Date of Birth: 30 April 1944
Place of Birth: Mumbai, Maharashtra
Birth Name: Sonal Pakvasa
Profession: Indian classical dancer, motivational speaker, Guru
Spouse: Lalit Mansingh (divorced)
Father: Arvind Pakvasa
Mother: Poornima Pakvasa
Awards: Padma Vibhushan (2003), Padma Bhushan (1992), Sangeet Natak Akademi Award for Dance - Odissi
Sonal Mansingh is a prominent Indian classical dancer who specializes in Bharatanatyam and Odissi. Since classical dancing is all she has done throughout her life, her proficiency and interest towards other classical dance forms does not come across as a surprise to many. Over the years, this veteran dancer has practiced many dance forms including Manipuri dance and Kuchipudi. Besides being a dancer, Sonal Mansingh is a well-known choreographer, teacher, orator and a social activist. For her contributions towards promoting ‘Classical dances’, she has received accolades from many national and international organizations. She was the youngest recipient of Padma Bhushan in 1992. In 2003, Sonal became the first Indian woman dancer to be awarded with Padma Vibhushan. Thanks to her priceless lectures and workshops, many young aspiring dancers have gone on to realize the importance of classical dance.
Sonal Mansingh was born to Arvind and Poornima Pakvasa on May 1, 1944 in Mumbai. Her mother was a noted social activist and in 2002 awarded with Padma Bhushan. Her grandfather was Mangal Das Pakvasa, a freedom fighter, and one of the first five Governors of India. Born into a family of social workers and freedom fighters, Sonal Mansingh was exposed to social issues very early in her life. Perhaps to escape the sternness surrounding her day-to-day life, she started to develop interest towards dance at the age of four. Along with her elder sister, she began to learn Manipuri dance from a teacher in Nagpur. By the age of seven, she had begun her classes in Bharatnatyam and was trained by many teachers including Kumar Jayakar.
Sonal Mansingh graduated from Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan with a degree in Sanskrit. She also holds a B.A in German literature from Elphinstone College, Mumbai. Though she was introduced to classical dances at a very young age, her formal training in Bharatnatyam started when she was 18. Three years later, she started learning Odissi and went on to perfect both the dance forms.
In 2002, well-known film-maker Prakash Jha came up with a documentary titled ‘Sonal’, which marked the completion of 40 years of her dancing career. It all began in 1962 when she mesmerized hundreds of dance lovers in Mumbai with her first on-stage performance. Since then, she has delivered many such memorable performances across the world. Her travel to several parts of Europe to perform at various dance festivals formed the best days of her career. She then went on to establish the Centre for Indian Classical Dances (CICD) in New Delhi which would later help train thousands of aspiring dancers.
Centre for Indian Classical Dances
In 1977, Sonal Mansingh founded the Centre for Indian Classical Dances in New Delhi to train students in Indian classical dance. What started in a small space meant for garage in her rented apartment has now grown into a phenomenal institution. The organization has been working to promote performing arts and nurturing the cultural legacy of India. For the last several decades, the institute has imparted immense knowledge on various dance forms and other related art forms. She is also the trustee of the largest institution in India, the Indira Gandhi National Center for Arts.
Choreography and Teaching
Many of her choreography have been based on the Indian mythology. Some of her renowned choreographic works include 'Indradhanush', Manavatta', 'Sabras', 'Devi Durga', 'Aatmayan', 'Mera Bharat', 'Draupati'.
When it comes to teaching, she makes sure it includes social views intertwined with the importance of other art forms like literature, poetry, languages, sculpture and painting. Though she doesn’t personally teach her students, she advises her students to expand their range to get an idea of all these art forms. That’s because she believes that dance is a rare confluence of all these arts.
Sonal has produced many dance dramas and other performances over the years. The most famous of them all are:
- Indradhanush – An interesting fusion of film songs with classical dance forms. ‘Indradhanush’ was enjoyed by many and received the accolades of critics as well as dance lovers
- Sundari – ‘Sundari’ is a Bharatanatyam performance, highlighting the feminine grace and beauty. What made ‘Sundari’ special was the fact that a modern view had been expressed with the help of a classical dance form
- Dwi Varnaa – This saw the fusion of Bharatanatyam and Odissi. Viewed by many and praised by almost all critics, ‘Dwi Varnaa’ went on to become a famous act
- Manavata – For the first time ever, prisoners of Tihar jail were given adequate training in order to perform along with Sonal. The performance was held at Sirifort Auditorium in Delhi as part of International Day of Human Rights celebrations
- Sabras – Performed to film songs, ‘Sabras’ involved dancers showing off their Odissi skills
- Mukti –‘Mukti’ was a detailed dance drama which aimed at conveying to its viewers that everyone can be liberated from their physical pain and woes while still being pretty much alive. It went on to break the age-old belief that ‘Mukti’ (liberation) can be attained only after a person sheds his or her mortal coil
- Aatmayan – This dance is a combination of four stories, illustrating the power of inner spirit. It also emphasizes on social inequalities and other important subjects like caste, creed and religion.
- Mera Bharat – This was choreographed to celebrate the 50th year of Indian Independence. It had elements focusing on ecology and environment of the country.
For her contributions in the field of classical dance, she has received accolades from many national and international organizations. Besides being a dancer, Sonal Mansingh is also a well-known choreographer, teacher, orator and a social activist. Sonal’s contribution towards her society remains exceptional. She believes that society and its happenings have an impact on all arts and subsequently on the artists. To her, dance is the medium through which she can present the views of the unheard. Of all her contributions, the formation of CICD remains the biggest till date.
In 1974, Sonal Mansingh’s dance career took a beating and almost ended when she suffered grievous injuries as a result of a car accident. Doctors ruled out dancing and advised physiotherapy for several months before she could even think of walking. The media wasn’t kind to her either as many reports had written an obituary to her dance career.
After months of treatment and consultations with orthopedics and surgeons, the grit in her took her back to the much loved place, that she wouldn’t mind spending the rest of her life on – the dancing stage.
Image Credit: http://balaramranasingh.blogspot.in/2012/12/blog-post.html
- Sangeet Natak Akademi Award – In 1987, she was awarded the Sangeet Natak Akademi Award by India’s National Academy of Music, Dance & Drama
- Bhai Veer Singh International Award – She bagged this prestigious award in 1990
- Rajiv Gandhi Excellence Award – This award was given to her in 1991 for her contribution to the field of dance
- Padma Bhushan – Sonal became the youngest recipient of Padma Bhushan in the year 1992
- Indira Priyadarshini Award – In 1994, she was honored with this award, which is given to commemorate the birth anniversary of Indira Gandhi
- Padma Vibhushan – In 2003, she became the second Indian woman dancer to be honored with the country’s second highest civilian award after Balasaraswati
- Kalidas Samman – In 2006, she was honored with Kalidas Samman by the government of Madhya Pradesh
Sonal married Lalit Mansingh after meeting him at an art festival. When her husband was posted in Geneva, Sonal had to relocate but soon returned to Delhi to pursue her career in dance. Unfortunately, their marriage came to an end when they decided to part ways as long distance relationship was a thing of future back then. Sonal decided not to press for alimony and started a new phase in her life.
But the new phase was not kind to her. Struggling to cope with the monetary demands of everyday life, Sonal had to use up some of her prized possessions like her mother’s gold bangles. She even borrowed money from her friends and well-wishers in order to pay her musicians. Sonal even spent homeless nights before taking shelter in the homes of contemporary musicians and friends.
The hardships faced by her eventually made her realize a few important things which paved the way for her free spirited nature which was hidden until then. It wasn’t long before she met Georg Lechner, a German photographer and director of Max Mueller Bhawan. Georg’s fascination for her grew over time and soon it turned into a relationship, so strong that nothing could stop it from growing, not even Georg’s marriage!
Their long and meaningful relationship took Sonal to places and popularized the classical dance forms throughout Europe. Sonal still recollects how her strictly vegetarian food habits gave her a hard time while visiting European restaurants. By the end of it all, she had dug into her fair share of European food, which was far from pure veg! Sonal and Georg were engaged for a period of time, but their relationship was never destined to end in marriage.