Sitara Devi was born in Calcutta (modern day Kolkata). Her father was Sukhdev Maharaj, who was himself an accomplished Kathak dancer. He served as the royal dancer in the court of the ruler of Nepal. Sitara Devi was strongly attracted to dance from a very young age. She started receiving training in dance under the guidance of Shri Shambhu Maharaj since the age of about 12.
Sitara Deviji was equally skilled in Bharatnatyam, Kathak, and Manipuri dances. Sitara Deviji gained a lot of publicity and fame thanks to Indian motion pictures and her acting and dances in those movies. Her career in the motion picture industry left her with little time to practice and cherish her dancing. She left the film industry after some time to enjoy dancing.
She delivered many dance performances on international stages. She mesmerized international audiences with her dances and got many of them attracted to the Indian dance form. Beyond Indian dances, Sitara Deviji also expressed great interest in the dance forms of other countries. She continued to perform in several prestigious Musical Conferences. She was particularly skilled in the beautiful depictions of Shri Ram and Krishna in her dances. It is even said that she could present the entire Ramayana all by herself, being able to act out the roles of various characters with equal ease. Sitara Devi ji passed into the ages in the year 2014 at the age of 94 years.
Shri Damayanti Joshi was born on Dec 3, 1928. She was a member of an average middle class family in Mumbai. Her father passed away within a year after she was born. Her mother raised her with great care despite difficulties.
Observing young Damayanti’s love for Kathak from a young age, her mother sent her to get formally trained in Kathak dance under the guidance of Shri Sitaram Prasad. She was introduced to the famous danseuse Menaka Devi after a few years of training, who gave her an opportunity to showcase her dancing skills to international audiences. Damayanti ji earned much fame on her international dance tours. After returning to India, she trained under Shri Acchan Maharaj, Shambhu Maharaj and Shri Lacchu Maharaj to learn advanced dance skills.
Shri Damayanti Joshi was formally trained in Kathak, Bharatnatyam, Kathakali, MAnipuri and western dance forms. She served as a representative in the Indian Government’s Cultural Committee on tour to various countries such as China and Japan, where she also showcased her dances. Her Kathak and Manipuri dances were highly appreciated on this tour. She has performed in all the reputed Dance Conferences organized in India. She brought out the purity of dance in all her performances. She emphasized the emotional aspect of dance performance over the beat (taal) and tones (laya). Damayanti ji received a number of accolades in recognition of her dancing prowess. She passed into the ages in the year 2004 at the age of 76.
Gopikrishna ji was born in August 1933 in Calcutta. His maternal grandfather, Shri Sukhdev Maharaj, was a noted scholar of music. His aunts Smt Sitara Devi and Alaknanda are well known danseuses, while his mother Taradevi was herself an accomplished singer. Thus, he was surrounded by a very talented family.
He became a much sought-after dance instructor after his performance in the motion picture ‘Jhanak Jhanak Payal Baje’. Gopikrishna ji first received dance instructions from her grandfather, Sukhdev Maharaj. Later he also became a disciple of Shri Shambhu Maharaj. He was also skilled in Bharatnatyam and Manipuri dance forms.
He received his early education in Bombay. He had to face many struggles in his life, having to live on the footpaths of the city during the hardest time of his life. However, he maintained his devotion to the dance form through all his struggles, and maintained regular practice. His opportunity in the movie ‘Jhanak Jhanak Payal Baje’ came about very early in his professional career where he delivered a stellar performance, bringing him much fame within India as well as internationally. This performance catapulted him to the league of eminent dancers in India. He toured all across India, delivering countless dance performances, and successfully attracting the Indian audiences towards classical dance. He played an important part in revitalizing public interest in Indian classical dance.
Gopichand ji learned Bharatnatyam from Shri GovindRaj Pillai. He choreographed beautiful dance sequences in several Indian movies. He didn’t place much faith in earlier generations of dance tradition, and instead preferred to continuously experiment in his style of dance. He had two brothers, Shri Pandey and Shri Chaubey. Shri Gopichand ji passed away in February 1994 when he was 58 years old.
Shri Acchan Maharaj
Shri Acchan Maharaj was the oldest of the three sons of Kalika Prasad ji. His father, Kalika Prasad ji, was a highly respected Guru of Kathak. Lacchu Maharaj and Shambhu Maharaj were the younger brothers of Shri Acchan Maharaj. Both the brothers were also top-notch stalwarts and gurus of the Kathak dance style. Thus, his entire family was totally immersed in the arts. Shri Acchan Maharaj tirelessly worked to expand the influence of Kathak dance, just like Shri Bindadeen Maharaj, and he was rewarded for his efforts with much fame and repute. He served as the royal dancer in the court of the ruler of Rampur for about 17-18 years.
Shri Acchan Maharaj is widely regarded as the Emperor of Kathak of the twentieth century. He had the uncanny ability to communicate minute emotional details through graceful gestures and body movements that would ordinarily be difficult to explain even with words. He had great control over complex steps. He was able to dance beautifully and gracefully to the most beautiful notes and beats. He would dance for hours on end to complex beats of taals like Dhamaar, Surtaal, brahmataal, Aada Chautal and Sawari. He used to exquisitely portray episodes from Lord Krishana’s life, such as Makhan Chori (butter theft), Mathura Gaman (departure for Mathura), Kansa Vadh (killing Kansa), Govardhan Dhaaran (holding Mount Govardhan) and Radha-Krishna premleela (love).
Acchan Maharaj was a very simple natured person. He was free from anger and arrogance. He also wrote a book on the Art of Dance, but that book is not available now. He created many dance sequences around Krishna Leela. Audiences would be mesmerized the moment he set foot in the dance arena. He passed away in May 1950.
He specialized in singing and dancing thumris or reading poetry and then acting out the sentiment of the poem (sher). Whenever he acted out the expressions of a delicate lady, it seemed as though a woman is really standing on the stage. His illustrious son Shri Birju Maharaj is unparalleled in the arts in his own right, and is furthering the divine task of publicizing and spreading art appreciation.