A Personal Article on Kamala, "Reminiscenses of a Disciple"

Monday, August 15, 2011
Kumari Kamala (Sruti Magazine)
A few months back I received a comment from Ramaa Bharadvaj (a Bharatanatyam and Kuchipudi exponent, classical dance school director/teacher, among many other things), who related that she had studied dance under Kamala in the 70s and toured with her.  To date I’ve dedicated many posts or parts of posts to Kamala and her wonderful film dances from various stages of her life ('baby kamala' dances, rare dances, more rare dances, Konjum Salangai dances, a recent performance and more) when she known as Baby Kamala, Kumari Kamala, Kamala Laksman/Laxman, and now Kamala Narayan or simply Kamala. What a delight to find someone who knew her personally in the flesh!

But I was most amazed when Ramaa shared with me the article "Kamala: Reminiscenses of a Disciple" she had written at the invitation of the editor of Sruti magazine for its December 2001 issue (#207) which was near the time Kamala was awarded the "Platinum Jubilee Award" by the Music Academy of Chennai.  With Ramaa's permission, the six pages of her article are posted below as images (click on the thumbnail to view the full-sized version).

The article is a tenderly written piece that recalls Kamala as a disciplined dance teacher whose actions revealed glimpses into her kind and generous nature as a human being.  How lovely to hear about Kamala as a person!  It's so rare to find stories like this about her. 

A consistent theme throughout Ramaa's writing is an admiration of Kamala's selfless nature:
"A sabha secretary once told my father, "Dance is for the children from wealthy families.  People like you should not bother with it."  The bitter truth of his cruel words would have ended any aspirations our parents had for our dance career, had it not been for the blessed entry of Kamala into our lives.  "I have not forgotten the humble background from which I have come", she is supposed to have once told my parents, in answer to their concern if they could financially afford a teacher of Kamala's stature for their children.  For as long as I studied with her, she taught me all that I could learn, gave me all that I was capable of grasping and she did it all without demanding or expecting any monetary compensation.  Why did she even bother?  Dance was not a passion for me back then.  I must have frustrated her many a time with my ineptness.  All that I can say is, it was because she was more than a teacher.  She was a guru, whose illumined soul saw something in me that was invisible even to my own comprehension.  She was a guide who would lead her students on a journey beyond technique and she proved herself a guru of great magnanimity, many times over."
I was very surprised to read about Kamala's influence on Vempatti Chinna Satyam, the legendary Kuchipudi guru who has trained a host of now-established dancers.  
"Many years later, while traveling in a bus from Boston to New York City, I sat next to Vempatti Chinna Satyam and he spoke of the immense admiration and respect that he had for Kamala.  He told me that, when he was young, he would save the small allowance he received, in order to buy a ticket for Kamala's performance.  The elegantly sculpturesque quality of her dance inspired him to later expand the vocabulary of Kuchipudi movements." 
Perhaps what impressed upon me most of all was this paragraph near the close of the piece.
"She was not into giving eloquent speeches, declaring her purpose and denouncing every body elses's --a trend that we see so much of today.  In fact, she never spoke much or wrote about anything that we as her students were aware of.  She simply danced and created for the stage and her audiences, making them love with her warmth and never intimidating them with her presence or her intellectuality.  I cannot recall even a single instance when she criticized any other dancer in the presence of her students, or demanded our loyalty to her performance style and her alone.  It must have been because she was too busy being a Dancer to have gotten involved in such Politics of Dance.  She answered only to the calling of Dance."
That's it!  Those last two lines give credence to the theory I've had regarding why Kamala is so little regarded today- that she simply didn't play the political games of the dance world that some of her contemporaries did nor did she seem to chase after recognition and accolades--and this had far reaching effects.  A read through other articles about her in Sruti Magazine makes clear that after a certain time her status seemed to diminish as documentaries and awards were focused on or given to other dancers and eminent dancers listed their inspirations with no mention of Kamala (for further reading, see these image scans of the Sruti Magazine article "Kamala: An Extraordinary Repertoire" on Kamala's dance school webpage: Page 1, Page 2, Page 3).  Even a recent article (not locatable online anymore) from The Hindu relates this sentiment when it notes, "In a day and age when the younger generation has neither seen Kamala perform, nor heard of her name, thanks to certain discernible moves to blot out her name from the annals of Bharatanatyam..." It makes me very sad, especially when paired Kamala's admission of her financial struggles and wishes that she had developed some other skills as she notes in the Sruti article "Kamala at Seventy Five." 

Thanks again to Ramaa for sharing this beautiful article with me and granting me permission to share it with all of my blog visitors. Kamala will not be forgotten, and I'm proud that myself and some of my fellow bloggers are finding and highlighting Kamala's glorious film dances so they will be as cherished as they deserve.


  1. Minai, it was great that Ramaa shared that article with you, and many thanks to you for sharing it with us!

    And by the way, how perfect that you posted this on Indian Independence Day, considering how much Kamala dazzled with those patriotic dances in the 1947 film Naam Iruvar!

  2. Thanks Richard! Yes, it's very fitting and I'm glad that you posted Kamala's dance video on your blog. :)


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