The Spectacular Sensation

A dancer par excellence, Kamala has taken Bharatnatyam to new heights. Graceful and fierce in her form, she remains one of the best in her field.
Kumari Kamala. Illustrated by Gowri: Visual Storyteller at ThisDay

Kumari Kamala. Illustrated by Gowri: Visual Storyteller at ThisDay

A child of age four was immersed in Kathak, dancing on the beats of her heart. It was a matter of chance that Tamil film director  A.N. Kalyanasundaram Iyer saw her performing. One could not help but wonder how a child of such a young age could perform a dance form that requires years of practice with finesse. He decided to cast her in his movies and this is how Kamala stepped into the world of cinema.

Born in Mayuram of the erstwhile Madras Presidency on 16 June 1934, Kumari Kamala had a rigour for dancing right from the beginning. Along with her sisters Radha and Vanasti, she trained under  Lachhu Maharaj. It was due to her dancing in Iyer’s film that she got to be a part of many other films.

Her family soon realized that their daughter had huge potential and hence her mother shifted to Madras. Here, Kamala was enrolled in the tutelage of Bharatnatyam icons like K.M. Pillai and V.B.R Pillai. Owing to her skills, she landed a place in many Tamil films and her moment to shine came in 1947 with the movie Naam Iruvar.

Labelled as a catalyst of a cultural revolution in Tamil cinema, it fitted well within contemporary times due to its patriotic themes. The dance featured in the movie rejuvenated Bharatnatyam. Kamala was now the face of change.

In 40 long years of her career, she has played many iconic roles and enchanted many with her poise and perfection. Kamala was a performer. Her ability to hold the stage and captivate the audience was second to none. Trained in both music and dance, all her performances were an experience in themselves. Her fame reached far and wide all over the globe.

In the year 1953, Kamala was invited to perform Bharaynatyam at Queen Elizabeth II’s coronation. Post this, her fan following grew manifold.

After touring extensively for more than a decade, she decided it was the time for her to pass this great art form to the following generations.

Her stint as a professor began at Colgate University after receiving a scholarship from there. It was as if she found a new purpose in life as a teacher and Kamala then moved to New York to live and breathe this passion of hers. She later opened an academy, the Shri Bharatha Kamalalaya in Long Island.

Be it her performances or that of her students, Kamala’s dedication towards Indian classical arts has been always apparent. For this, she was given the Padma Bhushan, Central Sangeet Natak Akademi Award, National Heritage Fellowship among many others.

With great dedication, she has carved a niche for herself. No wonder why, Kamala became the first Bharatnatyam dancer to gain wide popularity that’s still going strong.

The queen of dancing- Kamala; Source: Twitter

The queen of dancing- Kamala; Source: Twitter

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