Eminent danseuse and Kathak queen Sitara Devi dead

Eminent danseuse and Kathak queen Sitara Devi (94) – whom Gurudev Rabindranath Tagore once described as “Nritya Samragni” - died of old age and prolonged illness, in Mumbai on Tuesday. 

She is survived by son, Ranjit Barot, a music director and singer. The last rites will be performed on Thursday.

 Prime Minister Narendra Modi recalled her rich contribution to Kathak. “PM has condoled the passing away of noted Kathak dancer Sitara Devi. PM also recalled her rich contribution to Kathak,” the Prime Minister’s Office said in a tweet.

Born Dhanlakshmi in 1920 to a Vaishnavite “kathakar” Sukhdev Maharaj in the then Calcutta, the young girl chose school and dance over an early wedding, as was the norm of the 1920s. She was taught by her father as well as the legendary kathak maestros of Lucknow gharana - brothers Acchhan Maharaj, Shambhu Maharaj and Lacchhu Maharaj.
Her father, a scholar and Kathak exponent, was a member of the Royal Court of Nepal while her mother Matsya Kumari was related to the royal family.

They sent Dhanno to a local school where she impressed her teachers and the local media with her performance in a dance drama, “Savitri Satyavan”. When her father learnt of it, he re-christened her as Sitara and placed her under the care of her older sister, Tara – mother of Kathak exponent Gopi Krishna – for training.

At the age of 10, Sitara Devi started short solo performances during movie intervals in a local theatre in Varanasi for a year and in 1931, the family shifted to Mumbai. Recognising her huge energy reserves, her father designed a stringent regimen for physical fitness, enabling her to somersault, swirl, wrestle and swing around a tall horizontal pole 100 times with agility till she was 75!

In Mumbai, she impressed Nobel laureate Rabindranath Tagore with a three-hour solo recital. Tagore offered her a shawl and Rs 50 which Sitara refused and instead sought his blessings to become a great dancer.

Over the next six decades, she became a Kathak legend and was a pioneering force in bringing the genre to Bollywood. Around 1932, Dhanno was hired by filmmaker and choreographer Niranjan Sharma and she performed dance sequences in “Usha Haran” (1940), “Nagina” (1951), “Roti” and “Vatan” (both 1954), “Anjali” (1957) and the epic “Mother India” (1957), her final role in which she danced to a Holi song dressed as a boy.

Sitara was married twice—to director K Asif of Mughal-e-Azam fame and then Pratap Barot. Both marriages ended bitterly, leaving her wedded to her first passion, dance.
 She was well versed in Bharatanatyam as well as Russian ballet.
DH News Service

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