Eminent dancer Mrinalini Sarabhai dies at 97

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Ahmedabad, Jan 21 (IANS) Padma Bhushan awardee Mrinalini Sarabhai died on Thursday following age-related complications at the age of 97, her family said. Indian dance icons mourned the loss of the legendary danseuse and cultural doyen who was lovingly called ‘Amma’.

Mrinalini, whom many have described as an epitome of grace and impeccable taste, was admitted to a city-based hospital on Wednesday morning after she fell ill.

An infection led to the deterioration of her health, said her son and scientist Kartikeya Sarabhai.

Her daughter Mallika, who is also a dancer, posted on Facebook: “My mother Mrinalini Sarabhai has just left for her eternal dance.”

In an apt and heartfelt tribute, Mallika, along with two others, also gave a tribute to her mother with a dance piece as Mrinalini lay covered in a red cloth adorned by wreaths of flowers.

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She also sat besides the mortal remains of her mother here in a clearly emotional moment.

Born on May 11, 1918 in Kerala, Mrinalini married Dr. Vikram Sarabhai, the pioneer of India’s space science programme, in 1942.

Daughter of former member of parliament Ammu Swamimanathan, she spent her childhood in Switzerland and received her first lessons at the Dalcroze school, an institute of Western technique of dance movements.

She then went to Santiniketan, set up by internationally known poet and writer Rabindranath Tagore. She also honed her skills for a short time at the American Academic of Dramatic Acts in the US.

Upon her return to India, Mrinalini began her training in the south Indian classical dance form of Bharatanatyam under Meenakshi Sundaram Pillai and the classical dance-drama of Kathakali under the legendary Guru Thakazhi Kunchu Kurup.

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A highly honoured artiste, Mrinalini Sarabhai was also the founder director of the Darpana Academy of Performing Arts, an institute for imparting training in dance, drama, music and puppetry.

She was awarded the Padma Bhushan, India’s third highest civilian awards, in 1995.

Mrinalini was traditional yet contemporary in her work and she had a keen eye for dance aesthetics, said Indian dance icons, for whom the late danseuse will continue to be an inspiration.

“A significant volume of Indian dance history reached its last page,” Bharatnatyam dancer Geeta Chandran, a Padma Shri awardee herself, told IANS.

“She will be best known for two crowning achievements: First, for introducing the dances of South India to Gujarat, where till then only the folk dances had ruled. And later, she became the first icon to daringly embrace contemporary themes of social integration, social justice and human rights into her dance repertoire. She was truly a leader and a culture visionary,” Chandran said.

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Kathak exponent Shovana Narayan said that Mrinalini was a “one of the pioneers of the dance field of an era when India itself was in a phase of discovering itself and its identity.”

Also touched by the news of Mrinalini Sarabhai’s death was Kathak exponent Shaswati Sen, a senior disciple of Pandit Birju Maharaj, who said, “Losing her is a very big loss for the total art community because she has been a great pillar in the field of dance”.

“She supported and propagated the development and enrichment of Bharatnatyam in particular in the country and beyond borders.”

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