Poongani amma, the oldest living vilupaattu performer in the country passed away on Friday due to health issues. The 84-year-old was staying alone her home in Kottaram village in Tamil Nadu's Kanyakumari district. Poongani amma was in the limelight earlier this year, after Lady Kash, an award-winning rapper from Singapore made a song titled ‘Villupaattu’ in her honour.
Her neighbours were said to be taking care of her as her health was gradually deteriorating .
Villupaattu, which literally translates to ‘bow song’, is a form of musical story-telling using the bow as the primary instrument. It’s an indigenous art form practised mostly in the southern districts of Tamil Nadu. Over the last few years, it has seen a decline, with very few practitioners remaining in the state.
Poongani amma started practising the art form at the age of 10 and was said to be only the third woman ever to perform villupaattu. She gave her last performance at the age of seventy and was since solely dependent on the government’s meagre pension of Rs 1000 a month.
“With the effects of old age setting in, I decided to stop performing. The decision wasn’t a matter of choice. It was a matter of necessity. With no one to support me, I had to retire to a life of mere existence,” she had told TNM earlier this year.
However, after she retired, Poongani amma was forced to go into oblivion and poverty. She did not receive any State Honour (Kalaimamani award) either, usually bestowed upon such artists, citing lack of record of her performances.
“We don’t really perform in the hope of getting a Kalaimamani award. We perform it out of the love for the art. Any award, if it comes my way, then good. If not, it’s not my loss,” she had said, when asked for a response.