Sitara Devi (1920-2014): Kathak legend no more
She was originally called Dhanalakshmi as her birthday coincided with Diwali. But, her father, a Vaishnavite Brahmin scholar and Kathak exponent, decided to rechristen the little girl after she impressed one and all with her performance in a school dance drama — her new name was Sitara (a star) followed by the suffix 'Devi'.
Yesterday, that star left for her heavenly abode. She was 94. Her last rites will take place on Thursday as her son, Ranjit Barot, is abroad for a show. Sitara Devi was honoured with the Legends of India Lifetime Achievement Award 2011 for her contribution to the classical dance genre for over six decades but died fighting for a piece of land for a dance academy.
In an interview with mid-day earlier this year, she had said, "I have been fighting for this for over 30 years now. I have met a lot of people, including Maharashtra chief minister Prithviraj Chavan, in a bid to put forth my request but in vain. But I won't lose hope."
A few weeks before she was admitted to the hospital, the Kathak danseuse had written to Prime Minister Narendra Modi, expressing her desire to meet him. On receiving the news of her death, Modi issued a condolence message recalling her rich contribution to Kathak. Sitara Devi had featured in 18 films including 'Badi Maa', 'Mother India', 'Kohinoor', 'Amar', 'Devdas' and 'Bagbhan'. She also taught kathak to actresses Madhubala, Rekha, Mala Sinha and Kajol.
The legendary dancer was born in Kolkata but her family moved to Mumbai when she was barely 11. A famous story of hers relates to her three-hour solo recital before Rabindranath Tagore, who gifted her a shawl. She, however, refused to accept the gift and sought his blessings. Sitara Devi married director K Asif of 'Mughal-e-Azam' fame, when she was just eight, and then Pratap Barot.