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The Travancore Sisters – The Legendary Indian classical dancers and actresses

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Travancore Sisters refers to the trio of Lalitha, Padmini, and Ragini who were renowned for their skill in classical Indian dance and as leading actors in Malayalam, Tamil, Telugu, Kannada, and Hindi films during the 1950s, and 60s. Padmini was a major star acting mostly in Tamil movies. One of her most famous role was in the Tamil movie ‘Thillana Mohanambal’ opposite Sivaji Ganeshan. In three of her popular Bollywood films — Mera Naam Joker, Jis Desh Mein Ganga Behti Hai, and Aashiq — she was paired with Raj Kapoor. She also acted opposite Shammi Kapoor (in Singapore), Sanjeev Kumar (Chanda Aur Bijli), and Ashok Kumar (Kalpana, which also featured her sister Ragini). Her other Bollywood films included Payal, Babubhai Mistry’s Mahabharat, Mr Sampath (based on a book by R K Narayan), etc. Along with Vyjayanthimala, Padmini paved the way for South Indian actresses to play major roles in Hindi films. The erstwhile Soviet Union had released a postal stamp in Padmini’s honour. Lalitha and Ragini, were also well known film actresses acting mostly in Malayalam movies.

The Travancore sisters were born and brought up in a joint Nair family Tharavadu ‘Malaya Cottage’ in Trivandrum, Kerala. Trivandrum was then the capital of the Travancore Kingdom. The sisters eventually settled in Chennai. Lalitha is the eldest and Ragini the youngest. They have one brother, Chandrakumar, who is the father of popular danseuse & actress Shobana. Popular South Indian Actor and classical dancer Vineeth is also a nephew of the Travancore sisters. Their mother’s niece (sister’s daughter) is the late veteran Malayalam/ Tamil actress Sukumari who is presumed to have acted in about 3,000 movies. Sukumari as a young girl lived and learned dancing along with the Travancore sisters. Ragini died from cancer in 1976 at the age of 39 and Lalitha also died from cancer in 1982 at the age of 52. After marriage in 1961 Padmini settled in the USA and in 1977 opened her Classical Dance School in New Jersey, Padmini School of Fine Arts. Padmini relocated to Chennai in 2006, and in the same year died of heart attack at the age of 74 in Chennai. Even though the Travancore Sisters no longer graces this earth, their charm and charisma live on through the immortality of their films.