Sitara Devi, the Empress of Kathakali dance, was born on November 8, 1920, in Kolkata on the occasion of Dhanteras, a day before Diwali. For this reason, she was named Dhanalakshmi or Dhanno. She was born in aBrahmin family that originally resided in Varanasi. Her father, Sukhdev Maharaj, was an eminent teacher and performer of Kathakali. Kathakali was not only his source of earning livelihood but also his passion which he passed on to his children as well. Matsya Kumari, who belonged to a royal family of Nepal, was her mother. Sitara Devi had two sisters, Alaknanda and Tara, two sons, Chaube and Pande. Her father, Sukhdev Maharaj was in close association with Rabindranath Tagore, who encouraged him to revive the lost forms of Kathakali Dance.
Since this dance was learnt and performed by the lower class of society only and it was not allowed to be learnt by the decent families, Sukhdev Maharaj decided to put religious content into Kathakali. Despite hearing ill-statements and facing ire from the society, he opened a school and decided to teach his dancing skills to his children and other kids from the community. Sitara Devi had learnt dancing from her elder sister just by observing her performance and self-practice. When Sitara Devi was eight years old, by tradition, she was to be married, but she resisted because she wanted to study. After this, she was admitted into a school where she had performed a dance sequence. It was greatly appreciated by the local newspaper “Aaj.” Her father then entrusted her in the charge of her elder sister Tara, who taught her the dancing skills.
Tara is The mother of the famous Kathakali dancer
. At the age of ten, she used to perform during the fifteen minute recess in the movies. After this, they shifted to Mumbai where she staged a performance in the Atiya Begum Palace before an eminent crowd that included Rabindranath Tagore, Sarojini Naidu, and Sir Cowasji Jehangir. Rabindranath Tagore had felicitated him as well appreciating her dancing skills and gave her the title “Nritya Samragini.” During this time, she performed in a few movies like Usha Haran, Nagina, Roti, Vatan, Anjali and Mother India. After this, she had been married to Asif Karim(K.Asif). He was a film director, producer and a screenwriter. He has directed films like Phool, Mughal-E-Azam and Love and God.
He has produced Hulchul And Mughal-E-Azam. She then married Pratap Barot, with whom she had a son, and a daughter Jayanti Mala. Ranjit Barot, A Close Associate of A.R.Rahman, is an Indian film composer, music director, arranger, drummer and singer. Sitara Devi was accomplished in many other dance styles as well including Bharatanatyam and Russian Ballet. With increasing age, as her dancing activities diminished, she worked in the compilation of a book including the researches of her father. She had taught dance to popular Bollywood heroines like Madhubala, Rekha, and Kajol. She had been awarded the Lifetime Achievement Award in 2011.
Sitara Devi, for 30 years, had been fighting for a piece of land in Maharashtra so that she could open a dance institute wherein her dancing skills could be passed on to others. For this, she had pleaded to the Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis as well, but her plea has fallen on deaf ears. After fighting for several years, The Empress Of Kathak passed away on 25th November, 2014 in Jaslok Hospital in Mumbai due to a prolonged disease. Prime Minister Shri
paid his condolences to the Kathak dancer by recalling her contribution to dance. Although Sitara Devi has passed away, her presence amidst us will never fade away.