Indrani Rahman

19 Sep 1930
5 Feb 1999
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Indrani Rahman (September 19, 1930, Chennai – February 5, 1999, New York) was an Indian classical dancer, of Bharata Natyam, Kuchipudi, Kathakali and Odissi, which she popularized in the west, and later settled in New York in 1976.

In 1952, she won the first Miss India pageant. Later, she joined her mother Ragini Devi’s company. She popularized the Indian classical dance form, Odissi during her international tours. Indrani had received the Padma Shri in 1969 and the Sangeet Natak Akademi Award in the performing arts and also the Taraknath Das Award.

Indrani Rahman was born in Chennai, (then Madras) to Ramalal Balram Bajpai (1880–1962), an Indian nationalist and president of the Indo-American League, and Esther Luella Sherman born in Petoskey, Michigan in 1893,(died 1982), who changed her name to ‘Ragini Devi’, once the couple moved to India, in the 1920s, when Ramlal Bajpai, a chemist turned successful importer in US, returned to India and later remained Asst. Editor to the Young India magazine, published by Lala Lajpat Rai; after Independence of India, he became the Consulate General of India at New York. Ragini on her part became renowned all over the world for her role in revival of Indian classical dance in the 1930s, especially Kathakali, after her fateful encounter with the great rajadasi, Jetti Tayamma in Karnataka, from whom she started learning Bharata Natyam, and also from Gauri Amma of Chennai.

Indrani started learning dance in her mother’s company, at age nine, and accompanied her as she travelled through, Americas, and Europe. Professionally, she first started with Bharata Natyam, having learnt the Pandanallur style of Bharata Natyam from Guru Chokkalingam Pillai (1893–1968) in the 1940s. Soon she was in Vijaywada, learning Kuchipudi from Korada Narsimha Rao with whom she later toured many parts of the world.

In 1947, Indrani attracted the attention of India’s leading dance and art critic Dr. Charles Fabri, who later encouraged her to go to Orissa and learn the little-known classical dance form of Odissi, making her the first professional dancer to learn Odissi. After learning Odissi for three years, from Guru Sri Deba Prasad Das, she went on to popularize it, through performance in various parts of India and the world.

In 1952, already married, and with a child, she became the first Miss India, and went on to compete in the Miss Universe 1952 Pageant, held at Long Beach, California.Soon, she was travelling along with her mother and performing all over the world. In 1961, she was the first dancer presented on a national tour by the Asia Society, and also performed for US President John F. Kennedy and Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru, during Nehru’s official visit to Washington, D.C., and in the following years she also performed for Emperor Haile Selassie, Queen Elizabeth II, Mao Zedong, Nikita Khrushchev, and Fidel Castro.In 1976 she became a faculty member of the dance division at the Juilliard School at New York’s Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts, taught in various American universities, including Harvard, and spent her remaining two decades in the United States, touring extensively.

She married Habib Rahman (1915–1995), a well-known architect, in 1945, the couple had a son, artist, Ram Rahman, and a daughter, Sukanya Rahman (Wicks),who also danced with her mother and grandmother. Her grandsons are Wardreath Wicks and Habib Wicks.

Indrani Rahman died on February 5, 1999 in Manhattan, New York.

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