Thursday, July 05, 2018

Kamala Circus - The Great Indian Circus visits Singapore

I heard about the Tai Thean Kew circus from my involvement with Bukit Brown and during one my tours on the Queenstown Heritage Trail, i was told of another Indian circus troupe that existed in the late 1950's and 1960's. Recently, while curating ideas for a Bukit Brown tour on Pioneers of Early Entertainment, i came across a travelling circus troupe by the name of Kamala Circus.

Kamala Circus (source: NewspaperSG)

Kamala Circus was reputed to be the largest travelling show in the Far East. It boasted over 100 Indian artist and featured acts such as the flying trapeze act, the "Globe of Death" motor cycle act by two young girls, a 30 foot leap by a motorcyclist and the "cat" act. It claims over 300 tons of equipment and animals which include 16 horses, 8 Ceylon baby elephants, an African lion and 2 lionesses, 2 tiger cubs and 3 Indian mountain goats. It came to Singapore in 1947 from India via Ceylon and performed for a month before touring around the region such as Malaya (Malaysia), Siam (Thailand), Hong Kong, Phillipines, Bornea, Indonesia and Australia. It returned to Singapore in 1948 for 5 days (in Cantonment Road/ Neil Road junction) and again in 1949 (Anson Road). It's matinee in Singapore was in April 1947 and it's tent was pitched at Farrer Park, Race Course Road.

The circus troupe was owned by Mr. K. Damodaran of South India,Thalassery (formerly Tellicherry) and represented here by Mr. K.K. Balan, the organiser for South East Asia. After a 15 month performance at Ceylon (Sri Lanka)  and 25 years of touring all over India, it became a travelling outfit in the Far East for the next 10 years (1946-1956).

Circus comes to town (source: NewspaperSG)

1947 (source: NewspaperSG)

1949 (source: NewspaperSG)

1949 (source: NewspaperSG)


Stories from the circus

Circus where women played prominent roles
The  Kamala Circus was also unique in where women artist played prominent roles and were major acts in a once male dominated circus.  
Woman artist balancing act in Kamala Circus (1956)

Malayan Tigers Join Circus 
While touring in Malaya, Kamal lost its two Bengal performing tigers. One of it was reported on the Straits Times on 3 June 1947, where a 5 month old tiger cub escaped in Seremban, while another Bengal died shortly after that. It was replaced by two Malayan tigers purchased via  exotic animal trade.

source: NewspaperSG
Circus wants animals
An article dated 7 April 1947 was unique because it was an article cum advertisement seeking for tigers and poisonous snakes. But the article was also important as it gave insights on the how much the circus artist are paid. Generally the higher the risk the act is, the higher the pay is. So it is no surprise that the female trapeze earns the most for their high risk act 3 times a day. They are paid 1,000 rupees a month. A clown act earns half that amount. The tiger training act is in the realms of big money as well. 

1947 (source: NewspaperSg) 

What happened to Kamala Circus?

Searching online, i found on Amazon a circus souvenir program dated 1956 to mark its return to India after 5 years overseas. Inside are gems of photos, with one showing it as a six peg canvas tent with two rings and with the capability to fit more than 1000 people and the large crowds in Bombay waiting to get in !  Kamala Three Ring Circus of K. Damodaran, began  in the 1930's  as a small two pole tents traveling from village to village, before ending with a giant American-style six-pole, three-ring circus, touted to be the first of its kind in Asia (The Indian Circus-Circopedia)

From another website (thalassery.info), i read that the Proprietor Mr. K. Damodaran passed away in 1966 and the Kamala Circus declined subsequently after that.






References
Circus comes to town. (1947, May 17). The Straits Times, page 9
Circus wants Animals. (1947, April 7). The Singapore Free Press, page
Tiger Escapes. (1947, June 3). The Straits Times, page 1
Advertisement. (1949, October 15). Indian Mail
Advertisement. (1949, November 15). Indian Mail, page 1
Where the clown cries.(2000, April 23). The Hindu

3 comments:

Srinath J said...

There is more to be known about this great man. His rise to success wasn't overnight. Kerala was struggling with poverty and unemployment. Very few were educated and life was a struggle. It was then his father who was a gymnast trainer teaching in a local school as a physical trainer with a few others started a small road show. Later bought lady circus. He had lost quite a few family member due to cholera including his eldest daughter. He lost his second daughter due to small pox. His road to success started then with hard work and his foreign tours.
On the virtuous side he had benefited the society by providing a lot of employment to the people in India and brought in a lot of foreign exchange for the country during the period just after India's Independence. None of which got recognized. He had developed Andaloor Kavu in Darmadom, Kerala.
There is such a lot more to write and the space here is too small.
Prof. K Damodaran died on April 14 1966. A great loss to the circus fraternity, Family and the people of Kerala.

Bullranger said...

By far this is one of the best article on Kamala circus. Kamala is one of the daughters of Damodaran and she is now residing in thalassery.

Srinath J said...

Decendants of Prof. Damodaran of Kamala Circus.
1.Sumangali deceased
2. Rathna deceased
3.Shantha residing in Telecherry
4.Kamala residing in Telecherry
5. Lakshmi residing in Kodagu Karnataka
6.Ravi deseased
7. Dr. George residing in Telecherry
8.Asha residing in Calicut