Sitara Devi tribute held in the capital

Kathak Recital

Archival videos of Kathak dancer Sitara Devi’s recitals were screened at  Sangeet Natak Akademi.

A screening of a recital from the Maharaj Kalka Bindadin Kathak Mahotsava held in 1999 in the capital was held on December 20 at Sangeet Natak Akademi’s Gallery of Musical Instruments. The special tribute was for Kathak legend Sitara Devi.

The event was a part of the ongoing series of Sanchayan, which has previously held screenings of archival films and video recordings. Among the rarest of rare videos which were showcased here, recital of Sitara Devi — who was once referred to as empress of dance by Rabindra Nath Tagore — was in itself a celebration of the historical traditions of Kathak.

Sitara Devi whose professional career spanned over eight decades, was named Dhanalaxmi at birth. Born in Calcutta in 1922, Devi was initiated in dance by her father Pandit Sukhdev Maharaj, a Vaishanava scholar of Sanskrit who taught and performed Kathak professionally.

She later studied Kathak under pandits Achhan Maharaj, Lachhu Maharaj and Shambhu Maharaj. She also learnt other dance forms, including Bharatanatyam, Manipuri, western ballet and some folk and popular dances of India and the West. In 1930s and ’40s, she danced extensively on screen working in the Hindi film industry. She later stepped out of her career in the cinema in order to devote herself completely to Kathak.

By 1950s, Sitara Devi came into her own as a representative of the Benaras and Lucknow gharanas of Kathak. She developed her own dancing style characterised by an electrifying energy and evolved a presentation that gave full play to the entire range of the art of Kathak.

Set to varying talas, the dance was interspersed with gats of lyrical beauty and compositions of dramatic intensity. Renditions of thumris and bhajans followed the nritya, performed by the artist for long hours. Sitara Devi thus represented the era of complete Kathak — all-night interactive performances in the presence of knowledgeable patrons and rasikas.

Eminent tabla players like Kanthe Maharaj, Samta Prasad and Kishan Maharaj were associated with her recitals.

Sitara Devi was conferred the Sangeet Natak Akademi Award in 1969. She won the Padma Shri in 1973 and the Kalidas Samman in 1995. A recipient of the Ratna fellowship of the Uttar Pradesh Sangeet Natak Akademi, she was honoured with the Dadasaheb Phalke Award and elected a Fellow of Sangeet Natak Akademi in 2008.

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