Thiruvavinankudi known as Palani is the most significant among the ‘Arupadai veedu’ of Lord Murugan. In this temple town was born Muthiah Pillai as the son of Periyaselvam. He has two younger brothers, Kandiah and Chidambaram. Muthiah was interested in music right from his childhood, and he abandoned his education when he was in his fourth class. He started to learn vocal from Palani Krishnaiyer, who was a ghatam artiste. Though he learnt vocal, he was more interested in laya instruments. He started to learn the family’s traditional instrument, the tavil, practiced diligently and became an expert in a short time.
Though nobody could be said to be the guru of Muthiah in tavil, he became the disciple of Pudukottai Manpundia Pillai to lean the intricacies of laya. He played tavil for nadaswaram vidwans like Madurai Ponnuswamy Pillai, Perambalur Angappa Pillai, Chidambaram Vaidyanatha Pillai, Uraiyur Gopalaswami Pillai, Tiruvavaduthurai Rajarathinam Pillai and earned immense fame. In 1898 he married Unnamulaiammal, the sister of Chennaimalai Krishna Mudaliar. Muthiah was such a great tavil vidwan that the senior musicians of his time considered him a genius in laya. In a marriage procession in Srirangam, Uraiyur Gopalaswami Pillai was playing the nadaswaram and Palani Muthiah Pillai was playing the tavil. Difference of opinion came up between them during the procession and Muthiah Pillai stopped playing the tavil since then. He started playing mridangam for vocal concerts and played for vocalists like Konerirajapuram Vaidyanatha Iyer, Kanchipuram Nayana Pillai, Mannargudi Rajagopala Pillai, Flute Palladam Sanjeeva Rao, Veena Karaikudi brothers and others. Apart from Carnatic musicians, he also played for North Indian musicians and was praised by them. Mysore Maharaja Krishna Raja Wodeyar appreciated his mridangam expertise and presented him with a couple of shawls and a cover for his mridangam which had a six-inch Saraswati in gold embellished on it.
Another wife of Muthiah Pillai was Anjugathammal. It is said that she was the first woman in carnatic music to sing pallavi. He had two sons and a daughter by Unnamulaiammal and three sons and a daughter by Anjugathammal.
Kanchipuram Nayana Pillai gave his daughter Neelayathakshi in marriage to Nageswara Pillai, the elder son of Muthiah Pillai by his first wife. The younger son was the uncrowned king of mridangam, Palani Subramaniam Pillai. Pudukottai Manpundia Pillai became an ascetic towards the end of his life assuming the name Murugananda Swamigal and attained Samadhi. Muthiah Pillai built a temple over the Samadhi and consecrated it.
Muthiah Pillai fell ill and passed away in 1945.
His prime disciples include his son Palani Subramaniam Pillai and T. Ranganathan.