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K. P. Kittappa Pillai
Born5 May 1913 (1913-05-05)
Died1999 (2000) (aged 85)
  • K. Ponniah Pillai (father)

K. P. Kittappa Pillai (5 May 1913 – 1999) was the son of Sangita Kalanidhi K. Ponniah Pillai (1888-1945), a scion of the famous Tanjore Quartet, codifiers of the Bharatanatyam format.[1]

Personal life

This section appears to contradict itself on who is who. The subject's brothers could not have been born in 1820 / 1804 / 1808. Please see the talk page for more information. (September 2023)

Kittappa Pillai and his brothers were born into a nattuvanar family and were trained in music by Muthuswami Dikshitar. They went on to become asthana vidwans in the various South Indian courts. Chinniah (b. 1802) took Bharathanatyam to the Wodeyar court at Mysore; Ponniah (b. 1804) and Sivanandam (b. 1808) stayed in Tanjavur, under Maratha patronage; and Vadivelu (b. 1810), who adapted the violin for use in Carnatic music, also created the form of Mohiniattam at the request of the Maharaja of Travancore, Swati Tirunal. The brothers codified the basic bharathanatyam adavus, developed the margam (from alarippu to tillana) as we know it today, composed an impressive number of alarippus, jatiswarams, kavituvams, sabdams, varnams, padams, javalis, kirtanais, and tillanas and in brief, transformed both the temple and court presentation of sadir, as this form was then known.

Kittappa Pillai began his career as a vocalist having been trained by his own father Ponniah Pillai and flourished in that sphere for some time. As a direct disciple of his maternal grandfather, the veteran Nattuvanar Pandanallur Meenakshi Sundaram Pillai, Kittappa Pillai established himself as a versatile Nattuvanar during the major part of his career. His father Ponniah Pillai, born 1888, should not be confused with his more famous namesake ancestor who was born in 1804.

Tanjore Quartet heritage

The Quartet's heritage, preserved and expanded by the next eight generations of this family, remains the richest resource for traditional performers of the form to this day. Guru Kittappa Pillai himself was a brilliant musician, teacher and choreographer and revived many rare pieces of the original Tanjavur repertoire, producing the first annotated versions in the 1950s,[2] including the Sarabhendra Bhupala Kuravanji and the Navasandhi Kavituvams.[3][4]

He trained several students in India and from abroad, some of whom became prominent performers of the Thanjavur tradition. He was the great-great-grandson of one of the Thanjavur Quartets (Sivanandam).

Awards and recognitions

Kittappa Pillai was associated as a faculty member in Tamizh Isai College and at Annamalai University.

He was honoured with several awards and titles during his lifetime which include:


Kittappa Pillai has published works relating to the repertoire of his illustrious ancestors, the Tanjore Quartet. These include Ponniah Mani Malai, Thanjai Natya Isaikaruvoolam, Adi Bharatakala Manjari, Javalis of Chinnayya and Gana Kala Swarabhushani (along with his younger brother veena vidwan Sri K. P. Sivanandam).[citation needed]

Among his other noteworthy contributions to the field of Bharatanatyam, are several rare dance compositions of the Quartet set to dance and Marathi compositions of Shahji Maharaja of Thanjavur in Bharatanatyam format.[citation needed]


  1. ^ Fisher, Jennifer; Anthony Shay (2009). When Men Dance:Choreographing Masculinities Across Borders: Choreographing Masculinities Across Borders. Oxford University Press. p. 379. ISBN 9780195386707.
  2. ^ Soneji, Davesh (2012). Unfinished Gestures: Devadasis, Memory, and Modernity in South India. University of Chicago Press. p. 247. ISBN 9780226768090.
  3. ^ Peterson, Indira Viswanathan; Devesh Soneji (2008). Performing pasts: reinventing the arts in modern South India. Oxford University Press. p. 86. ISBN 9780195690842.
  4. ^ Karlekar, Hiranmay (1998). Independent India: the first fifty years. Oxford University Press. p. 395. ISBN 9780195647785.
  5. ^ "Latest General Knowledge". Competition Science Vision. Pratiyogita Darpan. December 1999. p. 1262. ISSN 0974-6412.