Ritha Devi
Classical Indian Dancer 

AN AMBASSADOR OF CLASSICAL INDIAN DANCE & CULTURE TO THE WORLD...

Focus on Performances, Dance Festivals & Tours


Ritha Devi’s art has taken her on many performance-tours, at least twelve of the European countries (Great Britain, France, Germany, Austria, Switzerland and Denmark), four of the U.S., and three of Russia. On her fourth tour of the U.S., she was invited by the New York University to teach Indian Dance, which assignment persuaded her to leave Bombay, her hometown, and settle in New York, and which she carried out for ten years. She also gave performances, lecture-demonstrations and workshops all over the States. During her stay there, she was awarded three choreography fellowships, one, in 1979, from the Creative Artists’ Public Service Program, based in New York, and two (in 1982 and 1984) from the greatly-reputed Washington-based National Endowment for the Arts, all for her contribution towards building a bridge of friendship between the East and the West, with her choreography of themes from the Bible, and from Jewish and Greek mythology, in Indian techniques. 
  
    Ritha Devi was also the first woman to have been taught the sacred Sattriya Nritya of Assam, and the first dancer to take it out of Assam and out of India. She has also studied some other traditional dances of Assam, like the Deodhani and the Deonati, which were almost on the verge of extinction, and was again the first dancer to take them out of Assam and India. 
  
   Many are the works choreographed by Ritha Devi, both solo dances and solo dance-dramas, taking the themes from ancient Sanskrit and medieval Oriya literature, as for instance Kabisamrat Upendra Bhanja’s “Lavanyavati,” which she was the first  to choreograph and perform as a solo dance-drama. Music for all this choreography, many of them unique and being danced only by her, has been specially composed for her by eminent musicians of Orissa. 
  
Ritha Devi’s “magnum opus” is her revival of the “Panchakanya” solo dance-dramas from the traditional Mahari repertoire, revolving around the tragic lives of five legendary heroines, Ahalya, Draupadi, Tara, Kunti and Mandodari, and presentation of all five of them, in a marathon four-hour performance, in Bombay, in August 1971. She has been, so far, the only dancer to have danced all five of them all together, and the first to have danced them outside the temple, where even they had not been danced for over a century. She has been acclaimed, by connoisseurs, as well as by the general public, as the greatest exponent of these five dance-dramas. This remains her greatest claim to fame, and to a place in the annals of Odissi dance-history.   

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Performance Posters

Performance Poster

Queen Elizabeth Hall, London (70's)


A typical Flyer from a performance in New York City.  Each performance had a varied programme content.

My Early Years (Bio):

 I was born on December 6th, at Baroda, which was a State at that time, ruled over by Maharaja Sayaji Rao Gaikwad, who himself chose my Father, whom he had met at London, to be in charge of his state administrative services.


Father:- Shri Satyavrata Mukhopadhyaya, scholar, orator, administrator, who passed out of Oxford University with distinction.


Mother:- Shrimati Aruna Devi Mukhopadhyaya, nee Bezbaroa, gifted with a serene beauty and a sweet singing voice, who was the first good family girl in Kolkata to appear on stage in the main role of Goddess Saraswathy in Rabindranath Tagore’s opera, “Valmiki Pratibha.”


Maternal Grandfather:-Shri Lakshminath Bezbaroa, brilliant writer, poet, dramatist, author of many books of poetry, drama, fiction, philosophy, theosophy, and children’s stories, affectionately called “Father of modern Asamiya Literature”, by both the intelligentsia and common people of Assam, as he was responsible for the revival, and projection, all over India and abroad, of Asamiya literature, his birthright.

I was a child of about 6-7 years when I saw Uday Shankar, the great creative genius, dance in Baroda, and that was the beginning of my love-affair with dance, the greatest, most passionate, most soul-enriching emotion I have ever known. Later, I saw Rukmini Devi, resplendent in a white and gold costume, dance Bharatanatyam, and this enriching experience brought my love-affair with Dance to a different dimension altogether, giving it depth and substance and maturity .This vision remained with me for many years, un-realised. and unfulfilled. 


 After Father’s retirement from Baroda service, my parents and I moved to Shillong, a  hill-station, which was then capital of Assam. Since Mother was half-Asamiya, she wanted to spend her remaining

years in her Father’s home-state. During my years in Baroda, I had asked to be taught dance, and there were excellent dancers in Baroda court-service, but.......they were “durbar”dancers, no good family girl could possibly associate with them. As it happened, in later years, my Bharatha Natyam Guru told me they were relations of his, to be revered by me, they who had been so despised in our early ignorant years!


As soon as we settled down in Shillong, I started looking for a Guru, as I was told that Manipuri was easily available there, and I had had a glimpse of it in Uday Shankar’s performance. My heart yearned to learn dance systematically, but my parents were dead against it, “No good family (bhadralok) girl dances, it’s meant for “Baiji”s(dancing-girls)! But, eventually, I found a Guru for Manipuri, the incomparable Guru Howbom Athomba Singh, who had been specially invited by Rabindranath to teach at Shantiniketan, and had now retired and settled in Imphal.


I was ecstatic, but scarcely had I been learning one week, when Father refused to pay the fees (egged on by my Mother, “Stop her from dancing, nobody will marry her at this rate!) I said, “All right, if money is the problem, I’ll pay,” and I earned enough from teaching  little children some what was known as “action songs”, in those days, to pay for my own dance-lessons. From that time to now, I have not taken any money from anybody to pay towards my dance-lessons, and paid for them entirely with my own money.


Life Time Achievement Awards

Ritha Devi has been awarded 'The Life Time Achievement Awards' from both 'Guru Pankaj Charan Das Odissi Dance Academy, as well as 'Guru Kelucharan Mohapattra Academy of Dance' (India).

Life time Achievement Award


- Guru Pankaj Charan Das

Srjan Award (2009) for contribution to Odissi


(Guru Kelucharan Mohapattra Academy of Dance' (India)). 

The Sangeet Natak Akademi Award

My Completed Book 
(To be soon published by Cool Grove Press, NYC) 

"The Eternal Flame"
(An Autobiography)

 'An Eternal Flame' (Front cover) - My autobiography book is now complete and in the process of looking for a publisher.  Please call me if you know any one who might be interested. Please contact me via the 'contact' mail section.  Thank you.

                  'An Eternal Flame' (Back cover)


 An extract from my autobiographical book


 'An Eternal Flame':


PROLOGUE

Lighting of the Flame


The stage was brilliantly lit, peopled with characters larger than life, both divine and demoniac. An epic battle was raging between God Shiva and Gajasura, the Elephant-demon. Gongs clashed, cymbals sounded, a flute wailed plaintively, the tinkling notes of a "sitar" tried their bravest to be heard over all that cacophony. Resplendent costumes added the final touch to turn that stage into an arena of supramortal combat.        


In that darkened auditorium, a little girl sat among the audience, totally entranced, drinking it all in, with wide-eyed wonder, all that light, music, colour, spectacle, awe-inspiring confrontation. She was conscious of nothing else but this strange new world opening before her. Little did she know it then, but this was the beginning of a love that would continue right through her life, a love more powerful, more intense, more consuming than any she had ever known, a love that lighted a flame in her heart that has shone even more lustrously with the passing of the years.... a flame that has guided her destiny.


The year was 1936, the little girl was I, Ritha, and the performance taking place then was by Uday Shankar, the illustrious path-blazer of Indian dance, along with his troupe.