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Indian dance loses master K.P. Kunhiraman

Just days before he was to be honored at the San Francisco Ethnic Dance Festival, kathakali master K.P. Kunhiraman passed at age 83 of a blood infection in Chennai, India.

Kunhiraman, along with his wife Katherine, were scheduled to receive the festival’s annual Malonga Casquelourd Lifetime Achievement Award.

Kunhiraman had recently fallen ill with a blood infection, Julie Mushet, executive director of the festival, told the Chronicle:

“Katherine flew to Chennai immediately upon word of the infection, and was at his side for his final hours and as he took his last breath.”

In 1978, the Kunhiramans performed kathakali at the first Ethnic Dance Festival. The Chronicle reports he had planned Saturday’s performance to be his final U.S. show.

Presented with elaborate costumes and makeup, kathakali has been designated one of eight classical Indian dances by India’s National Academy for Dance.

Weekend two of this year’s Ethnic Dance Festival brings together all eight types of Indian dance on one stage for performances scheduled Saturday at 1 p.m. and 7 p.m., and Sunday at 1 p.m.

Festival promoters World Arts West have dedicated this year’s festival to Kunhiraman and are encouraging fans who come to the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts to bring flowers and notes for an altar in his honor.

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