She was an institution, she shattered stereotypes and she was brightest star of Kathak; well we are taking about the eminent Kathak danseuse Sitara Devi who passed away today (November 25, 2014) at Jaslok Hospital in Mumbai. She was ninety four.
Born in Kolkata as Dhanalakshmi in 1920, and called Dhanno, Sitara Devi later became a living legend, a renowned exponent of the classical Kathak style of Indian dance.
A school dropout, Sitara Devi struggled against all odds to excel in her chosen field and brought Kathak from the domain of nautch girls to the global arena.
Her performance at the age of sixteen before India’s first Nobel laureate Rabindranath Tagore in Mumbai left him so impressed that he bestowed on her the title Nritya Samragini (Empress of Dance).
Sitara Devi’s father, Sukhadev Maharaj was a Sanskrit scholar, researched in Bharat Natyashastra and was a Kathak dancer-teacher, a member of the Royal Court of Nepal and her mother Matsya Kumari was related to Nepal royal family.
Sukhadev Maharaj taught Kathak to his daughters Alakananda, Tara, Dhanno (later Sitara Devi) and sons Chaube and Pande.
When Sitara Devi’s marriage was fixed up at the age of eight, she fought against it and demanding school education. The family finally relented and admitted her to Kamachhagarh High School. There, Dhanno blossomed as a dancer, and her impressed teachers asked her to teach other children for a performance.
Finally, Dhanno’s immense talent dawned on Sukhadev Maharaj. He re-named her as Sitara Devi and put her under the tutelage of his elder daughter Tara. Tara is the mother of Gopi Krishna, the famous Kathak exponent, and nephew of Sitara Devi.
Her dancing was full of vibrant energy. She developed her own niche style drawing from a treasury of themes, poems and choreography collected by her father, creatively analysing and combining the environment to suit each and every step she gracefully performed.
Around 1932, Sitara Devi was offered roles by a filmmaker and choreographer Niranjan Sharma and she performed dance sequences in Usha Haran (1940), Nagina (1951), Roti (1954) and Vatan (1954), Anjali (1957) and Mother India (1957), her final role in which she danced to a Holi song dressed as a boy.
Over the years, Sitara Devi performed all over India and abroad, including prestigious venues like Royal Albert Hall, London (1967) and the Carnegie Hall, New York (1976).
Sitara Devi was married to K. Asif, a Muslim, and then to Pratap Barot, with whom she had a son, Ranjit Barot. Her married life was not smooth, and both the marriages had come to an end. This left her finding succor in her passion, dancing.
Some of her famous students were Madhubala, Rekha, Mala Sinha and even Kajol among many more. She desired to set up a Kathak dance academy in Mumbai, but got no land from the government.
Honours came from all over, including Padma Shri. But Sitara Devi declined the Padma Bhushan, contending that she deserved a Bharat Ratna given her immense contribution to Kathak.
Alas, the brightest star of Kathak finally faded away.
She was an institution, she shattered stereotypes and she was brightest star of Kathak; well we are taking about the eminent Kathak danseuse Sitara De...2.0