Sitara Devi was an eminent Indian dancer of the classical Kathak style of dancing. Rabindranath Tagore described her as Nritya Samragini, meaning the empress of dance, after watching her performance when she was just 16 years old.The epithet continues, and she is still described as the Kathak queen.
She gave performances in several parts of India, and in several other countries, including at the Royal Albert Hall, London in 1967; and at the Carnegie Hall, New York in 1976.
Google celebrate Sitara Devi’s 97th Birthday with doodle in India on Nov 8, 2017.
Sitara Devi was born in Kolkata (then Calcutta) on the Dhanteras, 8 November 1920, the eve of the Indian festival of Dipavali.
Being born around Dipavali, she was named Dhanalakshmi (nicknamed Dhanno), an epithet of goddess Lakshmi who is worshiped especially during Dipawali.
Like the tradition of the time, Devi was to be married when she was a small girl of eight, and her child bridegroom’s family wanted to solemnise the marriage. However, she resisted, and wanted to be in a school.
At her insistence, the marriage did not take place, and she was admitted into the Kamachhagarh High School. While at this school, a dance drama based on the mythological story of Savitri and Satyavan was to be enacted in a cultural program to be conducted by the students of the school.
Her debut was at Jehangir Hall (Mumbai), then the centre of metro’s cultural life. When she was a twelve-year-old girl, Devi was recruited by Niranjan Sharma, a filmmaker and a dance director, and she gave dance sequences in some Hindi movies including her debut in Usha Haran 1940, Nagina 1951, Roti, Vatan 1954, Anjali 1957 (directed by Chetan Anand, brother of Dev Anand).
In Mother India 1957, she performed a Holi dance dressed as a boy, and this was her last dance in any movie.
She stopped performing dances in movies, as they were adversely affecting her study in the classical dance, kathak.
Devi was married to Nazir Ahmed Khan then to K. Asif and then to Pratap Barot, with whom she had a son, Ranjit Barot.
Devi received a number of awards, including Sangeet Natak Akademi Award (1969) and the Padma Shree (1973), Kalidas Samman (1995) and Nritya Nipuna.
She refused to accept the Padma Bhushan award, declaring, “it is an insult, not an honor,” and as a report from the Press Trust of India quoted her saying: “is this government not aware of my contribution to Kathak? I will not accept any award less than Bharat Ratna.”
Although her forte was kathak, she was also an accomplished dancer in many other styles of dancing including Bharatanatyam and many forms of folk dances of India.
She also learnt the Russian ballet, and other dances of the western world. With advancing age, her dancing activities diminished, and she was working on compiling a book encapsulating the research done by her father and her in the field of dancing, especially in kathak style of dancing.
She taught kathak dancing to Bollywood celebrities such as Madhubala, Rekha, Mala Sinha, and Kajol. She envisioned formalizing her teaching, and planned to set up a Kathak training academy.
She died on 25 November 2014, at Jaslok Hospital in Mumbai, after a prolonged illness.