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Tanjore Balasaraswati – The Great Indian Dancer Who Popularized Bharatanatyam All Over The World


Tanjore Balasaraswati

Quick Facts

  • Name: Tanjore Balasaraswati
  • Also Known As: Balasaraswati
  • Famous As: Bharatanatyam Dancer
  • Birth Date: 13 May 1918 (Madras Presidency, British India)
  • Died On: 9 February 1984
  • Nationality: Indian
  • Parents: Modarapu Govindarajulu (Father), Jayammal (Mother)
  • Children: Lakshmi Knight (1943–2001)
  • Awards: Sangeet Natak Akademi Award (1955); Padma Bhushan (1957); Padma Vibhushan (1977)


  • She performed the Bharatanatyam dance on Jana Gana Mana, even when it had not been made the national anthem; in presence of Tagore himself who wrote the poem.

  • The renowned Indian film maker Satyajit Ray made a documentary on her work and career, titled ‘Bala’.

  • She made the Bharatanatyam dance popular all over India and the world.

Can you name the personality?

Tanjore Balasaraswati, who was also known as Balasaraswati, was the topmost exponent of Bharatanatyam. Bharatanatyam is a classical dance style which originated in the state of Tamil Nadu. Balasaraswati created an awareness about this dance form and spread this dancing style all over India and several parts of the world.

The Government of India honored her with the third highest award for civilians, the Padma Bhushan in 1957; and the Padma Vibhushan in 1977, which is the second highest national award. Besides these, she had received many awards.

Balasaraswati at her young days


Early Life and Background

Balasaraswati was born in present day Chennai on 13 May 1918 to Jayammal and Modarapu Govindarajulu. Balasaraswati belonged to the traditional matrilineal family of temple musicians and dancers who devoted their entire life to the cause of temple and religion. They were collectively called the Devdasis. She belonged to the seventh generation in her lineage. One of her ancestor, Papammal, was musician and dancer patronized under the the court of Thanjavur in the mid-eighteenth century by her grandmother, Vina Dhanammal (1867–1938), was a very influential musician of her times.

Her mother, Jayammal (1890–1967) was a singer who mentored Balasaraswati. Balasaraswati learnt music at home during her infancy and started learning dancing at the age of four. Her dance teacher was K. Kandappan Pillai, who belonged to the Thanjavur Nattuvanar family.

Career: Dancing Her Way to the World

In 1925, at the age of 7, Balasaraswati made her ritual debut dance performance Amanakshi temple in Kanchipuram. Her professional debut in Madras was hailed across the Carnatic region. Uday Shankar, the eminent choreographer invited her to perform in Calcutta at the All Bengal Music Conference.

In 1934, when she performed at the age of 16 in Kolkata, she became the first performer of her traditional style, to take it outside of South India. She performed to Jana Gana Mana, which was yet to become the national anthem; in the presence of Rabindranath Tagore who had wrote the poem. She received nation-wide praise from people and the media.

Next year in 1935, Tagore was again impressed by her performance at the All India Music Conference in Benaras. She also earned the appreciation of Shambhu Maharaj.

In 1961, by which time she had become very famous, she made her first overseas trip to Tokyo to participate in the East-West Music Encounter conference.

In 1962, she was in the US to perform on the invitation of legendary dancers Ted Shawn and Ruth St Denis.

During 1960s, she visited the countries all over the world including the US, North America, East Asia and Eutope. During the 70’s she especially focused on the US and held performances in major cities of USA and in campuses.

She exposed the Bharatanatyam to audiences and people all over the world. In India, she was the first real bridge to join the north and south Indian artists.

Tanjore Balasaraswati – The Great Indian Bharatanatyam Dancer


Awards and Recognitions

Balasaraswati was honored with several awards. She received the President’s Award from the Sangeet Natak Akademi in 1955, Padma Vibhushan in 1977 and the first Bharatanatyam dancer to receive Sangita Kalanidhi from the Madras Music Academy in 1993.

In 1976, Bengali film director Satyajit Ray made a documentary film on her titled ‘Bala’. In the same year she was honored with the fellowship of the Sangeet Natak Akademi.

Personal Life and Death

Balasaraswati’s younger brothers, T. Ranganathan and T. Viswanathan, were musicians who performed in India and abroad. Her daughter, Lakshmi Knight (1943–2001); whose husband Douglas M. Knight Jr. wrote a biography; followed in her footsteps and became an exponent of her mother’s style.

Balasaraswati, died on 9 February 1984 at Chennai; yet continues to be hailed as the empress of Bharatanatyam.

In 2010, the Government of India honored her by issuing a commemorative stamp.

The Balasaraswati Institute of Performing Arts in Chennai, under the guidance of her grandson, Aniruddha Knight, continues to train dancers in her dance style.

Balasaraswati was a versatile genius who created a revolution in Carnatic vocal music as well as in Bharatanatyam dance; a combination of the performance arts of music and dance.



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Raj Kumar Hansdah

Raj Kumar Hansdah, better known as RK, fell in love with books at his mother’s knees; and the fascination with the printed word kept growing over the years and still continues to be his passion. An alumnus of IIM-Indore and IISWBM-Kolkata, he had also attended IIM-Calcutta. He has more than two decades of corporate experience with companies in the public and private domain, namely SAIL, Jaypee Group, and Adani Group at the rank of General Manager in the Human Resources vertical. He loves to freelance as a literary consultant, a management consultant, and a writer. When he is not busy reading, ghostwriting or working on his debut thriller; not necessarily in that order; he loves to spend time with his wife and son.

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