Kanyakumari: Poongani Amma, the oldest Villupattu performer in India, passed away Friday at her tiny home in Kottaram village near here. The 84-year-old rustic musician perhaps would have lived a few more years if only the state-the government and the people-had not allowed her to decay in poverty and neglect.
Some neighbours were taking care of her as she lived alone after the death of her husband, also a Villupattu performer, died years ago and she had no means of livelihood except for the `1000 government pension. Local officials recorded the death as caused by old age and health issues.
Award-winning rapper Lady Kash from Singapore had earlier this year drenched Poongani Amma in limelight when she flew down to visit the old woman at her hut and made a song titled Villupattu in her honour. “Together with my team, we gave her little humble home a facelift”, wrote the singer, who is a Tamil. “The moments spent together and her smile…priceless. A timeless treasure, she is. Just like the ancient art forms of our heritage and world”.
But then, when she stopped performing at 70 due to age-related issues, Poongani found she was almost abandoned by all and could survive on just the meager government pension. Neighbours were kind, though, as they knew she was a legend.
Beginning her Villupattu at the age of ten, Poongani Amma soon became a star as she could perform with the robust confidence of a man and developed a unique style of twirling the kattai (the stick that strikes the bow string). Those were the days when she was paid twice as much as a male performer.
Even as they claim to be great supporters and sponsors of art and culture, successive Dravidian governments chose to ignore Poongani, perhaps because she was a villager sans a godfather and she was performing a folk art form that was fading in recent years. It was said she did not get the Kalaimamani award from the government-which would have provided her with handsome monthly pensions-because she did not have other awards and she did not keep record of her performances....