Dance historian and critic, he leaves a void

Aditi Tandon

Padma Shri dance scholar and historian Sunil Kothari passed away after suffering a cardiac arrest at a Delhi hospital, a month after he recovered from Covid-19.

Known for his “infectious enthusiasm”, the late critic was 87. He was residing in the Asian Games Village and under notice from the government to evict the house allotted earlier under eminent artistes’ category. The eviction deadline was December 31.

Born in Mumbai in December 20, 1933, and raised in Baroda in early days, Kothari took to dancing in the 1940s when it was unheard of boys to dance. He attended dance classes as a young boy but went on to study chartered accountancy.

Kothari was eventually pulled back into his world of passion by the legendary, Mulk Raj Anand, the editor of art magazine “Marg”.

It was Anand who first invited Kothari to edit an issue on Chhau among other masked dances of India. The edition was published in 1968 and there was no looking back after that. Kothari, who struggled to pursue his passion, went on to author over 20 books on art and dance and was currently working on his autobiography. His latest work to be published was the “Sattriya Dances of Assam” in 2013.

The book chronicles Sattriya, the classical dance form originating in Assam and exclusively performed by male monks in the Vaishnavaite monasteries (Sattras).

Kothari also held the Uday Shankar Chair at Rabindra Bharati University and was awarded among several awards the Lifetime Achievement Award of the Dance Critics Association New York in 2011.

Kothari’s last days remained stressful as he struggled to find a new home following the government eviction notice, also served on 26 other artistes allotted homes in the Asiad village. “Sunil was single. He used to visit us very often and eat with us. He has left us and the world poorer,” said Kathak dancer Geetanjali Lal, who took care of him in his last days.

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