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How M Karunanidhi became Kalaignar | Life and time of the DMK patriarch

In his mind, politics and literature have not been two mutually exclusive arenas of expression but part of a larger school of thought that paved the way for revolutionary ideas.

Sonal Rana | New Delhi |

M Karunanidhi has donned many ensembles in his life, including serving as the chief minister of Tamil Nadu for five times, as a screenwriter for Tamil film industry and as an exceptional writer of widely praised books, stage plays and screenplays. The DMK patriarch has established an indisputable, not to mention special, place in the lives and hearts of people of Tamil Nadu. Here is a brief history of his compelling, and equally engaging, journey from M Karunanidhi to Kalaignar Karunanidhi.

Early life and political bend

Karunanidhi was born on June 3, 1924 in a small village named Thirukkuvalai in Tamil Nadu. Originally named Dakshinamurthy, the late politician was born and raised in a family of musicians. Even as a child, his inclination towards politics was assured. He was only 14 years old when he started participating in anti-Hindi agitations and similar political movements. He even founded the Tamil Nadu Tamil Manavar Mandram, the student wing of Dravidian Movement at that time. Soon enough, he started his very own newspaper by the name of Murasoli, which later became DMK’s official newspaper.

READ | Karunanidhi passes away at age 94

Contribution to Tamil literature and cinema

Karunanidhi, despite his apparent interest in politics, wore many caps throughout his life. He is the proud author of a number of books, some of which are: Romapuri Pandian, Thirukkural Urai, Thanpandi Singam, Vellikizhamai and Ponnar Shankar, among others. Raajakumari, Abimanyu, Parasakhti and Manohara, on the other hand are some of his most acclaimed screenplays. He even wrote the song, ‘Semmozhiyaam Tamizh Mozhiyaam’, for the World Classical Tamil Conference 2010, to which AR Rahman gave music.

Literature percolates into politics and vice versa

Politics and literature are both a crucial part of M Karunanidhi’s life. Some people even claim that he revolutionised what we now understand as Tamil literature. He has devoted a major chunk of his life to Tamil literature and film industry, reforming the way people think in the process.

In his mind, politics and literature were not two mutually exclusive arenas of expression but part of a larger school of thought that paved the way for revolutionary ideas. He often used his work to express his political beliefs and predispositions. He has often exhorted in favour of widow-remarriage, abolition of zamindari, dissolution of untouchability and self-respect marriage — marriages conducted without being officiated by a Brahmin priest.

He often kicked off his speeches and addresses with excerpts or compositions from his favourite writers and poets. The phenomenal orator kept his audiences captivated and spellbound by his charm, earning himself the moniker of Kalaignar, which means a scholar of arts. 

READ | Supporters pray for Karunanidhi, crowd swells up outside Kauvery Hospital

Rise to power

In his political career, he first received broader notice when he found a close friend and colleague in DMK founder CN Annadurai. With time, he rose in power and position within the party and was the party’s treasurer by 1961. DMK won the 1967 assembly elections with Karunanidhi as the public works minister. However, things got a little shaky for DMK when Annadurai, then CM of Tamil Nadu, died in 1969. And then, Karunanidhi came to the rescue! Being a close associate of Annadurai, he was naturally the next choice for CM. He was appointed the chief minister after Annadurai’s sudden death and his tenure lasted until January 1971.

Since then, the Kalaignar has come a long way. Throughout his impressive political career, Karunanidhi has won 12 assembly elections has been appointed the chief minister of Tamil Nadu five times. He silenced the critics who deemed him too old for contesting elections by becoming the chief minister of Tamil Nadu for the fifth time at the staggering age of 82!


But like any other politician, his career was not entirely, for the lack of a better word, immaculate. Over the years, he has repeatedly been accused of corruption and nepotism charges. His political opponents often suspect him of fostering connections with the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE). Being an atheist himself, he once, in response to the Sethusamudram controversy, questioned the existence of God. Needless to say, his remarks started a fire, and with it sparked a tonne of controversy.

Tamil Nadu’s Beloved Kalaignar

Karunanidhi’s political career and engagements have had their very own crests and troughs but what is overwhelming is how the people of Tamil Nadu never left his side even once. Karunanidhi has never, in his entire life, lost a single assembly election! This is not just a fact backing his political influence or scope but is testimony to the love and affection he has amassed from the people of Tamil Nadu over the years, for whom he will always be the Kalaignar.