Suruli Rajan was born in 1938 in Periyakulam, near Theni. His father Ponniah Pillai worked as an accountant for farm owners of the adjoining areas in Theni. The child was named after the Suruli Velappar, the family deity at the temple atop a hill graced by the picturesque Suruli Falls. He lost his parents at a younger age and couldn’t complete his school studies. Then he moved to his brother’s house in Madurai and worked as an apprentice mechanic in a nearby workshop. He was interested in acting and has been a part of amateur stage plays while his stay at Madurai with his brother. In 1959 he reached Chennai carrying dreams to appear in movies. Then he actively worked with many theatre groups before getting a role in movies in the year 1965. He appeared in a brief role in Iravum Pagalum directed by Joseph Thaliayath. He died on 5th December 1980 at the peak of his career when he was only 42. Same year he created a record of acting more than 50 movies in a single year. Many of his films were released after his death and he received State Government’s Best Comedian’s award for 1981.
In spite of his passion for acting opportunities were few and far between. A sudden spate of opportunities in stage plays filled him with heartening optimism. He worked with various drama troupes, including those of O.A.K.Devar, pisir Ramarao, T.N. Balu and in Karunanidhi's 'kagithapoo' staged in aid of the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam party's election fund. It was filmmaker Joseph Thaliayath of The Citadel Film Corporation Pvt. Ltd who brought Suruli Rajan to cinema, first in a brief appearance in Iravum Pagalum in 1965 and soon after in a more noticeable comic role in Kaadhal paduthum paadu the year following.