(Last Updated on : 15/12/2012)
Pandit Uday Shankar was born on December 8, 1900 and became a world-renowned classical dancer and choreographer in India. Vishnudharmottarapurana mentions Vina tu nrtta sastrena chitrasutram sudurvidam- without the knowledge of dance the art of painting is an unattainable ideal. Uday Shankar, obviously was well acquainted with this inter-relationship and inter-dependence of arts instinctively. In 1923, when the Russian ballerina Anna Pavlova, asked him to fashion dance with Indian themes, he choreographed Krishna and Radha possibly in an imaginative manner. He aligned Anna Pavlova, the greatest ballerina of the world, and started his grand sojourn of dance, looking back was not destined and rising the ladder of fame was a self willed affair. From painting to dancing he made a smooth transition. It was his graceful grandeur that made Indian a world event in the domain of dance. Liberating himself from imitative culture he transgressed the known world of cultural dance laying emphasis on seeking the essence of the cultural legacy giving it a distinct Indian identity.
Early Life of Pandit Uday Shankar
Udaipur, a colorful town in Rajasthan happens to the hometown of an aristocratic Bengali family, where Pandit Uday Shankar was born. The ancestors of Pandit Uday Shankar belonged to Narail (in modern-day Bangladesh). Pandit Uday Shankar acquired the formal training in the art in Bombay, while he studied at the Royal College of Art in London. From his very adolescence he was conspicuously interested in magic, handling camera music stage performance of various sorts. Uday Shankar's father made himself comfortable as his mentor and advisor; he inhabited a world of Sanskrit scholarship and Indian princely states. Uday Shankar, a Bengali Brahmin
, was raised in a village near Varanasi
and in the princely state of Jhalawar, where his father held a series of official posts in this small Rajasthani kingdom. His education continued in Mumbai
and in London, where he went to join his father in 1920. So when he sailed back to India at age of 30, after ten consecutive years in Europe and America, he had to rediscover his land. After a year he left India again, taking his family to Paris, the base for his first dance company of Indian artists, co-founded with Swiss sculptress Alice Boner.
Career of Pandit Uday Shankar
The creative heads noticed Pandit Uday Shankar when he created wonderful ballets based on Hindu themes like Radha-Krishna, Hindu weddings and other oriental themes for Anna. He loved to fuse the dance forms and make a blend of Eastern and Western. During the 1930s, Uday travelled across the western world along with his own troupe. His version of western theatrical techniques to Indian dance made his art massively popular both in India and the West. His brother Ravi Shankar
helped him to popularize Indian classical music
in the West.
While Pandit Uday Shankar was enrolled in the Royal College of Art in London, he choreographed two ballads of which one was based on Hindu mythology ("Krishna and Radha") and the other on Hindu society ("A Hindu Wedding
"). These two ballads were showcased at the Covent Garden. During this time he came in contact with the famous Russian ballerina, Anna Pavlova. He worked with her and she taught him all the exquisite ballet movements, which he widely incorporated in his upcoming creations. The graceful movement of ballet dancers impressed him and he stated to incorporate ballet movements in Indian dance for the first time. Pandit Uday Shankarwas credited to be engendering a "new kind" of Indian dance
. Pandit Uday Shankar's dances were deep rooted in Hindu mythology and he extensively used classical raga music in his choreography Though without any formal training in any of the Indian classical dance
forms, he formulated his own troupe in 1929 with financial assistance from Alice Boner-the Swiss Sculptress and indulged in tour amidst Indian extensively, and in Europe between 1932 and the 1960s acknowledging himself about traditional, classical and a confounding variety of folk dances, amassing a variety of Indian musical instruments and bona fide costumes. The result was astounding. The audience was breathtakingly mesmerized and bewitched witnessing his dance, the showmanship, the visual offering of phantasmagoria. His years with Anna Pavlova as an apprentice refracted their earned glory.
The Europeans admired his "new style" of dancing; they had an idea of Indian dances to be rigid, stiff and stereotyped, but the new style by Pandit Uday Shankar kept everyone thrilled about this art. It took a while before Indians started appreciating Pandit Uday Shankar's "new style," which was hybrid in nature. The experienced personalities in the arena of dancing were not encouraged by Uday Shankar's "new style" of dance.
His Europe account informs, Uday Shankar had at the invitation of Elmhirst, who had been a right hand Gurudev Rabindranath Tagore
in building Sriniketan, visited Dartington Hall, Totnes, Doven for a residency of six months in 1936. He even had the chance encounter with Michel Chekhov, the nephew of the Russian playwright Anton Chekhov, the German choreographer, Kurl Joos and another German Rudolf Laban who invented the dance notation. He ruefully observed the methodology of Michel Chekhov and incorporated the influences in his style. Uday Shankar drew inspiration from Dartington Hall, and accepted the suggestion of Elmhirst to establish a Centre for Dance in India. He chose Simtola, near Almora in the United Provinces and by 1940 started his famous Uday Shankar India Culture Centre. The Centre specialized in training the dancers in the art of creativity, improvisation, concentration and imagination. In the foothills of the Himalayas, where and invited Shankaran Nambudirei for teaching the dance forms like Kathakali
, Kandappa Pillai for Bharatnatyam
, Amobi Singh for Manipuri
and Ustad Allauddin Khan
for music. However, the center was closed during World War II but it was later reopened in Kolkata
after the war in 1965. In Kolkata, the school was however renamed as Uday Shankar Center for Dance. Pandit Uday Shankar married his student, Amala in his late thirties. The studies in Uday Shankar Center for Dance taught an all-embracing performance curriculum that includes training in folk and classical dance, improvisation, costume design and even theatrical makeup. Pandit Uday Shankar established a relaxing institution in the hills of Kumaon, where he requested teachers from different genres to train his troupe in order to groom their bodies to a situation where they could create a varied, rich and modern dance vocabulary.
However, the young generation was overwhelmed by his style and innumerable students joined his school in Almora. Uday Shankar Center for Dance was a waterhole for many upcoming and interested dancers. Many graduates of the school possessing the talent of dancing enrolled into this school. The famous Bombay film director, Guru Dutt
had attended Uday Shankar Center for Dance. The famous classical singer, Srimati Laxmi Shankar also attended this school at Almora. She was advised by Ravi Shankar
to change her career from dancing to singing and she later married Rajendra Shankar, the younger brother of Pandit Uday Shankar.
Personal Life of Pandit Uday Shankar
Pandit Uday Shankar had married Amala Shankar and they had a son Ananda Shankar
and a daughter Mamata Shankar
. Ananda Shankar grew up to be a popular musician and music composer who received training from Dr. Lalmani Misra rather than his uncle, Ravi Shankar
. Pandit Uday Shankar's only daughter Mamata Shankar grew up to be one of the most charming and talented dancers of India alike her parents and is also a noted actress. She has acted in several prominent films by Satyajit Ray
and Mrinal Sen
. Pandit Uday Shankar also made a film on dance entitled 'Kalpana
' which apart from recording his choreographic creations managed to reach out to larger audience. He dealt with the film medium efficiently. Kalpana, a visual treat is a record of the created reality of his artistic extravaganza where he experimented in shadow play and spectacle carrying a juxtaposition of the stage and the screen in his unique Shankar Scope. However, his followers and predecessors created a niche of their own, keeping intact the form. Foremost amongst them was Shanti Bardhan who gave us immortal Ramayana with human beings performing like puppets. He also introduced the fable of Panchatantra creating movements of the birds and the animals.
Awards for Pandit Uday Shankar
He was awarded Padma Vibhushan
by the Government of India
and the Desikottama by the Visva-Bharati University
Uday Shankar - The Idol
Pandit Uday Shankar's birth centenary was held in India in the year 2000. Well-written articles were seen in almost every newspaper throughout India. A well planned photo exhibition on the occasion of Uday Shankar's centenary rendered it possible to see various facets of his talented genius. Uday Shankar had, with his doughty creativity shown originality in his approach towards choreography. His icon is the epitome of inspiration to the generations of dancers who are on a perpetual quest to seek new directions. For him imitation was equal to death. By remembering him we pay homage to one who brought to Indian dance great relevance and respect. Modern Dance in India has a relatively short history and Pandit Uday Shankar was widely accepted as the Father of Modern Indian Dance
. This great dancer had a wide vision, and appreciated the wonderful diversity and capacity of expression afforded by the various classical and folk dances in any country he visited. His search for a delicate expression led him to integrate special dance styles, such as Bharatnatyam
into his choreographic productions.
Pandit Uday Shankar was the dancer par excellence and was referred as the renaissance dancer who updated the stylized temple dance of India and popularized the art form all over the Western lands. Bulbul Chowdhury is Bangladesh's one-time famous dancer and a student in Pandit Uday Shankar's school of dancing during the 1940s. Pandit Uday Shankar was a romantic as well as a wonderful showman. He was often called as the catalyst in the renaissance of interest in Indian arts during the 1930s and '40s.
The creative dance movement in India unanimously owes its growth to Pandit Uday Shankar. With his success during the 1930s, a unique movement of revival of classical dances had begun. The last decades of Shankar's life were a complex journey of success and struggle, his fame eclipsed by national promotion of classical dance as evidence of an ancient heritage and thus a place for India among the civilized nations of the world. The essence of various traditions and techniques could be seen in Pandit Uday Shankar's dance dramas that succeeded in presenting an integrated composition. He exclusively used only Indian musical instruments during his dance dramas. The superb showmanship and perfection of Pandit Uday Shankar cast a spell on his audience, all over the world. In true sense he is the harbinger of Indian artistic culture, a title accredited to him by Tagore.