Dance Footage of Balasaraswati at the 1963 Edinburgh Festival

Saturday, December 15, 2012
Once again, BritishPath√©'s digitized archive holds another rare gem of Indian dance: brief footage of the legendary devadasi T. Balasaraswati giving a dance performance at the 1963 Edinburgh Festival in Scotland!  The Indian portion of the video actually begins at 3:04 with veena player Narayana Menon showing his instrument and then playing a Bach sonata.  Balasaraswati's piece begins at 3:43, shows brief shots of her nattuvanar (who is he I wonder?) and musicians on the left, and closes with a nice, crisp closeup of Bala's face ending at 4:06.  Last, harmonica artist Larry Adler performs a musical trio piece with Ali Akbar Khan and Ravi Shankar's tabla player Allah Rakha. Take a look:

What an excellent video find!  This means the number of extant recordings of Bala's dance can be increased by one.  Somehow I missed this video before when I searched through BritishPath√©'s archive after learning of the incredible Baroda devadasi footage and found clips of Uday Shankar, Simkie, Ram Gopal, and others.  The video's keywords don't help much since Bala's name is spelled "Balasvarasvati."  While the clip is extremely short and not what I would consider Bala's best dancing (and the sound doesn't seem to match the visuals), it is very rare and can be added to the archival record of Bala's work. 

Douglas Knight devotes a few pages of his biography on Bala to her performance at the Edinburgh Festival.  Some of the musicians who came along with her were family, and others included Sarojini Kumaraswami, a student of Jayammal.  Knight writes some delightful passages about Bala's festival experiences:
Lord Harewood speaking of arranging a week of Bala's performances at the festival: "Bala made all the stipulations that anyone does for a performance, and she insisted on exactly what a Western dancer would have refused.  She said, ‘I want a hard floor, a stone floor; I don’t like those springy floors; I must have something to stamp on, something which totally resists me, stone if possible.’  I don’t think we had a stone floor, but we certainly had a floor that nobody could dance on and that’s what Bala wanted, an absolutely firm one..."  Bala's performances were so popular that they were sold out from the start and organizers had to double them in number to accommodate demand.  "She became a sort of new goddess in people's lives, and people talked and wrote about her, and in England she became famous."
Narayana Menon describing the start of the festival: “And at the Edinburgh Festival, [in] the very first program…we discussed what the Indian participation was going to do.  Ali Akbar Khan was there, Viswa and all his people were there.  Yehudi Menuhin and I talked in front of a very large audience.  Suddenly I noticed Balasaraswati was there and we had not said anything.  ‘Bala,’ I whispered, ‘please come up.’  She was very unwilling to come up.  She had not done her hair, and her sari was rumpled. ‘Come on, come on.  Will you please do, in abhinaya, what I ask you to do?’ She was almost unwilling, as she stood there.  And then I said to the public, ‘I want to introduce to you now the great dancer Balasaraswati.’ And everybody looked.  ‘She wants to tell you how happy, how excited she is to be in this beautiful city of Edinburgh.’  Then she described the beautiful city with such abhinaya…The audience stood up.  In less than a minute’s time, she had conquered an audience.  She had got the audience, cameras clicking, film and television people.  From that moment, Bala was the star of that festival.  And she had a fantastic success.”
Last, in light of the recent passing of Ravi Shankar, I thought I would post a link to another clip I found today of Ravi playing Sitar at the Commonwealth Arts and Dancing Festival in 1965; his short performance begins at 1:18, and there is no sound:

Click on image to link to the video

Work Cited:
Knight, Douglas M., Jr. Balasaraswati: Her Art and Life2010.


  1. Dear Minai,
    Your blog richer than a phd research. You should seriously consider a doctorate.
    Meanwhile, your blog is an excellent resource and an inspiration for students like me ...
    Thanks for making this information available to us ...
    Warm regards,

  2. Happy Holidays, and I will catch up on your site later, but, I am going to ask a favor of anyone as I have vision problems: One of these blogs covered a school in the present day for Indian Dancers, and featured two girls practising, but not in costume, and I want to send someone to see it. I hope someone has it at their fingertips.

  3. @NadineisthatU: This one?

  4. ragothaman - Isn't it! Thanks for posting that link. :)
    Veena Basvarajaiah - Thank you very much for the compliment, and I'm so happy that you find my blog useful and inspirational. Being able to share information and have people find it is what keeps me motivated. :)
    NadineisthatU - The link ragothaman posted is the exact one I thought of when reading your comment. The footage isn't from the present day, but the school is still around today.

    Apologies for the delay in responding!

  5. Strange; i too though of approximately the same thing
    But there are so many such in the blog I wonder how all of us thought of almost the same one.

  6. dhany ho minai

  7. prof premraj pushpakaran writes --- 2018 marks the 100th birth year of Tanjore Balasaraswati!


Due to spam, new comments have been disabled.

Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.

Powered by Blogger.
Back to Top