Mrinalini Sarabhai—the doyenne of Indian Classical Dance—is remembered for her extraordinary contribution to Indian dance.
More so, for the establishment of the Darpana Academy of Performing Arts in Ahmedabad.
Born to Dr Subbarama and Ammu Swaminathan, Mrinalini grew up amidst the conventional values of discipline and dedication. Her father was a renowned barrister at the Madras High Court and principal of the Madras Law College, while her mother was a social worker, a freedom fighter, and a Member of Parliament.
On her death anniversary, here are five things you should know about her extraordinary life.
1. She received her first dance lessons in Switzerland.
She grew up in Switzerland where she received her first lessons in Dalcroz, a Western technique of dance movements, but was always fascinated by the Indian soil and the art forms born here. She returned to India to receive her education at Shantiniketan, under the tutelage of Rabindranath Tagore.
Ms Sarabhai was one of the rare classical dancers who trained in more than one form. She learned the south Indian classical dance form, Bharatanatyam, from Meenakshi Sundaram Pillai; the classical dance-drama, Kathakali, from the Guru Thakazhi Kunchu Kurup; and Mohiniattam, from Kalyanikutty Amma. All her instructors were renowned masters in their respective fields, and thus she received the best training.
2. Her rangapravesha was held in Bengaluru, under the aegis of the Kannada Sahitya Parishath.
She also met her future life partner, Dr Vikram Sarabhai in the Garden City.
(Rangapravesha in Kannada or Arangetram in Tamil, refer to the debut performance of an Indian dancer or musician.)
3. She used art to work for grassroots development.
Along the way, Ms Sarabhai established the Centre for Non-Violence through Performing Arts at Darpana to creatively reflect on the contentious issues of conflict in society.
Darpana works on many levels using the arts for change—from grassroots development projects that reach India’s neediest populations to live performances created to inspire youth to think differently about social issues; and television shows with strong pro-social content, and more.
She also started a nature club Prakriti, for children, encouraging them to explore ways of coming closer to nature.
4. Apart from being a choreographer and dancer, she was also a prolific writer.
Mrinalini authored numerous novels, poems, plays and stories for children. Her novel, This Alone is True, is based on the rebirth of Indian classical dance in the modern age.
5. She was given several prestigious awards and honours for her work.
In 1965, she received the Padma Shri, India’s fourth highest civilian award, followed by the Padma Bhushan, the third highest civilian award in 1992.
In 1968, she was honoured with a gold medal by the Mexican Government for her choreography for the Ballet Folklorico of Mexico. In 1991, the Gujarat Government honoured her with the Pandit Omkarnath Thakur Award for valuable contribution in the field of performing arts. Ms Sarabhai was also the first recipient of the Nishagandhi Puraskaram, an annual award of the Government of Kerala. The award was presented in 2013.
Mrinalini Sarabhai lived an extraordinary life, before succumbing to complications from old age in 2016. As her family, the country and the world celebrate the legend, Darpan continues to carry out its work, to use the performing arts as a commentary on the state of our world.
In her immortal words, “Creative work is a mystical experience. In literature, in dance, in drama, indeed in all the arts, inspiration is the springboard for the final work. But inspiration is itself the result of many years of study, a deep knowledge of the subject and hard work.”
(Edited by Gayatri Mishra)