Madame Menaka

Item Code: IDK480
Author: Damayanti Joshi
Publisher: Sangeet Natak Akademi, New Delhi
Edition: 1989
Pages: 63 (Illustrated Throughout In B/W)
Cover: Hardcover
Other Details 9.8" X 7.3"
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From the Jacket

Madame Menaka Madame Menaka-Leila Sokhey-was a pioneering choreographer-dancer who rose to prominence in the '30s, when she formed a dance company in Bombay, produced a number of dance-dramas on Indian themes, and-in the wake of Uday Shankar-successfully exhibited her work at home and abroad. Honoured with the first prize for her production Deva Vijaya Nritya at the Berlin Dance Olympiad of 1936, she came home to establish a dance school-Nrityalayam-in Khandala, visualized as a centre of India dance.

Though her active creative life was barely a dozen years, Madame Menaka remains an important figure in the history of Indian dance, inasmuch as she-and her contemporaries-gave new directions to a traditional art, popularizing and sustaining it in changed circumstances. Her entry in the realm of dance, her training with masters of Kathak, her professional organization, effort, and success present a case history, as it were, relevant to an understanding of Indian dance in our era. Historically, Madame Menaka belongs to the 'renaissance' of Indian arts that accompanied the nationalist upsurge in pre-independent India.

This book, by a noted Kathak dancer who was once a member of the Menaka Indian Ballet, is the first publication on the life and work of Madame Menaka. Apart from a brief account of her career in dance, it contains valuable information and comments in its appendices: the Manaka Indian Ballet's itinerary in Europe, reviews in the press, the Nrityalayam prospectus, and notes on Madame Menaka's contemporaries. Also reproduced is an article by Madame Menaka herself. The textual material, together with the many rare photographs from the author's personal collection, combine to make this book a useful record of an Indian dancer in modern times.

About the Author

Born in 1932 Bombay, Damayanti Joshi was initiated in Kathak by Madame Menaka and joined the Manaka Indian Ballet's extensive tours in India and abroad while still very young. She was later trained systematically in Kathak by some of the masters of the Lucknow gharana: Gurus Sitaram Prasad, Achchan Maharaj, Lachchu Maharaj and Shambhu Maharaj. She was also a student of Guru Hiralal of the Jaipur gharana and came to combine both styles in her solo performances from the '50s.

Damayanti Joshi rose to prominence in Kathak in the '60, when she performed all over India, western and eastern Europe, West Asia and the Far East. She is known for her eclectic style and innovative work in Kathak. For her contribution to dance, she was honoured with the Sangeet Natak Akademi Award in 1968 and the Padma Shri in 1970.

Over a long career Damayanti Joshi has been associated in advisory capacities with many dance institutions and public bodies. Beginning with the all-India Dance Seminar in 1964, she has participated in most major dance conferences in the country. A documentary on Damayanti Joshi was produced by the Films Division in 1974.


The rise of Indian nationalism went hand in hand with what might be termed a renaissance in Indian arts. During this period, ranging roughly from the start of this century to the '40s, public perception of our artistic heritage underwent a sea change. In the process, many of the long-neglected arts of India secured a new lease of life. National recognition came to classical dance and music and with that came a new audience. Equally significant, both dance and music drew new practitioners from beyond the folds of the gharanas. In the history of Indian dance and music, this period stands out as one that witnessed the 'democratization' of these traditional arts, together with unprecedented national recognition and appreciation.

The achievement of Madame Manaka, a choreographer-dancer who shot into fame in the '30s, is to be seen in this historical context. No representative of a gharana, she was yet the first to conceive of dance-drama in the traditional idiom of Kathak, founding a professional troupe which she led with élan all over India, South-east Asia and Europe. Popularity at home and honours abroad came her way in an all too brief career. But she was also quickly forgotten after her untimely death in 1947. Apart from the laurels Menaka Indian Ballet won in its heyday-and the resultant exposure of Indian dance abroad-the significance of its founder's efforts is to be seen in the steps she took towards institutional teaching of dance and music. Nrityalayam was a short-lived institution, but one of the first in the country to be organized on sound principles of teaching and learning.

I was among the first batch of recruits to Madame Menaka's troupe. She took me under her wings as a child, trained me as a dancer, and gave generously of her love and affection. More than a member of her troupe, I lived with her like a daughter all through her career, watching her work at close quarters. In the pages that follow I have put together all I recall of Madame Menaka's life, work, and ambitions in the interest of a reliable record of a pioneering Indian dancer.

I must thank Mr. K.S. Kothari-Secretary, Sangeet Natak Akademi-for suggesting that I write this monograph. My thanks are also due to Haffkine Institute, Bombay, for the use of the Institute library. For helping me prepare the manuscript, I thank Dr. Sulochana Rajendran and Mrs Suhasini Patwardhan.


Early Years9
Corps de Ballet11
Dance, Music, Décor, Costume17
Method and Management22
Tours Abroad24
Deva Vijaya Nritya Malavikagnimitram
II.Menaka Indian Ballet: 42
Itinerary in Europe 1936-37
III.Reviews from the European Press 1936-3745
IV.Nrityalayam Prospectus: Excerpts50
V. 'Dance in India': Madame Menaka53
VII.A Reminiscence63
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