Kodumadi Balambal Sundarambal (1908-1980) was a renowned stage artist and singer of South India. She was popularly referred to as the "Queen of the Indian stage." She was noted both for her resonant, vibrant voice and for the dignity of her performances. A political activist during the Indian independence movement, K.B. Sundarambal was the first film personality to enter a state legislature in India.
K.B. Sundarambal was born on October 11, 1908 in the village of Kodumudi (also spelled "Kodumadi"), on the banks of the Kaveri, about 35 km from the town of Erode in present-day Tamil Nadu. Little is known of Sundarambal's father; her mother, Balambal, barely managed to eke out a living. Indeed, so penurious was the family that Sundarambal, as a child, is said to have made some much-needed money by singing ditties on trains and receiving tips from the passengers.
Such was Sundarambal's training in music. According to some sources, it was while singing thus on a train that the 10-year-old Sundarambal attracted the attention of Natesa Iyer, an amateur stage actor, producer and talent-scout. According to other sources, it was a police official named Krishnaswamy Iyer, an acquaintance of Balambal, who discovered the talent in Sundarambal and introduced the 10-year-old girl to P. S. Velu Nair, one of the reigning dramatists of that era.
In either case, Sundarambal is believed to have made her debut in 1917, on the Tamil stage, as a member of a travelling theatre troupe. This was the turning point in her life. The talented young girl honed her voice while performing small roles on stage and keeping audiences entertained between acts. Soon enough, she was essaying leading roles on stage. Her early stage plays like "Valli Thirumanam," "Pavalakodi" and "Harishchandra" proved to be great hits. In particular, "Valli Thirumanam", where she co-starred with S.G. Kittappa, was a phenomenal success.
In 1964, the Tamil Isai Sangam conferred upon her the title of "Tamil Isai Perarignar (Tamil Music Ace)." In 1970, the government of India awarded her the Padmashri for her contributions to the arts. K.B. Sundarambal, artiste extraordinaire, died in October 1980.