Profile: P. Sundaram Pillai

- July 9, 2021


By Shalini Srinivasan, Sanjana Kapur & Gankhu Sumnyan

Illustration: Sundara Moorthy

P. Sundaram Pillai was born on the 4th of April, 1855, in Alappuzha, in Kerala, to Perumal Pillai and Madathy Ammal. He was educated in the Tamil literary tradition, reading widely and deeply in classics like the Tirukural. He went to Trivandrum, where he studied in the Maharaja’s College. In 1877, a year after he finished his BA, he was married to Shivagami Ammal. He taught, first at the Thirunelveli English-Tamil School, and later as Professor of Philosophy at his old college. Pillai continued to study and got an MA degree. He also worked for the Travancore Education Service. Sundaram Pillai’s learning was vast – he was familiar with philosophy and literature in Tamil, English, and Sanskrit.

He noticed that though the Tamil language had a rich and ancient literature, there were no plays, not in the Western sense. He set out therefore, to write a great drama in blank verse. The play was called Manonmaniyam and became immensely popular, shortly after it was published in 1891. Though the play is too long to be performed in full, it has been adapted and enacted, and is popular even today. The play also features an invocation to the Tama language, Niraaarum Kadal Udutha, that has been adopted by the Government of Tamil Nadu as the state song.

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