Sisters in Dance

Here Menaka is pictured in the book Indian Classical Dance by the eminent dance scholar Kapila Vatsyayan. In her preface Vatsyayan thanks many scholars and dancers who gave her photographs, but it is not clear who donated the image of Menaka not when, where and by whom the picture was taken. The first edition of Vatasyayan’s work appeared in 1974, long after Menaka’s demise.
In an interview (2000) Vatsyayan (*1925) explained her family in Calcutta supported the nationalist movement. “In Bengal at this time there was we one called Oriental dance […] very feminine, amorphous, lyrical. This was my first training. Then I got to Delhi. In the audience of a school performance where I danced was Nirmala Joshi […] and none other than Achhan Maharaj. […] He said to me: “Bahut accha naachi ho, lakin talim ki jaroorat hai” (“You dance beautifully, but you need training”). He suggested that I study with him. You must see this sociologically. The dance was coming out of the (royal) courts on the one hand and then my mother was telling my father to let me learn dancing. Imagine. He was appalled”.
Vatsyayan continued her dance training with Achhan Maharaj, one of the masters who guided Menaka as well. Maybe the photograph in Vatsyayan’s work could be interpreted as a tribute to Menaka; they were -in a sense-guru behen or sisters in dance.
Kapila Vatsyayan, Indian Classical Dance, (New Delhi 1974).
Margaret Walker, India’s Kathak dance in historical perspective (Farnham; Burlington 2014) p.118.
Uttara Asha Coorlawala, ‘Kapila Vatsyayan: Formative Influences’, Dance Research Journal 32/1 (2000) pp.103-109.