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A tribute to Kamala on her 90th birthday on 16th June 2024
- Gayathri Keshavan
Photos courtesy: Gayathri Keshavan

June 29, 2024

Kamala and Bharatanatyam are inseparable words right from the year 1940, spanning the dance world for many decades. She was popular as Baby Kamala…later as Kumari Kamala, then famous as Kamala Lakshman….thereafter Smt. Kamala. During my childhood days and as I grew up to be a young dancer, my role model for admiration and inspiration was Kamala, the enchanting dancer.

Kumari Kamala
Kamala dancing

My formative days of learning Bharatanatyam and performing was highly influenced by watching Kamala's programmes in Hyderabad, for more than 10 -15 years. The three sisters Kamala, Rhadha and Vasanthi would always dance together. It was a delight to the eyes, as the trio would present a Margam spanning a good three hours. Many times it would include a snake dance (Nadarmudi) and a Kurati dance (both of which were in my repertoire too for many years). The presentation of jathis, abhinayam, her body posture, the striking high jumps for 'Thalanguthom', the look in her eyes, were simply superb.

Dance items were in a traditional format, simple korvais or sequences as they are called, rendered in a medium tempo and completing every movement neatly (not in an express speed, filled with unnecessary poses as we find in present day choreography). This system was strictly followed by Pandanallur, Vazhuvoor and Tanjavur banis. For students of Bharatanatyam, this definitely has an impact on their own improvement. Though the three sisters were equally good dancers, Kamala was outstanding. I would try to imitate her way of presentation. Her most impressive dance that I still remember after all these years are Varnam 'Maa Mohalahiri Merude', 'Bhavayami Raghuramam' (solo), 'Kamakshi Swarajathi' in Bhairavi (1971 Music Academy programme) with Rhadha, 'Natanam Adinar,' 'Nadarmudi' (snake dance) and 'Theeradu Vilaiyattu Pillai' with Rhadha as Krishna.

I am the daughter and disciple of T.K. Narayan and Jayalakshmi Narayan. Academy of Bharata Natyam was established in the year 1948 by my father. The revered gurus Meenakshi Sundaram Pillai and Muthukumara Pillai were his Gurus. My father also worked as a lecturer of Bharatanatyam in the Government College of Music and Dance, Hyderabad.

He had organized Kamala's lecture-demonstration in the college (1960s). I was fortunate to attend that session in close quarters. I was excited and proud, as a teenager, just to stand beside her and admire her (no selfies). I should definitely mention the excellent orchestra that accompanied Kamala, that enriched and equally supported her performance - Ramaiah Pillai on nattuvangam, TK Murthy on mridangam and others.

Jayalakshmi Narayan, Vasanthi, T.K. Murthy, Kamala, Rhadha
Jayalakshmi Narayan, Vasanthi, T.K. Murthy, Kamala, Rhadha

On the same note, I am very proud to say my mother Jayalakshmi accompanied Kamala and her sisters doing both nattuvangam and vocal (singing) for a short period. Jayalakshmi was part of the Trio's troupe in 1961, travelling all over Russia, Europe and UK, performing in many cities of the countries they visited as a delegation.

My mother, the three sisters, their mother Rajam, TK Murthy, popular Kathak dancer Sudarshan Dheer, and a manager were the team members. This gave my mother the opportunity to get to know Kamala as an artiste and as a person (they spent time together with the family in those times). Pictures and dance reviews about Kamala would frequently appear in many magazines. I have a good collection of such cuttings!

Kamala's mother Rajam, Vasanthi, Kamala, Rhadha, Jayalakshmi Narayan, Sudarshan Dheer
Kamala's mother Rajam, Vasanthi, Kamala, Rhadha, Jayalakshmi Narayan, Sudarshan Dheer.
Also in picture is mridangist TK Murthy

The present generation has missed out on watching the performances of many great dancers of the 'golden' era. Those days, quality of dance was very good (nowadays quality of videos are very good).

I am glad I had the opportunity to witness many music and dance programmes of wonderful artistes, who gave their best!

Gayathri Keshavan
Gayathri Keshavan is Director, Academy of Bharata Natyam, Bangalore. (

This is a wonderful tribute to a true legend, Kamala Lakshman. Your insights into her artistry and influence are truly inspiring. It's clear how much respect you have for her contributions to Bharatanatyam. Her dedication and captivating performances no doubt left a lasting impression, not just on you, but on generations of dancers.
Thank you for sharing your perspective.
- Chithra (July 3, 2024)

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