He was involved in the Indian independence movement and was a close ally of Jawaharlal Nehru, the first Prime Minister of India. He was instrumental in bringing to power two Prime Ministers, Lal Bahadur Shastri in 1964 and Indira Gandhi in 1966. He was affectionately known as the Gandhi of the South. In Tamil Nadu, his home state, he is still hailed for facilitating the spread of education to millions of the rural poor by introducing free education and free mid-day meals scheme in schools for the first time in the whole world during his chiefministership in 1957. He was awarded India's highest civilian honour, the Bharat Ratna, posthumously in 1976. The main airport in Chennai is today named Kamaraj airport in his honor. He was hailed as one of the greatest of politicians of all the free world by the then US vice-president Hubert Humphrey.
Kamaraj was born 15 July, 1903, to Kumarasamy Nadar and Sivakami Ammal at Virudhunagar near Madurai in Tamil Nadu. His parents were from a trading family. His real name was Kamakshi Kumaraswamy, but was affectionately shortened to Raja by his mother, Sivakami Ammal. His father, Kumarswamy Nadar, was a coconut merchant. Kamaraj was enrolled at the local elementary school, the Enadhy Nayanar Vidyalaya, and later shifted to the high school Kshatriya Vidyalaya.
Unfortunately his father died within a year of Kamaraj's enrollment in school. Kamaraj's mother sold all jewelry except her earrings and deposited the money with a local merchant and cared for the entire family on the monthly interest that the money earned.
On October 2, 1975, Gandhi Jayanti day, Kamaraj awoke from his afternoon nap feeling uneasy. His housekeeper, Vairavan, rang up his physician. While he was on his way out, Kamaraj said, "Vairavan, put out the lights when you go out." K. Kamaraj died that day in his sleep. He was honored with the highest civilian honour, the 'Bharat Ratna' posthumously in 1976.