By Dr. S. Jeyasankar, Eastern University
Mr. S. Sivalingam, better known as Master Sivalingam, is an icon of storytelling and the Tamil bow-song tradition. He is a unique individual who has touched the hearts and minds of the Tamil community for more than steady five decades.
His unending passion for storytelling and the bow-song (Villupaattu), and his mastery of this – through live performances, radio and eventually television – has created its own history by shaping the lives and personalities of those who have witnessed him perform.
A unique individual who has touched the hearts and minds of the Tamil community for more than steady five decades
The tradition of storytelling has a long history among the Tamils. Master Sivalingam’s lone position in carrying on this tradition in a modern Sri Lanka creates a space to imagine the position storytelling held in the past among the larger Tamil community.
Master Sivalingam, as he is popularly known, or Vanoli Mama (Radio Uncle) for his acclaimed performances on radio in the seventies, travels by bicycle to perform his art of storytelling among children in the village and in the city.
His storytelling is marvellous. He has the power to keep children spellbound while engaging them as participants and subjects in both storytelling and storyline.
His gestures and voice modulations enliven the performances and he captivates his audience with outbursts of laughter, applause, giggles and a pattern of timely questions, to which children respond instantly. He spins his tales with every part of his being – not only with words, sentences and sounds, but with his whole body thus provoking and responding to the children’s evident delight.
His unending passion for storytelling and the bow-song (Villupaattu), and his mastery of this – through live performances, radio and eventually television – has created its own history by shaping the lives and personalities of those who have witnessed him perform
In his live performances, he uses motion as a critical part. On radio, he relies on words and sounds alone to create colourful images and vivid scenarios. Whether live or on air, he holds the same power over children, making them feel his immediate presence within their personal space. With widespread access to television, he has been able to share his storytelling with the nation.
Master Sivalingam skillfully navigates these three different spheres, thereby offering all children an equally marvellous experience.
Revered Master Sivalingam brings great pride to the country, and his presence in the lives of so many children plays a critical role in shaping the contemporary Tamil identity.
Honouring Master S. Sivalingam and his pivotal role in the national imagination through art is a way of celebrating our great past, while underscoring the need to keep these traditions alive now and in future.