Guru M.K. Saroja (April 7, 1931 - June 13, 2022)
June 14, 2022
Veteran guru of Bharatanatyam, M.K.Saroja Khokar passed away peacefully on June 13, 2022 at home in Bangalore. No struggle, no hospitalization. She was 92 this year and was a benchmark in Bharatanatyam of Vidwan Muthukumaran Pillai bani of Kattumannarkoil. While Ram Gopal, her mentor, Rukmini Devi her patron and Mrinalini Sarabhai too learnt from the same guru, only Saroja learnt exclusively from Thatha as Muthukumaran Pillai was called.
Born on 7th April 1931 in Madras (the M in her initials) her story is well known. Suffice it to say she was a star of the 50s, a seasoned artiste of the 60s and successful one in the 70s. By 80s, she had many students abroad, especially France, based at Mandapa, which her student Milena Salvini had started.
Guru M.K.Saroja was a distinguished artiste and maintained a family life with a career. With four sons and many daughters or shishyas, she was the epitome of an affectionate guru. Universally called Mummy ji or Ma by most, her chief disciple is Vidya of Paris. Ambika, Vani, Jyoti, Uday, Arup, Radha and Rasika were some other known ones of her style.
3 documentaries have been made on her; 4 national awards, including the Padma and more. She remained unaffected by all and was a devotee at heart. Her son Ashish served her most of her life, leaving his career in Delhi and abroad. His wife Elisabeth cared genuinely for her till the end followed by Pratima of Vivek and Lalita of Nandan. Hari, her eldest, was an IAS allied, Nandan, a textile scientist, Vivek in hotel trade and Ashish, critic-editor. Guru Saroja has 5 grandchildren. She went away fulfilled.
She was a truly pan Indian artiste. Not limited to one city. She was born in Madras, lived in Delhi, Baroda, Punjab, Bangalore. Add dance teaching base in Paris, UK, Germany, Sweden and Italy . For a Tamil native, she spoke Hindi, Punjabi, Telugu, Gujarati and French. Her collaborations with Birju Maharaj, Kelubabu and Kalanidhi Narayan made for benchmark concerts. Earlier her pet partners were Indrani, Damayanti Joshi and Sitara Devi. As her career lasted 70 unbroken years, she danced with 3 generations and inspired next.
Guru Saroja remains a devotee of dance. A quintessential bhakta, she attained the Lord's lotus feet on a poornamasi in a yogic sitting position. A life lived in devotion.
Gifted souls such as her walk among us very rarely. Lucky that in the six degrees ambit we were part of her Universe. Prayers for the departed, prayers with her near and dear ones.. And a big thank you to her caregivers.
- (June 15, 2022)
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