

Just enjoy my Tamil word play, when I praise or pull down a political leader. Please leave the criticism to the next generation.”


Kannadasan’s visits to Ceylon

Rama Kannappan mentions in his biography that Kannadasan had visited Ceylon twice. According to Kannappan, Kannadasan’s first visit was in 1954 and his host was a young journalist and politician Chelliah Rajadurai of Batticaloa (later to be the Federal Party/TULF MP from 1956 to 1989). Rajadurai, subsequently crossed over to UNP in 1979. There is some conflict about the year Kannadasan visited Ceylon. Kannadasan himself had recorded, the year was 1955, in his collection of interviews with notable folks, Santhithaen Cinthithaen [Met and Thought], for the Kumudham weekly. Currently, I’m preparing a bio-sketch on C. Rajadurai, who reached 91 on July 27, and include Kannadasan’s descriptions about him in that essay.

Subsequently, Kannadasan was invited by S. Thondaman Sr. of Ceylon Workers Congress. The year of Kannadasan’s second visit to Ceylon was not mentioned in the biography. [If memory serves, I guess this second visit should have occurred before 1963. While living in Colombo since 1961, for the next 15 years or so, I had a clear memory of those notable literati, politicians and musicians from Tamil Nadu, and I cannot remember about Kannadasan’s 2nd visit.] Biography mentions that Kannadasan took his 2nd wife Parvathi with him. Another accompaniment was the then Congress Party politician T.N. Anandanayaki. In his two volumes of autobiography, Kannadasan had failed to record anything about his two visits to Ceylon.


Cited Sources

Kannadasan: Kannadasan Kavithaikal, vol. 1 and 2, Vanathi Pathippagam, Chennai, 10th ed., 1991 (originally published 1968), pp. 239-245.

Kavignar Kannadasan: Santhithaen Cinthithaen, Vanathi Pathippagam, Chennai, 5th ed., 1989 (originally published 1982), pp. 12-14.

Rama. Kannappan: Kavi Arasu Kannadasan, Vanathi Pathippagam, Chennai, 2nd revised ed. 1989 (originally published 1983), pp. 235-236.


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No Responses to “‘King Poet’ Kannadasan at 91”

  1. Arul

    The question of “இலங்கை வென்ற பின்னர் ராசராசனும் சோழ நாட்டுக்கு ஏன் வந்தான்” raised in my mind after Mullivaikkaal genocide. But Kannadasan is a visionary and he thought about it long ago.