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Wednesday, October 27, 2021

Like a Star in the Sky: Remembering Sitara Devi for her zest for life and passion for dance

As one of the finest Kathak exponents in the country passes away at 94, we remember Sitara Devi’s zest for life, her candidness and immense contribution to the world of dance.

By: Express News Service |
Updated: November 26, 2014 10:35:19 am
Sitara Devi’s zest  for life, her candidness and immense contribution to the world of dance are worth remembering. Sitara Devi’s zest for life, her candidness and immense contribution to the world of dance are worth remembering.

As one of the finest Kathak exponents in the country passes away at 94, we remember Sitara Devi’s zest for life, her candidness and immense contribution to the world of dance.

Pandit Birju Maharaj (Kathak guru)

Sitara didi was one of the most open-hearted women I have known in my life. And how pretty she was! She learnt from my father and her bhaav and finesse in her dance was something few have been able to achieve. I remember when I got married, and we are talking of times when boys got married at 19-20. I was really young and my mother asked didi to take care of the new bride. I went and whispered in her ear “Didi hum nayi bahu ke paas nahi jayenge”(I don’t want to be with the new bride). She laughed and said. ‘Achha aaj yahin so jao. Lekin kal nayi bahu ke kamre mein jaana hi padega’ (Ok, you can sleep here today. But tomorrow you will need to be with her). It is so embarrassing to narrate this now but it shows how close we were and how much I adored her.

With her guru-bhai Birju Maharaj With her guru-bhai Birju Maharaj

Rama Vaidyanathan (Bharatanatyam dancer)

I didn’t know her personally but I have grown up watching her dance. The first thing that struck was that she had a lot of spunk and spark on stage. She danced with a sense of liberation. When she refused to accept the Padma Shri, I wasn’t surprised because she was a woman who lived on her own terms. I have immense respect and regard for her.

Aditi Mangaldas (Kathak dancer)

I had  the opportunity of being in her dressing room once and selecting a costume for her from her vast collection. She was so full of life and wanted to wear all the colours in there. That is what was so special about her complete surrender, and immersion in dance.

(From left to right) Sitara Devi, Manik Verma, Kishori Amonkar, Prabha Atre, Saraswati Rane, Gangubai Hangal, Kanak Rele. (From left to right) Sitara Devi, Manik Verma, Kishori Amonkar, Prabha Atre, Saraswati Rane, Gangubai Hangal, Kanak Rele.

Shanta Sarabjeet Singh (Dance Critic)

Sitaraji was not just a Kathak dancer, she was a maverick musician who brought Kathak into the spotlight. She moved away from feudal systems and gharana parampara to become one of the most brilliant dancers in the county. She could hold the stage as long as you let her and was also one of the most outspoken and narcissistic people I know. She would stand on stage and pick on dancers such as Birju Maharaj and Uma Sharma and believe me, she was acerbic in what she threw at them. It was a difficult life, led in a colourful way. If it wasn’t for her, Kathak would have languished and not existed in its present form.

(From left) Lata Mangeshkar; Sitara Devi and Bade Ghulam Ali Khan (From left) Lata Mangeshkar; Sitara Devi and Bade Ghulam Ali Khan

Hema Malini (Actor)

I had the fortune of hosting Sitara Devi a few times at my house. I met her for the first time after one of my performances. This was during the making Sapno Ka Saudagar (1968) and Raj Kapoor sahab was also in the audience. Once the show was over, she came up to me and told me that I was a promising talent and I should continue to dance, not give it up for a career in films. What she preached, she also practised. Sitara Devi was dancing till the very end, until her injury at 85.

Sitara Devi’s finesse is unparalleled in Kathak Sitara Devi’s finesse is unparalleled in Kathak

Kumudini Lakhia (Dancer/Choreographer)

She was born to dance — be it at professional or commercial platforms, films, mehfils or music festivals. Nearly 25 years ago, I met her in Ahmedabad. She had injured her leg but she still wanted to dance. She was also one of the first women dancers to perform Kathak in public. When we performed together, the audience always had their eyes on Sitara more than on me, she always appeared on stage in beautiful saris, make-up, jewellery and flowers while I would be dressed simply.

Sitara Devi with Dilip Kumar Sitara Devi with Dilip Kumar

 

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