Mrinalini Sarabhai was born on 11 May 1918 in the Indian state of Kerala. Her father Dr. Swaminathan was a barrister in the Madras High Court. Mother Ammu Swaminathan was a freedom fighter who later also became a member of the parliament. Sister Lakshmi Sehgal was with Subhash Chandra Bose. Mrinalini spent most of her childhood in Switzerland. Here, from the ‘Delacruz School’, she learned the dance techniques from Western techniques.
She took education in Shanti Niketan under the supervision of Rabindranath Tagore and from here dance became her life. Her husband Vikram Sarabhai was a well-known Scientist of the country. Her daughter Mallika Sarabhai is also a famous dancer and philanthropist. Mrinalini’s elder sister Lakshmi Sehgal is known as a freedom fighter. She was the Commander-in-Chief of the Jhansi Regiment, the women’s army of the Azad Hind Fauj of the famous revolutionary Subhash Chandra Bose.
When Mrinalini Sarabhai was 24 years old, she chose Vikram Sarabhai as her life partner. The story behind it is interesting. Mrinalini Sarabhai was born in Bangalore where she entered in Rangpravesh. Rangpravesh means the first dance on stage. In any artist’s life, that city has special significance, where it has been Rangpravesh. She met Vikram Sarabhai a few days later in this city. Vikram Sarabhai was a well-known scientist. He is called ‘Father of Indian Space Program’. Both decided to spend their life together.
This decision was not easy, as Mrinalini Sarabhai was to live in Ahmedabad after marriage. There was a difference of ground sky in the culture of both cities; But Mrinalini went to Ahmedabad. It took so much time to mold himself in a new culture that within 6 years she started an organization named ‘Darpan’. In the institution of Mrinalini Sarabhai, all Gujaratis learned dance. She continued choreography along with dance during this time. Wrote poems, wrote stories, and also wrote for children.
In our country in the 1950s when women did not have free freedom, the classical dancer and choreographer Padmashree, Padmabhushan Mrinalini Sarabhai, popularly known as ‘Amma’, was given the most recommended by her famous scientist husband Vikram Sarabhai. Although his childhood was spent in Switzerland, he studied in Shanti Niketan and also in France.
Mrinalini started her career with choreography. She has a special contribution in about 300 dramas and dance. In 1947, their first child Karthikeya was born. Known as ‘Amma’, classical dancer and choreographer Mrinalini Sarabhai became the first Indian woman to be awarded the Diploma of France Archives Medal. She was born in Kerala and lived for a lifetime in Ahmedabad (Gujarat).
In those times, it was a period when artists did not learn just one form. Mrinalini Sarabhai also learned the nuances of different styles of dance. She learned Manipuri dance from Maisnam Amubi Singh. Learned Kathakali from Guru Kunchu Kurup, Bharatanatyam from Meenakshi Sudanram Pillai and Muthukumar Pillai. Each of her teachers contributed tremendously to her own art.
During this time she also worked with Pandit Uday Shankar, brother of world-renowned sitar player Pandit Ravi Shankar. Pandit Uday Shankar is credited with bringing a distinct identity to Indian art throughout the world. He brought modern dance to a different point of popularity and success. Meanwhile Mrinalini Sarabhai also went to America for a few days and went there to learn the nuances of Dramatic Arts. After this Mrinalini Sarabhai developed the Indian dance tradition in the country.
Very few people will know a story related to Mrinalini Sarabhai’s organization Darpan. This is a time when a lot of people used to come to learn dance in ‘Darpan’. After learning the dance, when they have to perform solo dance for the first time, it’s called ‘Aranghetram’. It was thought that being held in Auranghetram, the trainee whose parents were rich in money, used to celebrate them like a big prom. In such a situation, there was a kind of pressure on those trainees who were not financially rich. When Mrinalini Sarabhai came to know about this, she changed the name of Aranghetram to ‘Aradhana’. After this, saris were given by the institute itself and print cards simultaneously. Extravagance was banned. Mrinalini Sarabhai associated worship with dedication and faith.
Awards and Honors
Apart from classical dance, Mrinalini Sarabhai also learned Bharatanatyam and Kathakali. She also made a career in choreography and teaching after rapidly developing his technique, strength and spirit in dance. It is a matter of pride for every Indian that she choreographed over three hundred dance plays. She had established ‘Darpan Academy’ in 1949 with her husband, the famous scientist Vikram Sarabhai, in Kerala, after fully training in every genre of dance.
Mrinalini Sarabhai was honored with the Padma Bhushan and ‘Padmashree’, the country’s famous civilian honors. She was also awarded a doctorate by ‘University of East Anglia’, Novich UK. She was also nominated to the Executive Committee on behalf of the ‘International Dance Council Paris’. The famous ‘Darpana Academy’ was founded by Mrinalini Sarabhai.