Birthday: May 11, 1918
Died At Age: 97
Sun Sign: Taurus
Also Known As: Classical Dancer
Born in: Kerala
Famous as: Classical Dancer and Choreographer
Died on: January 21, 2016
place of death: Ahmedabad
Founder/Co-Founder: Darpana Academy of Performing Arts
awards: Padma Shri (1965)
Pandit Omkarnath Thakur Award (1991)
Padma Bhushan (1992)
Mrinalini Sarabhai was one of the best known faces of Indian classical dance. She was an expert dancer in Bharatanatyam and Kathakali, and was also a choreographer and a dance instructor. A dynamic personality she believed that new dance forms do evolve over time, but it is also important that they develop from a traditional classical foundation. A pioneer in the field of Indian classical dance, she was the first classical dancer who turned to choreography. Born to a social worker and political activist, she received her early education from Santiniketan where she realized her true calling. Determined to receive the best possible training in different dance forms, she learnt Bharatanatyam, Kathakali, and Mohiniattam from some of the most prominent dance gurus of her time. She went on to attain great fame as a dancer not only in India but also in several other countries around the world. Married to the physicist Vikram Sarabhai, she became the mother of two children, but family life did not diminish her passion for dance even a bit. Following a successful career as a dancer she turned to choreography and choreographed more than three hundred dance dramas. She was bestowed with many national and international awards for her contribution towards classical dance.
Childhood & Early Life
She was born on 11 May 1918 into a Brahmin family in Kerala, India. 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 social worker, freedom fighter, and former parliament member.
She was raised in Switzerland where she learned the Dalcroze method, a Western technique of dance movements.
Upon returning to India, she received her education at Shantiniketan, under the guidance of Rabindranath Tagore. It was here that she realized that her true calling was dancing and decided to pursue a career in this art form.
She went to the United States and enrolled at the American Academy of Dramatic Arts to train in dance. After a while she returned to India to continue her training in classical dance forms.
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 of her dance instructors were renowned masters in their own fields, and thus she received the best training she could get.
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Post her training she established herself as a talented and graceful dancer. Being trained in several forms of dance forms gave her an edge over other classical dancers who had been trained in just one form.
She married the prominent physicist Dr. Vikram Sarabhai and moved to his home in the city of Ahmedabad, in Gujarat. Dr. Sarabhai was a broad-minded person who encouraged her to pursue her passion for dancing.
In 1949, she along with her husband set up Darpana Academy of Performing Arts. It was founded as a small dance academy intended to teach the art of dance and to propagate the Indian classical dance forms through performances.
Over the years the institution grew manifold and became a centre for the study of folk, tribal, classical and contemporary dance, theatre, movement, puppetry and music.
The academy focused not just on imparting education in the arts, but also sought to use arts as a means of bringing about positive social changes by influencing the general public and the policy makers. The academy uses different art forms to educate, empower, and raise awareness about the critical issues facing the society.
Over the decades she went on to choreograph more than three hundred dance dramas, including the highly acclaimed musical, ‘Krishna-Gopala’ and ‘This Mahabharata’. In addition to being a choreographer and dancer, she is also a prolific writer who has authored numerous novels, poetry, plays and stories for children.
She was the chairperson of the Gujarat State Handicrafts and Handloom Development Corporation Ltd. and one of the trustees of the Sarvodaya International Trust, an organization for promotion of Gandhian ideals.
She is best known for founding the Darpana Academy of Performing Arts, a centre for the arts which focuses on teaching different forms of dance, music, theatre, and puppetry. The organization also works towards women empowerment and addresses other social issues relating to human rights and environment.
Awards & Achievements
In 1965, she received the Padma Shri, the fourth highest civilian award of India.
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.
In 1992, she received the Padma Bhushan, the third highest civilian award of India
Personal Life & Legacy
Mrinalini Sarabhai married the acclaimed physicist Vikram Sarabhai in 1942 and had two children: Kartikeya and Mallika. Her daughter Mallika followed in her footsteps and became a famous dancer in her own right. Her marriage with Vikram Sarabhai was a troubled one.
Passionately devoted to her profession, she continued dancing well into her eighties and did not let age slow her down.
Mrinalini Sarabhai died of old age complications, on January 21, 2016, at the age of 97, in Ahmedabad, Gujarat, India