When the Google Doodle decided to commemorate the long and illustrious life of Mrinalini Sarabhai on 11th May 2018 it was just an added feather to her memorable legacy as she is already celebrated by several other performers. Following her death, several eminent dancers reminisce about their moments with the dance icon. Geeta Chandran and Uma Anantani, both of whom are renowned Bharatanatyam exponents from India, recollect the daring presentation of aesthetics in the dance forms of Mrinalini Sarabhai, and how their ‘Amma’, as Mrinalini Sarabhai was fondly addressed by them, inspire them. Kathak dancer Kumudini Lakhia, also felt the death of the dance maestro to be a huge loss and that the way she made all the Indian dancers aware of their cultural heritage was truly an inspiration for the coming generation of dancers. Another Kathak expert Shovana Narayan paid her tributes to the dancing legend by remembering her as an inspirational figure who used to blend traditionalism and contemporariness in her work in an unparalleled way. Not only that, another Kathak exponent Shaswati Sen, believed that Mrinalini Sarabhai is the reason why Bharat Natyam is so enriched in India and that she was one of the great pillars of Indian dance forms. 

As can be seen that many contemporary artists and exponents of Indian dance feel that Mrinalini Sarabhai is an embodiment of grace, perfection, and aesthetics and the way she articulated life through her performance had enthused many generations of artists to come. But what are the facts that make Mrinalini Sarabhai and her dance style so inspiring to celebrities? Well, know more about Mrinalini Sarabhai herself and the achievements that she allowed to speak for her.

Here’s a look at Mrinalini Sarabhai and her extraordinary dance style:

It is said that the more you teach the more you learn. Mrinalini Sarabhai believed otherwise though since her predisposition was less towards teaching and more towards performing. But her unwavering wish to have more people share her art compelled her to feel the urge to train young dance enthusiasts which led to the foundation of the Darpana Academy of Performing Arts. Born to parents Ammu Swaminathan and Dr. Subbarama Swaminathan, on 11th May 1918 in Kerala, Mrinalini spent her entire childhood in Switzerland. Her first rendezvous with dance occurred in Switzerland, where she first learned Dalcroze, which was a western form of dance. Eventually, she got enrolled in Shantiniketan and found her true calling for dance under the tutorship of Rabindranath Tagore. She was even a part of the American Academy of Dramatic Arts for a few years followed by her return to India where her official training in Bharatanatyam and Kathakali started. After her marriage in the year 1942, she still had so much to achieve in the field of dance and theatre. After her foundation of the Academy, around 18,000 students graduated there in the two dance forms of Bharatanatyam and Kathakali. Mrinalini Sarabhai not only explored her forte to its utmost potential but also contributed to the field of writing. She penned several short stories for children’s poetry novels and over 300 dance dramas.

Hailing from a South Indian background the classical dance forms that Mrinalini used to perform got her the label of a ‘devadasi’ which apparently tried to bring down shame upon the reputation of her husband Vikram Sarabhai who was a scientist by profession. But Mrinalini did not bow down to any of this negative criticism and continued to flourish everywhere she went. She never denied that her performances and her dance form definitely were tributes to God, but she also silenced all her critics by becoming the pioneer in Bharatnatyam. She broke the acceptability barrier and carved such a dignified position for herself across the entire stretch of South India and today, she’s not just a woman who had pursued dancing as a passion, but Mrinalini Sarabhai has become the role model whom all the young girls aspired to follow.

Mrinalini has always followed the unconventional path which made her face a lot of challenges and criticism. However, that didn’t cover her down; rather , she decided to depict different kinds of social issues in her dance forms to spread awareness about the social evils. It’s like her dance style became her voice and she let all her beats and moves do the talking especially when it came to protesting against societal menaces. Mrinalini Sarabhai had once created a major uproar with the performance on dowry killings where she demanded social justice for the women through her gutsy performances. Not only that, but she also vocalized the ill-treatment faced by the Adivasis through her dance performances, which was something unthinkable back then. Her dance style also focused on different environmental issues where her love for nature and the need for environmental conservation was portrayed through various dance recitals. It can be said that Mrinalini Sarabhai found her dance style to be a platform where she is not a woman born to a traditional family and married to a renowned personality, but an audacious entity who wanted to battle all the societal evils in her own creative way.

Mrinalini Sarabhai is an exemplary figure who passed on her legacy to her daughter and then to the third generation in the family. She is the motivation personified for all those Indian women who have had to suppress their talents after being shackled by the institution of marriage and the formidable force of patriarchy and painfully opted to part with their dreams and aspirations. She showed how women can not only juggle the hats of being a mom and wife at home but also flourish as a careerist in their chosen fields.

By Manali