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
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
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
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.
North Indian Music (293)
Original Texts (64)
Send as free online greeting card
Email a Friend