Mrinalini Vikram Sarabhai (11 May 1918 – 21 January 2016) was an Indian classical dancer, choreographer and instructor. She was the founder of the Darpana Academy of Performing Arts, an institute for imparting training in dance, drama, music and puppetry, in the city of Ahmedabad. She received many awards and citations in recognitions of her contribution to art. She trained over 18,000 students in Bharatnatyam and Kathakali.. She was the wife of the Indian physicist Vikram Sarabhai.
Mrinalini was born in Kerala on 11 May 1918, the daughter of social worker and former parliament member Ammu Swaminathan. She spent her childhood in Switzerland, where, she received her first lessons in the Dalcroze school, a Western technique of dance movements. She was educated at Shantiniketan under the guidance of Rabindranath Tagore where she realised her true calling. She then went for a short time to the United States where she enrolled in the American Academy of Dramatic Arts. On returning to India, she began her training in the south Indian classical dance form of Bharatanatyam under Meenakshi Sundaram Pillai and the classical dance-drama of Kathakali under the legendary Guru Thakazhi Kunchu Kurup.
Mrinalini married the Indian physicist Vikram Sarabhai who is considered to be the Father of the Indian Space Program in 1942. She has a son, Kartikeya and a daughter Mallika who too went on to attain fame in dance and theatre. Mrinalini founded Darpana in Ahmedabad in 1948. A year later, she performed at the Théâtre national de Chaillot in Paris where she received a lot of critical acclaim.
Mrinalini and Vikram had a troubled marriage. According to biographer Amrita Shah, Vikram Sarabhai had a void in his personal life he sought to fill by dedicating himself to applying science for social good.
Besides choreographing more than three hundred dance dramas,she has also written many novels, poetry, plays and stories for children. She was the chairperson of the Gujarat State Handicrafts and Handloom Development Corporation Ltd. She is also one of the trustees of the Sarvodaya International Trust, an organisation for promotion of Gandhian ideals, and is also the chairperson of the Nehru Foundation for Development (NFD). Her autobiography is titled Mrinalini Sarabhai: The Voice of the Heart.
Her father, Dr. Swaminathan was a renowned barrister at the Madras High Court and principal of the Madras Law College. Her mother Ammu Swaminathan was a remarkable woman of her times, and a great freedom fighter. Her elder sister Lakshmi Sehgal was the commander-in-chief of Subhas Chandra Bose's 'Rani of Jhansi Regiment' of the Indian National Army ( Azad Hind Fauj). Her elder brother, Govind Swaminathan, was a famous barrister who practised in Madras as a specialist in constitutional and criminal law apart from civil law and company law; he served as the attorney general for the State of Madras State (now Tamil Nadu) with great distinction.
She was admitted to hospital on 20 January 2016 and died the next day at the age of 97."My mother just left for her eternal dance," her daughter, leading danseuse, actor and activist Mallika Sarabhai, said in a Facebook post announcing the death
Mrinalini Sarabhai has been awarded by the Indian government with the national civilian awards Padma Bhushan in 1992 and the Padma Shri in 1965. She was honoured with the Degree of Doctor of Letters, honoris causa (LittD) by the University of East Anglia, Norwich, UK in 1997. She was also the first Indian to receive the medal and Diploma of the French Archives Internationales de la Danse. She was nominated to the Executive Committee of the International Dance Council, Paris in 1990 and awarded the Sangeet Natak Akademi Fellowship, New Delhi in 1994. She was presented with a gold medal by the Mexican Government for her choreography for the Ballet Folklorico of Mexico.
The Darpana Academy of Performing Arts celebrated its golden jubilee on 28 December 1998, with the announcement of the annual "Mrinalini Sarabhai Award for Classical Excellence", in the field of classical dance.
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