New Delhi: Indian dance icons on Thursday paid glowing tributes to Mrinalini Sarabhai, calling her an epitome of grace and impeccable taste who will never cease to inspire dancers.
In the words of her daughter Mallika, "Mrinalini Sarabhai has just left for her eternal dance."
Padma Bhushan awardee Mrinalini, 97, passed away on Thursday morning in Ahmedabad following age-related health issues.
"In her death, whom we affectionately called Amma, a significant volume of Indian dance history has reached its last page," Bharatnatyam dancer Geeta Chandran, a Padma Shri recipient, told IANS.
"She will be best known for two crowning achievements: First, for introducing the dances of south India to Gujarat, where till then only the folk dances had ruled.
"Later, she became the first icon to daringly embrace contemporary themes of social integration, social justice and human rights into her dance repertoire. She was truly a leader and a culture visionary."
Uma Anantani, another Bharatnatyam exponent, told IANS: "She was an epitome of Indian culture and a Vidushi in Vedic terms, encompassing the aesthetics and wisdom of Indian art.
"She mastered all the four modes of abhinaya and transformed the traditional into contemporary context," Anantani said.
"Amma is a mother to us dancers, who will remain alive in us. Today, she has transcended into divine ananda," Anantani added.
Kathak danseuse Kumudini Lakhia from Mrinalini's state Gujarat also paid rich tributes.
"Mrinalini's passing away has created a void in the life of Ahmedabad, which she embraced and made it aware of our cultural heritage," Lakhia, a Padma Bhushan awardee, told IANS.
"She has left behind a positive legacy. Her soul will always celebrate the myriad lives she led."
Shovana Narayan, a well known Kathak exponent, described Mrinalini as "one of the pioneers of the dance field of an era when India itself was in a phase of discovering itself and its identity.
"She was a part of that movement and she represented that genre... So, it's a big loss," Narayan told IANS, reminiscing Mrinalini as a "down-to-earth, gentle, well-spoken person, who was very connected to her work".
On Mrinalini's body of work, Narayan said: "She did a lot of work. She was a traditionalist in a way, yet there was a contemporariness about her work."
Mrinalini was a legend, pointed out choreographer Shobha Deepak Singh of Delhi's Shriram Bharatiya Kala Kendra.
"I have photographs of her which are perhaps 50 or 60 years old. She used to stay in our family home (in Delhi). She and her husband (Vikram Sarabhai) were an integral part of my grandfather's household."
"She was a great person and dancer. She did a lot for Bharatnatyam. She always had an amazingly keen eye for dance aesthetics."
Also stunned by the news of Mrinalini's death was Kathak exponent Shaswati Sen, a disciple of Pandit Birju Maharaj.
"Losing her is a very big loss for the art community as she was a great pillar in the field of dance. She supported and propagated the development and enrichment of Bharatnatyam in particular in India and beyond."
Mrinalini trained in the south Indian classical dance form Bharatanatyam under Meenakshi Sundaram Pillai and the classical dance-drama of Kathakali under the legendary Guru Thakazhi Kunchu Kurup.
A highly honoured artiste, she was also the founder director of the Darpana Academy of Performing Arts, an institute for imparting training in dance, drama, music and puppetry.
"I am too sad that Amma has gone," said Alpana Shukla, danseuse and a long-time disciple of Sarabhai.
"She has left behind a legacy of social and culturally relevant dance forms," Shukla, also an alumnus of Darpana, told IANS.