Why Is Late DMK Chief Karunanidhi Called ‘Kalaignar’?

What does ‘Kalaignar’ mean in Tamil and why was he given the title?

1 min read
A young Karunanidhi known for his poetry and screenwriting for Tamil cinema, among other things.

Karunanidhi, DMK chief and five-time chief minister of Tamil Nadu, was also a first-class screenwriter. He brought to life some vibrant films in Tamil cinema, like Parasakthi, Manohara and Malaikkallan. It was his artistic bent and talent that earned him the moniker ‘Kalaignar’, meaning “artist” in Tamil. But his contribution to literature was not restricted to screenplays, it spanned poems, books and letters as well.


Karunanidhi was well-versed in Sangam literature, one of the oldest languages in which the early history of Tamil Nadu is written.

He had also penned a number of books, like ‘Ponnar Shankar’, ‘Romapuri Pandian’, ‘Thirukkural Urai’, ‘Vellikizhamai’, ‘Thanpandi Singam’, among others. But his screenplays for films are what set him apart.

Even after his political career took off, Karunanidhi continued to patronise the arts. He was chief minister of Tamil Nadu for five separate terms. Under his tenure in 2000, he unveiled a 40-metre long statue of Tamil poet and philosopher Tiruvalluvar at Kanyakumari. Karunanidhi’s family launched a channel in September 2007, and it was called Kalaignar TV.

And between 2006-2011, he made an important contribution to keep the Tamil language and literature alive. He organised the World Classical Tamil Conference 2010. The conference was a gathering of scholars, leaders, poets and people of the arts with an interest in the Tamil people and language.

He had even composed the Tamil conference anthem (Semmozhiyaana Thamizh Mozhiyaam). The music for it was composed by AR Rahman, and it was performed by several artists in the state.

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