Vimala Devi Channabasappa, 71, a cultural and religious leader in the Indian immigrant community in the Washington area, died Sept. 7 of cancer at the Halquist Memorial Inpatient Center in Arlington. She had lived in Alexandria since 1966.
When Mrs. Channabasappa joined her husband in the United States in 1955, she soon realized that she was one of the few immigrants in the Washington area from her region of India, the southern state of Karnataka. As the local community grew, she began helping newcomers adjust to American life while holding on to their heritage.
She became a leader in the Kannada cultural and Veerashaiva religious communities in the United States. With her husband, she began supporting one of the first Indian cultural radio programs during the 1970s.
Her love for her native Kannada language, its people and its culture led her to be the founding president of the Kaveri Kannada Association in 1972. An expert in several languages -- including Kannada, English, Sanskrit, Hindi and Spanish -- she founded the Language Bank, an emergency language-support service for the non-English-speaking community in the area.
Mrs. Channabasappa was born in Dharwar, Karnataka, and in her youth was an accomplished dancer in several styles of Indian dance, including Kathak, Kathakali, Manipuri and Bharata Natyam. She also was a literary scholar and was first in her class at Karnatak University, where she received an undergraduate degree in languages.
She also received a master's degree from the Illinois Institute of Technology.
She married Dr. Kenkere C. Channabasappa, a scientist, in 1950. He came to the United States on a Fulbright Scholarship in the early 1950s; she arrived soon after. While she worked to maintain ties to her Indian heritage, she plunged into her new culture as well. She became a substitute teacher at elementary schools and a den mother for her son's Cub Scout troop, wearing a distinctive blue sari with yellow blouse for her scout uniform.
A songwriter and singer, she released seven music albums in the Kannada language and published poetry in Kannada, Hindi and English. She was an active member of the Poetry Society of Virginia.
Her interest and scholarship in the Veerashaiva religion, a branch of Hinduism founded in the 1100s, led to the publication of numerous guides to the practice of the religion in the United States. The guides have been adapted for use in India. She was a founding patron of the Sri Siva Vishnu Temple in Maryland and often traveled back and forth between the United States and Karnatak.
Mrs. Channabasappa's husband died in 1978.
Survivors include two sons, Deepak Kenkeremath of Falls Church and Nandan Kenkeremath of Alexandria; a brother in India; and four grandchildren.