Mrinalini Sarabhai: The Legendary Dancer Who Mastered Bharatanatyam and Kathakali

Mrinalini Sarabhai, who was born on May 11, 1918, was one of the most celebrated and influential figures in the field of Indian classical dance. She was an expert in Bharatanatyam and Kathakali, two of the most prominent dance forms of South India, and also a choreographer, a teacher, and a social activist. Google Doodle honoured her on her 100th birth anniversary in 2018.

Early Life and Education

Mrinalini Sarabhai was born in Kerala to a distinguished family of lawyers, social workers, and freedom fighters. Her father, Dr. Subbarama Swaminathan, was a renowned barrister at the Madras High Court and principal of the Madras Law College, while her mother, Ammu Swaminathan, was a prominent member of the Indian National Congress and a parliamentarian.

She spent her childhood in Switzerland, where she learned the Dalcroze method, a Western technique of dance movements. She returned to India and joined Shantiniketan, the school founded by Rabindranath Tagore, where she discovered her passion for dance. She later went to the United States and enrolled at the American Academy of Dramatic Arts to train in dance.

She came back to India and learned Bharatanatyam from Meenakshi Sundaram Pillai, Kathakali from Thakazhi Kunchu Kurup, and Mohiniattam from Kalyanikutty Amma. She also studied Manipuri and other folk dances from various regions of India. She developed her own style and technique by blending the classical and folk elements of dance.

Career and Achievements

Mrinalini Sarabhai married Vikram Sarabhai, a renowned physicist and the father of the Indian space program, in 1942. They had two children, Mallika and Kartikeya, who also became eminent dancers and artists.

She founded the Darpana Academy of Performing Arts in Ahmedabad in 1948, which became one of the leading institutions for imparting training in dance, drama, music, and puppetry. She choreographed more than 300 dance dramas on various themes ranging from mythology to social issues. She also performed extensively in India and abroad, earning acclaim and recognition for her artistry and innovation.

She was also a vocal advocate for women’s rights, environmental protection, communal harmony, and cultural diversity. She used her dance as a medium to raise awareness and inspire action on these issues. She also wrote several books on dance, art, and culture.

She received many awards and honours for her contribution to Indian classical dance and culture. Some of them are:

Padma Shri (1965)

Padma Bhushan (1992)

Sangeet Natak Akademi Award (1968)

Sangeet Natak Akademi Fellowship (1994)

Kalidas Samman (2004)

Nishagandhi Puraskaram (2010)

She passed away on January 21, 2016 at the age of 97 in Ahmedabad. She left behind a rich legacy of dance that continues to inspire generations of dancers and artists.

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