Biography of Indian Dancers

AchhanMaharaj

AchhanMaharaj was born to Shri Kalka Prasad in his maternal village LamuhaDistt, Sultanpur. He was very pleasant by nature and hence was called’ AchheBhaiya’ by people. He was the eldest son of Kalka Prasad and his real name was Jagannath. He was called emperor of dance in the 20th Century and had a command on the most intricate beats while performing dance.
Alongwith beats and rhythm he was proficient in emoting. He used to show the feminine beauty and feelings through his dance and emoting which held the audience spellbound. His dances were mostly based on playful acts of Lord Krishna. He composed a number of dances which had Krishna as the theme. Apart from these dances he used to recite Thumri or any poem (sher) of urdu and then emoted the same.
He loved the city of Lucknow. He used to say that in the environs ofLucknow the Nazakat (softness of Nawabs of Lucknow) was imbibed which was as useful for dances as the mountainous environment was to the patient of Tuberculosis.
During his last days he wrote a book on the art of dancing which contained traditional (Gharandedari) items but the book was stolen due to carelessness of members of family.
AchhanMaharaj had only one son Pt. BirjuMaharaj who is engaged in development of Kathak dance and imparting its training to his disciples.

Udaishankar

Udaishankar was born on 8th December, 1908 at Udaipur. The name of his father was Dr. Shyama Shankar Chowdhary who was Adviser to the Government in the Education Department of Jhalawad (Rajasthan) and later became Dewan of the State. Udaishankar was named after the city of his birth i.e. Udaipur. Udaishankar achieved world-wide fame and is credited with introducing to the world the Indian dance styles. Since childhood Udaishankar was interested in music and painting. In the year 1917 he took admission in Sir J. J. School of Arts at Bombay and joined the Royal College of Arts London in 1920 to pursue higher education in painting. It was a coincidence he came into contact with famous Russian Baile artist, Anna Pavlova. For almost two years he remained with Anna’s troupe. Thereafter, he formed his own troupe and performed Indian dances in Europe and America.
Udaishankar returned to India in 1929 and trained in Kathakali with ShankaranNamboodri and in Bharatnatyam with KhandapaPillai. He also studied Manipuri dance and other folk dances and combining the specialties of various dance forms, invented a new style of his own. He set up an Art Centre near Almora for imparting training but it could not be seen for long.
Udaishankar experimented with shadow dancing by throwing light from behind the screen and produced a feature film ‘Kalpana’ but he incurred heavy loss in this venture. He, however, gained much fame at international level.
” Udaishankar was awarded Fellowship of ‘RashtriyaSangeetNatak Academy’ and Deshikottam by VishwaBharti University and Padma Vibhushan by Government of India.
Udaishankar will be always remembered for providing a new direction to Indian dane^,. His dance style is also known as Oriental style. Udaishankar, the doyen of Indian dances died in the year 1977 at Calcutta.

Kalkaprasad

Kalka Prasad born in 1842, was the son of ShriDurga Prasad and younger brother of MaharajBindadin. He died before MaharajBindadin. He is said to be extremely handsome and his dance is also said to be equally beautiful. Apart from Kathak dance he was proficient In playing Tabla and Pakhawaj. Together with his brother Bindadin he earned name and fame in Kathak dance all over the country. The specialty of his performance was expressing the Thumri while dancing and singing it simultaneously and his way of expressing the feminine softness sensually mesmerized the audience.
Kalka Prasad lived in Benaras throughout his life. He trained the Tawaifs (Prostitutes) of Benaras in thumri singing and expressing it artistically.
Kalka Prasad had three sons—Jagannath (AchhanMaharaj), Baijnath (LachhuMaharaj) and Shambhunath (ShambuMaharaj). All the three sons were master of Kathak dance with their own respective stamps on the dance. Kalka Prasad died in the year 1913 AD.

Kartik Ram

Kartik Ram was born in the village Bhanwarmal of Dist. Bilaspur (MP) in the year 1910. His initial training was under Pt. Shivnarayan. Later on he trained in Kathak dances under Jailal, ShambhuMaharaj and LachhuMaharaj. He had keen interest in folk dances which enhanced the creativity of Kathak. He was a protege of the King of Raigarh who arranged for his education in music and dance for which great artists like Jailal and AchhanMaharaj were appointed.
As long as Raja Chakradhar Singh was alive there was no parallel of Kartik Ram in Taiyyari (preparation) but today very few know him.
Kartik Ram was awarded with ‘ShikharSamman’ for 1980-81 by the Government of Madhya Pradesh. He also worked as Kathak dance teacher at Khairagarh and ChakradharNritya Kendra Bhopal.

KundanLal

ShriKundanLal was a Kathak dancer belonging to Jaipur house (Gharana) of Kathak. His education and training was imparted by his uncle Shri Narayan Prasad whom he accompanied to Raigarh. Thereafter, he travelled in Bihar and Madhya Pradesh for five years each. Afterwards, he lived in Mumbai for 15 years and taught Kathak. Many film actresses were his disciples, prominent among them were Swarnlata, Paro and Jabin. In 1953 he was appointed Kathak director in Dance department of Baroda University. He died on the 16th July, 1984.

KumudiniLakhiya

KumudiniLakhiya started dancing at a time when the art of dance was on a decline. She accompanied Ramgopal when he was going to Europe on a cultural tour. During this trip she earned enough fame in Europe and America.
Her dance training took place under Pt. Radhelal Mishra (Jaipur Gharana), AshiqHussain and Sunder Prasad. Ministry of culture gave her scholarships to enable her to receive training in Kathak dance from ShambhuMaharaj. She also worked with BirjuMaharaj in ‘MaltiMadhav’ and ‘Kumar Sambhav’ dance drama. Her creative talent has impressed all the artists.
In the year 1980 KumudiniLakhiya was honoured by Gujarat State SangeetNrityaNatak Academy and RashtriyaSangeetNatak Academy respectively. She married RajniLakhiya and settled down in Ahmedabad where she is imparting dance training.

Gopi Krishna

GopiKishna was born in the house of his maternal grandfather ShriSukhdev Mishra. The name of her mother was Tara and renowned dancers of Kathak world, Sitaradevi and Alaknanda are his maternal aunts. His childhood was spent in Mumbai and after school education he went to Calcutta where his father trained him in Kathak.
Gopi Krishna received training in Kathak from his maternal grandfather, ShriSukhdev Mishra and maternal uncle Chaubey. Apart from Kathak he also trained in Bharatnatyam under GovindrajPillai.
He returned to Mumbai to begin his professional career and worked as dance director in many films. He achieved much fame for his work in the film in ‘ JhanakJhanakPayalBaje’ and reached the pinnacle of glory.
Gopikrishna did not believe in blindly following the traditions. As a result he introduced some new elements in Kathak and became a dance director. He died in Mumbai in the year 1994.

Jailal

Late Pt. Jailal was a pillar of Jaipur house (Gharana) of Kathak. He was born in the year 1885. His dance training took place under his father Chunnilal and uncleDurga Prasad. Apart from being a dancer he was also a good tabla player and musician.
Jailal was also related to the courts of Jaipur, Jodhpur, Raigarh and Maihar and remained a dance teacher till the last years of his life. He had two children; a daughter, Jaikumari and a son, Ramgopal, both of whom were great dancers of their times; particularly, Jaikumari was considered as the best dancer of the country in those times.
Jailal was considered a master of beats(Tal) and Rhythm(Laya). He used to present large beats in a very simple manner and made spectacular presentation of ‘Layakari’, long ‘Parans’, ‘Parmelu’, ‘JatiPuran’, ‘PakshiParan’ besides impressive ‘Padhant’ which were high points of his dance. He died in the year 1949 at the age of 64 in Calcutta.

PanditDuargalal

Pt. Durgalal was born in the year 1948 in Mahendragarh (Rajasthan). His father’s name was Pt. Onkarlal. Durgalal received his dance training from his brother Devilal, Durgalal was considered to be a Jewel of Jaipur house (Gharana) of Kathak. Within a short period he created a place for himself among the Kathak teachers and dancers of the country.
Pt. Durgalal was honoured by Rajasthan SangeetNatak Academy and RashtriyaSangeetNatak Academy in the year 1983 and 1984 respectively. He was also honoured by Government of India who awarded him ‘Padmashri’
Pt. Durgalal was a representative artist of Jaipur house (Gharana) who amazed the audience world wide with his creative talent in Kathak dance. Pt. Durgalal died on the 21 st January 1990.

Damyanti Joshi

Damyanti Joshi was born on the 5th December 1928 in a Maharashtriyan Brahmin family. She started to dance in her childhood. She received her dance training initially from ShriSitaram Prasad and Smt. Menaka.
Later on she trained under AchhanMaharaj, LachhuMaharaj and ShambhuMaharaj. Apart from Kathak she also learnt Bharatnatyam, Kathakali and Manipuri dance.
She has presented many dance performances overseas and was a member delegate on Indian cultural delegation to China and Japan.
Damyanti Joshi is a proponent of purity of style and does not like too much of pomp and show.
Damyanti Joshi got the first prize for her dance in the dance Olympiad organised in Berlin in the year 1936. She was also honoured with Padmashri apart from awards given by RashtriyaSangeetNatak Academy and Maharashtra RajyaSangeetNatak Academy.

Pandit Narayan Prasad

Pt. Narayan Prasad was born in the year 1908 in the famous Hari Prasad – Hanuman Prasad Gharana of Jaipur. Pt. Hanuman Prasad was his father and PanditHariprasad was his elder uncle. His father and uncle started his dance training at the tender age of 8 years and at the age of 12, he gave his first public performance as a child dancer.
Pt. Narayan Prasad had equal command on Rhythm (Laya) and emoting in his dance. ‘Shringar’ was his speciality. Apart from being a great dancer, he was an accomplished player of ‘Tabla’ and ‘Pakhawaj’. Pt. Narayan Prasad was a devotee of Lord Krishna and composed a number of Thumris and Poems(Kavitt) with Krishna Leela as the theme.
In the year 1957, he was honoured with the title of ‘Nrityacharya’ in Belgaum session of All India GandharvaMahavidyalayaMandal. Pt. Narayan Prasad died in the year 1958. He had six sons and of them CharanGirdharchand is a Kathak dancer as well as a teacher.

MaharajBindadin

Credit for developing and taking Kathak to its climax and having it established and respected as a great art goes to MaharajBindadin. He was born in a village of Handia District of UP. The name of his father was Durga Prasad. He had two brothers; Shri Kalka Prasad and Bhairon Prasad.
His dance training commenced under his father ShriDurga Prasad and uncleShri Thakur Prasad at the tender age of 9 years. For nearly 4 years he continued to practice Tigda Dig Digeveryday for twelve hours.
At the age of twelve, Bindadin got an opportunity to show his skill in the court of NawabWazid Ali Shah. Accompanying him on Pakhawaj was renowned Kodau Singh but when he began to dance then Kodau Singh had to accept his defeat as Bindadin was better prepared. Wazid Ali Shah was extremely pleased with his performance and gave him substantial reward.
Later on, to make dance style more enchanting he gave it a new face. He organisedKathak in a classical way. He composed new dances and he developed Kathak as a distinct style by using new talents successfully.
Bindadin used to dance on odd beats in a way to mesmerize the audience with his younger brother Shri Kalka Prasad, he formed Kalka -Bindadin Duo which earned fame throughout the country. He composed nearly fifteen hundred Thumris and gave them new form of body movements according to the theme. He was a poet as well as a skilled dance teacher. His disciples carried forward his art and the tradition still continues to enrich Kathak.

Pt. BirjuMaharaj

Pt. BirjuMaharaj is the only son of famous Kathak dancer AchhanMaharaj of Lucknow. His full name is Brij Mohan Das. He was attracted towards the art of dance since childhood. He used to watch and remember whatever AchhanMaharaj used to teach his disciples. When his father saw his keen interest in dancing he accepted BirjuMaharaj as his disciple by tying Ganda. At a very tender age BirjuMaharaj gave his first performance at Deharadun which enchanted the audience. His father died when he was only ten years old. later on he received training from his uncles Late Pt. ShambuMaharaj and Late Pt. LachuMaharaj. After sometime he joined SangeetBharti, a school in Delhi, as a teacher and composed many dance dramas.
Pt. BirjuMaharaj has gained immense fame throughout the country. He is a born artist. He says that there is a huge difference between dancing and art of dancing. On the stage everything depends on God’s grace and the blessings of the teacher. He says that he has to maintain the Laya and not fight with it.
BirjuMaharaj is a talented artist. He presents Tihais with great beauty and can play a number of instruments particularly, tabla and pakhawaj. He is also adept in Thumri singing.
Apart from being an excellent dancer, he is a great teacher also. Many of his disciples have won acclaim at international level. Pt. BirjuMaharaj has composed many dance dramas such as ‘Phagleela’ ‘Govardhanleela’, ‘MaltiMadhav’ Kumar Sambhav’ and ‘Shan-e-Oudh’ etc.
Pt. BirjuMaharaj has been hounoured with a number of awards. He was awarded ‘Padma Vibhushana’ by Govt. oflndia. Some of the other awards given to him are KalidasPuraskar by Govt. of Madhya Pradesh, ‘Andhra Ratna’ ‘NrtiyaGhuramani’ and ‘Soviet Land’ award by the Govt. of USSR.
Pt. BirjuMaharaj has two sons and three daughters. He is considered to be one of the icons of Kathak dance who have brought glory to the dance by making it popular at international level.

Raja Chakradhar Singh

Raja Chakradhar Singh of Raigarh was born in the year 1904. He dedicated his entire life to the cause of music. He was in a real sense dedicated to literature and music. He used his talent in varied literary styles such as poetry, story, novel writing and took practical interest in singing, playing Tabla, Pakhawaj and Kathak dance. To understand deeply Kathak he invited main Kathak teachers of various ‘Gharanas’ such as Pt. Jailal, AchhanMaharaj, Mohanlal and Narayan Prasad to his court for long periods and himself learnt dance from them.
Raja Saheb made a significant contribution in the field of Kathak. He defined various categories of ‘Nayaks’ and ‘Nayikas’ according to their features. Instead of Persian words such as’ Amad Salami’ and Toda’ he used words from Hindi and Sanskrit. He composed ‘JatiParan’ ‘PakshiParan’ ‘KadaktiBigali’, ‘DalbadaP etc.
For quite some time, Raigarh remained a pilgrimage for musicians of the country due to the patronage extended by Chakradhar Singh. Raja Saheb expired in the year 1948. In his memory, the State Government of Madhya Pradesh has set up ‘ChakradharNritya Kendra’ at Bhopal.

Smt. Rukmani Devi Arundel

Smt. Rukmani Devi Arundel figures prominently among those who participated actively in Indian cultural movement. It was surprising that she could work at ease and skillfully.
Born at Tanjore in South India she was naturally inclined to dancing. Her initial dance training was under famous dance exponent of South India., PandanallurMeenakshiSundaramPillai. Coordination of Tal, Swar and footwork was the speciality of her dance.
In her art one could easily witness beautiful surge of emotions. Smt. Arundel had visualised dance as an important link in Indian cultural tradition. Her dances mostly reflected Indian ideals and spirituality. She was influenced by ‘theosophy’ and it left an impact on her art. Her life is a story of courage. Despite all opposition she married Dr. Arundel.
Smt. Arundel was chairman of International Academy of Arts and was honoured with ‘Padmabhushan’ by Government of India.

Ramgopal

Ramgopal was born in 1917 at Raigarh. He is the only son of Pt. Jailal. He was trained in dance by his father and ShriSohanlal. He also learned Kathakali from Kunjkurup and Bharatnatyam from MeenakshiSundaramPillai.
Ramgopal was a fortunate person when compared to many other dancers. He went on a world tour with ‘La Mera’ and was well received by the audience. He also gave performances in a number of music conferences in India and displayed his artistry. With the kind of zeal and dedication, Ramgopal exploited his talent, and provided the right direction to his art.
Ramgopal was living permanently in London and running an institute. He recently died in London in the year 2003.

RohiniBhate

RohiniBhate started learning Kathak in the year 1946. Her initial training was under ShriSohanlal of Jaipur Gharana. Thereafter she received training under ShriMannalal of Mumbai and Shri Mohan RaoKalyanpurkar of Lucknow.
In 1952 she visited China as a member of Indian cultural delegation. She has refined her technique by studying deeply old scriptures relating to Indian dances and drama. She has composed a number of dance dramas in Kathak style. She has written a number of articles on the subject of dance and two books in Marathi.
She practisedKathak hard for years and performed under the direction of LachhuMaharaj and MohanraoKaryanpurkar and settled down in Poona.
In the year 1977, RashtriyaSangeetNatak Academy honoured her for creative work done in the field of dance. She has also received KalidasSamman in the year 2001.

LacbhuMaharaj

LachhuMaharaj’s real name is Baijnath Prasad. He was the second son of Shri Kalka Prasad, the famous Kathak artist and younger brother of BindadinMaharaj. He received training in Kathak from his father, Kalka Prasad, uncleBindadinMaharaj and elder brother, AchhanMaharaj. He started giving performances when he was only ten years old.
LachhuMaharaj, in the course of his performances, used to display, delicacy, sentimentality, discipline, sensuality in such a manner that it mesmerised the audience and won their uninhibited praise. He always tried to bring purity in his dances. He was in the forefront of choreography of Kathak dance in films. He easily got assignments to direct dances in the films and he successfully choraographed dances in films like SwarupMahal, Kale Badal, Ghar Ki Laj, Shikwa, Mugal-E-Azam, Pakeeza etc. which won him immense fame in the film world.
LachhuMaharaj also composed some special dances vizBhartiyaKisan, MadyaNishedh etc. which turned out to be quite popular. He had knowledge of many classical dances other than Kathak also. He died in the year 1977 in Lucknow.

ShambhooMaharaj

The name ShambhooMaharaj occupies its own space in Kathak world. He was the youngest son of Shri Kalka Prasad. He was trained in Kathak at a tender age of 8 years by his uncle BindadinMaharaj and later on under his elder brother AchhanMaharaj. He learnt ‘Natwari’ dance from AchhanMaharaj and Thumri from UstadRahimuddin Khan of Benaras.
ShambhooMaharaj was known as King of emoting. According to him dance should be based upon emotions otherwise it remains only as a spectacular performance.
Apart from dance, ShambhooMaharaj had the knowledge of Indian Classical Music. He had equal proficiency in both music and dance. He was recipient of many honours ‘Such as ‘NrityaSamrat’, ‘AbhinayaChakravarti’, ‘Padmashri’ and Academy award.
He had two sons, Shri Krishna Mohan and Shri Ram Mohan who are trying to preserve his legacy.

Sitara Devi

Sitara Devi is the daughter of Pt. Sukhdev Mishra who was a musician in the Court of King of Nepal. Her mother MatsyaKumari was the daughter of Raj guru of Nepalese Court. She had two sisters, Alaknanda and Tara.
Sitara Devi received training in dance form her father and ShambhooMaharaj. SukhdevMaharaj requested AchhanMaharaj also to train his daughters. Later on Sitara Devi learnt ‘Lasya’ from LachhuMaharaj.
Sitara Devi learnt Bharatnatyam and Manipuri dance also apart from Kathak. This apart, she had interest in Western dances also.
Sitara had a natural interest in becoming a film actress also. In her times, she was a successful actress in the film world.
She has made new experiments in Kathak. She was honoured by SangeetNatak Academy, Government of Uttar Pradesh and Government of Maharashtra in the year 1974. Indira Kala Sangeet University conferred an honorary doctorate on her in the year 1978. GurudevRavindraNath Tagore was so impressed with Sitara Devi that he titled her “Queen of Kathak dance’. Once she danced non¬stop for thirteen hours and set a record.
Sitara Devi went on tours abroad and left a deep impression of Indian dance on millions of audience. She has brought fame to the BenarasGharana through her efforts and excellence.
Sitara Devi’s first marriage was with K. Asif, second with ShriBarot, an engineer. From the second marriage she has a son. She also adopted the daughters of her brother (Mala &Priyamala) and trained them in dance. Sitara Devi’s contribution to Kathak has been invaluable.

Sunder Prasad

Shri Sunder Prasad was a famous and learned dancer form Jaipur Gharana. His father’s name was Chunnilal and Pt. Jailal was his elder brother.
Sunder Prasad learnt dancing from his father Chunilal and uncleDurga Prasad. He also trained under BindadinMaharaj of LucknowGharana. Thus within some time he created a new style imbibing the peculiarities of both Lucknow and Jaipur Gharanas. He performed all over the country. Sunder Prasad was not only an artist but a skilled teacher also. He taught dancing for almost thirty years in Mumbai and shifted to Chennai thereafter. He was honoured by Natak Academy of Delhi in the year 1958.

Shiv ShankaranNamboodri

Shri Shiv ShankaranNamboodri was most famous of modern Acharyas of Kathkali style of dance. He was born in a high caste Brahmin family. In his time, music and dance were considered to be a vocation for lower caste but he was so much devoted to dancing that facing the opposition of his family he worked and trained hard for 15 years to learn Kathkali dance. Thereafter he formed a troupe and gave performances all over Malabar.
In 1924 Shiv Shankaran met Udaishankar who was greatly influenced by his knowledge and made him his Guru.
He travelled all over the country and overseas along with Udaishankar and contributed significantly to development and popularisation of Kathkali style of dancing.
ShivshankaranNamboodri died in the year 1943. He contributed significantly in modernising the sequence of presentation of Kathkali.

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