Life devoted to Arts (1928-2020)

Adoyenne in the world of art and culture, Kapila Vatsayan was born in Delhi on the 25 December 1928. Academically inclined from a young age, she completed her post-graduation in English Literature from the Delhi University and followed it up with Master of Arts in Education from the University of Michigan eventually completing her doctoral thesis at the Benares Hindu University.

Her aptitude for the fine arts led her to established teachers like Rukmini Devi Arundale and Kamladevi Chattopadhyay, both of whom eventually became her mentors in due course. Kapila’s abiding interest in Indian dance forms led her to master the nuances of Bharatanatyam, Kathak and Manipuri seeking out exponents of the various genres to put her through her paces. Apart from her Kathak and Bharatanatyam teachers, she also picked up the nuances of the art of Kuttiyattam from the revered guru Mani Madhav Chakyar and Kathak from the equally accomplished Achan Maharaj.

Kapila Vatsayan differed from other contemporary practitioners of dance as she visualised it as an art form that merited a holistic treatment with a fusion of the different disciplines. In her view, there was a need to imbibe theoretical knowledge along with rigorous practice to bring about a multi-cultural approach that was vital for an understanding of Indian culture. She undertook an extensive study of the fine arts and her painstaking efforts culminated in her recording her research in the various tomes that she published in later years. She also developed an abiding interest in arts in general and was also highly knowledgeable in diverse sectors including architecture. Kapila was hailed as a leading scholar of Indian classical dance and as a chronicler of art history as well.

The celebrated dancer was responsible for establishing of a large number of national institutions for higher education while serving as a Secretary to the Government of India in the Education ministry and was the Chairperson of the Asian project of the India International Centre, New Delhi. In 1987 she took over as the Founder Trustee of the Indira Gandhi National Centre for the Arts, India’s premier arts organisation and in 1993 she became its Executive Editor and Chairperson. She was first nominated to Rajya Sabha in 2006 but resigned following the Office for Profit controversy. She was again nominated to the Upper House in 2007 and served as a Member of Parliament till 2012.

An accomplished wordsmith most of her twenty books revolved around Fine Arts and Culture. Some of these were products of extensive research and were hailed as timeless classics and veritable treatises. Perhaps the best among the lot was the tome ‘The Square and the Circle of Indian Arts’ and ‘Bharata – The Nritya Shashtra’, ‘Dance in Indian Painting’ and ‘Traditions in Indian Folk Dance’. Her biography narrates in vivid details her devotion to Fine Arts and her varied accomplishments was titled ‘ Afloat a Lotus’ and was authored by Jyoti Agarwal.

During her long and illustrious life Kapila was a recipient of numerous honours, recognitions and awards, In the year 1975 she was awarded a prestigious Fellowship by the Sangeet Natak Akademi, the Lalit Kala Akademi award and the Jawaharlal Nehru Fellowship in 1975. In 1992 she was conferred with the Asian Cultural Award and the John D Rockfeller Award. In 2000, she won the Rajiv Gandhi National Sadbhavana Award and the crowning glory was the Padma Vibhushan, the country’s second highest civilian honour which came her way in the year 2011.

Kapila Vatsayan passed away on 16 September 2020 at the age of 91. Glowing tributes were paid to the late celebrity who mentored a whole generation of arts lovers apart from attaining an iconic stature herself. The various institutions that she helmed and those that she was instrumental in establishing are fitting testimonials to her achievements in her chosen fields.

C.V. Aravind

C.V. Aravind is a Bangalore-based freelance journalist.