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Chandralekha - The dancer who defied tradition

January 3, 2007
Flowing long white hair. Big red bindi on the forehead. A body that oozed energy; that is the image that endures of legendary dancer Chandralekha who passed away on Saturday. There was no one like her till now and there never will be. Chandralekha was unique in her appearance as well as ideas.

She was a rebel, and even at 78 she led an unconventional life that shocked the rigid, tradition-bound society. Perhaps she enjoyed shocking society through her writings and dance forms.

She transformed the traditionally rich Bharata Natyam to a modernist idiom much to the discomfort of many. But when she breathed her last, all those who loved her dearly felt lifeless and lonely. Who else would have got a farewell where all those who loved and admired her sang songs when her lifeless body was being taken to be cremated.

Chandralekha was born in Wada in Maharashtra in 1928. She abandoned her law studies at Wilson College in Mumbai and came to Chennai to pursue what she loved -- Bharata Natyam. She started learning the dance form from the legendary Kancheepuram Ellappa Pillai.

Text : Shobha Warrier | Photographs courtesy : Sadanand Menon

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