A Clear Copy of Kamala's Tandava Dance in Sivagangai Seemai

Thursday, November 22, 2012
Finally! A clear copy of Kamala Lakshman's dance in Sivagangai Seemai (Tamil, 1957) has been uploaded by the awesome YouTuber Kandasamy Sekkarakudi Subbiah Pillai.  This is my favorite film dance of Kamala's (second place would be her dance in Paavai Vilakku). It's not classical Bharatanatyam-based at all, but her training in the form gives this brilliantly-choreographed tandava-style dance incredible energy, precision, form, and speed.  The cinematography, music, and overall presentation are the icing on the cake.  It is entirely and unusually creative.  Kamala dances in four segments, each about a minute long and separated by scenes of the last speeches of the ruling Marudhu brothers/family before they are hanged by the British.  Behold what I can only describe as FIERCE:

Sivagangai Seemai ("Land of Sivagangai") is set in Sivagangai in Tamil Nadu around the turn of the 18th century "when the East India Company was struggling to establish supremacy over South India" (Guy). It tells the story of the Marudhu brothers who ruled Sivagangai at that time and "took on the British" by issuing a proclamation in 1801 urging "the people of every community to throw out the British" from India (Kolappan). Given that this was decades before the Sepoy Mutiny of 1857, some have questioned the claim that the Sepoy Mutiny was "the first war of independence" in India. After the battle in Kalayarkovil near Sivaganga, "the East India Company ultimately destroyed the brothers" by hanging them in late 1801.

From what I can gather, it appears that Kamala plays the wife of one of the Maradhu brothers. Her dance is a response to the agony of her husband's hanging and the brutal end of their family's fight, way of life, and community. Richard at the Dances on the Footpath blog aptly called it a "suicide dance." It's essentially a film-style tandava dance in the spirit of Lord Shiva's rudra tandava, a dance of absolute grief and anger and symbolic of the "the cosmic cycles of creation and destruction, as well as the daily rhythm of birth and death."

The presentation and choreography of the dance is absolutely brilliant!  The atmosphere is eerie, dark, and filled with shadows.  The music's rhythm is frantic and passionate, and Kamala matches every beat with incredible speed and vigor.  I've never seen her dance this quickly and emphatically!  Pieces of the choreography are fantastic, like the way the camera tracks her quick rise at 1:00 makes her appear to fly off the ground and defy gravity, or the backbend spins at 1:50 which look completely creepy.  Her hair is long and loose, whipping and tailing her movements and at times gleaming in the light.  As the dance progresses, Kamala moves to the upper perches of the temple grounds, the majestic South Indian-style temple rising in the skyline and the architecture and camera angles creatively framing her performance.  The grand finale sees a tumultuous thunderstorm serve as the backdrop to the last moments of her dance, and her life.  I wish I knew who was responsible for this dance, as the credits I am told do not identify a dance director or choreographer (only art direction as Balu).  Randor Guy totally dropped the ball on this one and doesn't even mention Kamala's dance! :)

Kamala does not only perform an amazing dance in the film; she also has a prominent acting role making Sivagangai Seemai one of the few films that she acted in (along with Konjum Salangai (1962), Jwala (1971), Paavai Vilakku (1960), Lavanya (1951), and some smaller roles in her early films).

New Sayee-Subbulakshmi and Rhadha Dances!

I recently learned that the Sayee-Subbulakshmi sisters perform a dance in the song "Muthu Pugazh Padaithu"!  The most exciting portion of the dance is the last third beginning with the fast-paced rhythmic interlude at 3:27.  Look at those fantastic walking backbends (how do they not fall over!).  Randor Guy says the nattuvanar K.N. Dhandayuthapani Pillai choreographed their dance and it "attracted a lot of attention."  How wonderful to get to see it in such a clear print as well:

And as I blogged about previously, Kamala's younger sister Rhadha performs with her in the folksy song "Kannankaruthaa Kili Kattazhagan Thotta Kili." But in watching these new uploads from the film, I discovered Kamala and Rhadha also dance in another folksy song "Kottu Melam Kottungadi" (below).  Kamala also "sings" in a few songs like Sivagangai Seemai, Kanavu Kandaen (happy), and Kanavu Kandaen (sad).  There is also a cute group dance (that doesn't have Kamala/Rhadha/Sayee-Subblakshmi in it), Saanthu Pottu Thalalanga

The film was apparently a commercial failure but is well-remembered as "among the best historical films made in Tamil" and beloved for its beautiful and patriotic songs with lyrics written by the eminent Tamil poet Kannadasan.  Many online sources say the film was released in 1959, but The Encyclopaedia of Indian Cinema and Randor Guy both say it was 1957, so I'm sticking with that date.

Guy, Randor.  Blast From the Past - Sivagangai Seemai (1957).  The Hindu.
Kolappan, B.  Rare Insights into Lives of Marudhu Brothers.  The Hindu.
Documentary on Maruthu Brothers.  The Hindu.


  1. There was a nice peacock dance of kamala in a gemini ganesh savithri starred tamil film. I dont know which film it is?. But saw that beautiful dance on tv. Do you know the name of the film, and whether it is in youtube or not????

    1. Muhsin - Hello! I've never seen a peacock dance of Kamala before that I can remember. I wonder if you're thinking of the peacock dance Padmini did in Iru Malargal? I can never forget that one. :)


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