They say ‘Dance like no one’s watching’. But, if women like Sitara Devi had followed that, we’d never have known dance as it is today. Who is Sitara Devi? For the uninitiated, she was an eminent Indian Kathak dancer. Such was her talent and caliber, she taught the likes of Madhubala, Rekha, Mala Sinha, and Kajol. In an era when dance was considered to be a lowly profession, she played a pivotal in bringing in and tightening the reins of one of the major dance forms in India.
Classical dance forms like Kathak have taken a backseat in today’s hip-hop and Bollywood style era. However, we cannot forget that our roots lie in the art forms and those who presented it with passion. Let’s get to know the name and face behind India’s revolutionary dancer in a better way.
Great dancer but not a great education
Due to some unavoidable circumstances, she couldn’t continue schooling beyond basic primary education. However, her passion for dance helped her land in Bombay.
All in the genes
Sitara Devi had art in her genes. Her father was very well versed in Natya Shastra and he pushed her towards the basics of Kathak- tandav and lasya. In fact, it was her father who was her guru too.
It seems she was not one to believe in baby steps, because her first ever performance included an audience with likes of Rabindranath Tagore, Sarojini Naidu, and Sir Cowasji Jehangir.
In an interview, she once said, ‘I gave more importance to the support I get from the public. And my greatest award was when Rabindranath Tagore called me the Naritya Samragini (Queen Of Dance).’ For someone from that era, that’s very empowering!
She was born in Kolkata on November 8, 1920, into a Vaishnavite family and was named Dhanalakshmi. She got the name Sitara after becoming a prominent name in Bollywood.
Unhappy personal life
In real life, Sitara Devi was unlucky in love. She got married thrice but all of them ended bitterly. She came to accept that her only true love and passion was her dance.
She gave her first solo performance at the mere age of ten. Her professional life too took off quite early. Sitara Devi performed her first dance in a movie at the age of twelve and continued with a number of others like Nagina, Roti Vatan, and Anjali.
Although Sitara Devi is no longer with us, her children Ranjit Barot and Jayanti Mala are her true legacy. Ranjit is a music composer and a longtime associate of A. R. Rahman. Jayanti herself is also quite an accomplished Kathak dancer, just like her mother.
For all the dancers and dance lovers, Sitara Devi will always remain an inspiration. For others, she is a lesson and definition of women empowerment. She certainly paved the path for many future dancers. If the stories of strong women inspire you, then you should absolutely read about Cornelia Sorabji, the first woman to practice law in India and Britain.