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Born 13 May 1918
Chennai, Tamil Nadu
Died 9 February 1984 (aged 65)
Genres Carnatic classical music
Occupations Bharatanatyam dancer

Balasaraswati (13 May 1918 – 9 February 1984) was a celebrated Indian dancer, and her rendering of Bharatanatyam, a classical dance style, made this style of dancing of south India well known in different parts of India, as also many parts of the world.

Early life and background

Balasaraswati was a seventh generation representative of a traditional marilineal family of musicians and dancers who have been described as the the greatest single repository of the traditional performing arts of music and dance of the southern region of India [("Balasaraswati" by V.K. Narayana Menon)]. Her anscestor Papammal was a musician and dancer patronized in the mid-eighteenth century by the court of Thanjavur. Her grandmother Vina Dhanammal (1867-1938) is considered by many to be the most influential musician of the early twentieth century. Her mother, Jayammal (1890-1967) was a singer who encouraged the training of Balasaraswati and was Balasaraswati's accompanist. Balasaraswati created a revolution in hereditary music and dance for bharata natyam, a combination of the performance arts of music and dance. Balasaraswati learned music within the family from her infancy, and her rigorous training in dance was begun when she was four under the distinguished dance teacher K. Kandappan Pillai, a member of the famed Thanjavur Nattuvanar family. Her younger brothers were the musicians [(T. Ranganathan)] and [(T. Viswanathan)] who would both become prominent performers and teachers in India and the United States. Her daughter, Lakshmi Knight (1943-2001), became a distinguished performer of her mother's style. Her grandson Aniruddha Knight continues to perform the family style today, and is artistic director of Bala Music and Dance Association in the United States and the Balasaraswati School of Dance in India. Her son-in-law Douglas M. Knight, Jr has written her biography with the support of a Guggenheim Fellowship (2003).


Balasaraswati's debut as a dancer took place in 1925. She was the first performer of her traditional style outside of South India, performing first in Calcutta in 1934. She went on to a global career that attracted international critical attention and the respect of dance greats such as Shambhu Maharaj, Dame Margot Fontayne, Martha Graham, and Merce Cunningham. "New York Times" dance critic Anna Kisselgoff described Balasaraswati in a review in 1977 as one the "supreme performing artists in the world".


India Today, one of the leading news magazine of India, based on a survey, classified her as one of the 100 prominent Indians who have shaped the destiny of India. She is also considered amongst the one hundred [1] Tamils. She received numerous awards in India, including the President's Award from the Sangeet Natak Akamemi (1955), Padma Vibushan from the Government of India for distinguished national service (1977) and Sangitha Kalanidhi from the Madras Music Academy, South India's highest award for musicians (1973). She was the only non-western dancer included in a compilation of the Dance Heritage Coalition, "America's Irreplaceable Dance Treasures: The First 100" (2000).


  • BALASARASWATI, by Dr. V.K Narayana Menon, Inter-National Culture Center, 16 Hailey Road, New Delhi 1, INDIA
  • India’s 50 Most Illustrious Women (ISBN 81-88086-19-3) by Indra Gupta

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