It is with great sorrow that we pay homage to Dr. Sunil Kothari, a noted research scholar and critic of Indian dance forms, who passed away on December 27, 2020, at the age of 87.
Sunil started his life as a Chartered Accountant teaching at Sydenham College of Commerce and Economics. He freelanced as a writer for Times of India and later went to Kolkata as Uday Shankar Professor at Ravindra Bharti University. In 1995, he received Sangeet Natak Akademi Award for his
contribution to the Indian Classical dance; Kumar Chandrak award in 1961; Ranjitram Suvarna Chandrak in 2012; and Padma Shri in 2001.
Sunil wrote 12 books on Indian classical dance and its allied art forms, including:
· Bharata Natyam: Indian Classical Dance Art
· Odissi: Indian Classical Dance Art
· Rasa: The Indian Performing Arts in the Last 25 Years
· Kuchipudi: Indian Classical Dance Art
· Photo Biography of Rukmini Devi
· Kathak: Indian Classical Dance Art
· New Directions in Indian Dance
· Chhau Dances of India
· Damaru: Essays on Classical Dance, Music, Performing Arts, Folk Dances, Rituals, Crafts
I have known Sunil since I was a student in Bombay in the 1960s and 1970s. He used to arrange dance performances for the tourist programmes organized by my mother Smt. Shakunthala Jagannathan, who was the Regional Director of Tourism, Government of India, in Bombay. We were both students of Guru Kalyana Sundaram Pillai, the great guru of Bharata Natyam.
After I shifted to Madras in 1974, I would see him annually during the music (and dance) season. Sometimes he would organize unique dance performances at the C.P. Ramaswami Aiyar Foundation. On one occasion, Sunil brought Guru Kelucharan Mohapatra, the doyen of Odissi, and Guru Vempatti Chinna Satyam, the doyen of Kuchipudi, to dance together on a stage erected beneath the trees, on a magical starlit night. He also introduced the Apsara Art and Dance Company of Singapore to the Foundation, and we had some wonderful evenings of dance and dance demonstrations, introduced by Sunil.
I have arranged several lectures by him at the C.P. Ramaswami Aiyar Foundation and elsewhere. He presented a paper on ‘Peter Brook’s The Mahabharata Play: An Experiment’ using artists from different countries to emphasize the universal appeal of an Indian epic at the Conference on ‘The Mahabharata In Art And Culture’ held in March, 2019, organized by the C.P.R.
Institute of Indological Research in Chennai.
Sunil didn’t have any enemies. He was ready to encourage every young dancer and wanted to see more dancing feet on stage. His passing away is a great loss to the world of fine arts in India and he will never be forgotten.
Rest in Peace, Sunil Kothari – you have danced your way to the Lotus Feet of the Lord.