Mrinalini Sarabhai

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Mrinalini Sarabhai
Photo by jayraj.jpg
Sarabhai in 2008
Born(1918-05-11)11 May 1918
Died21 January 2016(2016-01-21) (aged 97)
OccupationDancer, Choreographer
Founder of Darpana Academy of Performing Arts
Spouse(s)Vikram Sarabhai
ChildrenMallika Sarabhai (daughter)
Kartikeya Sarabhai (son)

Mrinalini Vikram Sarabhai (11 May 1918 – 21 January 2016) was an Indian classical dancer, choreographer and instructor. She was the founder and director of the Darpana Academy of Performing Arts, an institute for imparting training in dance, drama, music and puppetry, in the city of Ahmedabad.[1] She received many awards and citations in recognition of her contribution to art. She trained over 18,000 students in Bharatnatyam and Kathakali.


Early life and education[edit]

Mrinalini was born in present-day Kerala on 11 May 1918,[2] to Subbarama Swaminathan, a lawyer who practised criminal law at Madras High Court, and A.V. Ammukutty, better known as Ammu Swaminathan, a social worker and independence activist. She spent her childhood in Switzerland, where, she received her first lessons in the Dalcroze school, a Western technique of dance movements.[3] 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.[4]

Marriage and the following years[edit]

Vikram and Mrinalini Sarabhai c. 1948

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.[5]

Other areas of contribution[edit]

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 was also one of the trustees of the Sarvodaya International Trust, an organisation for promotion of Gandhian ideals, and was also the chairperson of the Nehru Foundation for Development (NFD).[6] Her autobiography is titled Mrinalini Sarabhai: The Voice of the Heart.[7]


Her father, Subbarama Swaminathan was a barrister at the Madras High Court and principal of the Madras Law College. Her mother was Ammu Swaminathan. 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 barrister who practised in Madras as a specialist in constitutional and criminal law apart from civil law and company law; he was the attorney general for Madras State (now Tamil Nadu).


She was admitted to hospital on 20 January 2016 and died the next day at the age of 97.[8]


Mrinalini Sarabhai has been awarded by the Indian government with the national civilian awards Padma Bhushan in 1992 and the Padma Shri in 1965.[9] 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 association Archives Internationales de la Danse. She was nominated to the Executive Committee of the International Dance Council, Paris in 1990[1] 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.[10][11]

She was the first recipient of the Nishagandhi Puraskaram, an annual award of the Government of Kerala. The award was presented in 2013.[12]

On 11 May 2018, Google Doodle commemorated her 100th birthday.[13]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b Indira Gandhi Memorial Trust (1993). Challenges of the twenty-first century: Conference 1991. Taylor & Francis. p. 375. ISBN 81-224-0488-X.
  2. ^ Debra Craine and Judith Mackrell (2010). The Oxford Dictionary of Dance. Oxford: University Press. p. 396. ISBN 0199563446.
  3. ^ "First step, first love". Indian Express. 9 December 2002. Archived from the original on 22 April 2004.
  4. ^ "Mrinalini & Sanjay: Children Of Indian Spring, Masters Of Global Bloom". Retrieved 11 May 2018.
  5. ^ Amrita Shah (2007) Vikram Sarabhai: A Life. Penguin Viking. ISBN 0-670-99951-2
  6. ^ Nehru Foundation for Development. Rizvi shabib .org
  7. ^ Mrinalini Sarabhai (2004). The Voice of the Heart: An Autobiography. HarperCollins Publishers India, a joint venture with India Today Group. ISBN 978-81-7223-475-1.
  8. ^ "Mrinalini Sarabhai passes away". The Hindu. 21 January 2016. ISSN 0971-751X. Retrieved 21 January 2016.
  9. ^ "Padma Awards" (PDF). Ministry of Home Affairs, Government of India. 2015. Retrieved 21 July 2015.
  10. ^ "Tradition takes over". Indian Express. 26 December 1998. Retrieved 20 October 2010.[permanent dead link]
  11. ^ "Google Doodle celebrates legendary dancer Mrinalini Sarabhai". The Times of India. Retrieved 11 May 2018.
  12. ^ "Nishagandhi Puraskaram for Mrinalini Sarabhai". The Hindu. 26 January 2013. Retrieved 29 January 2016.
  13. ^ "Mrinalini Sarabhai's 100th Birthday". 11 May 2018.

External links[edit]