The Arts

Kapila Vatsyayan, Scholar and Arts Administrator, Passes Away

She helped establish the Indira Gandhi National Centre for the Arts (IGNCA).

New Delhi: Scholar and arts administrator Kapila Vatsyayan passed away in Delhi on Wednesday at the age on 92.

Vatsyayan, a former member of parliament and lifetime trustee of the Indian International Centre (IIC), has been described as the ‘grand matriarch’ of cultural research.

Apart from being a dancer – trained in Kathak and Manipuri – and scholar, she also advised several governments on education and culture. She held several posts in the Government of India and in institutions such as the Sangeet Natak Akademi and the Indira Gandhi National Centre for the Arts, which she helped establish.

Kapila Vatsyayan, 1925-2020. Photo: Bharat Tiwari

Jyoti Sabharwal, who wrote the biography Afloat a Lotus Leaf: Kapila Vatsyayan, told The Hindu that Vatsyayan was born in a Punjabi family of “fierce integrity and courage”. She was born on December 25, 1928, in India. The poet and art critic Keshav Malik was her older brother.

She earned an MA in English literature from Delhi University and completed a second MA in Education at the University of Michigan in the US. She received a PhD from the Banaras Hindu University.

She was married to the noted Hindi Writer S.H. Vatsyayan (1911–1987), who used the nom de plume, Agyeya. Their marriage ended in divorce.

Vatsyayan herself was the author of many books, including The Square and the Circle of Indian Arts (1997), Bharata: The Natya Sastra (1996) and Traditions in Indian Folk Dance (1987).

Kaveree Bamzai, writing for India Today, notes that Vatsyayan was mentored by stalwarts such as Kamaladevi Chattopadhyay and Rukmini Devi Arundale, adding that she was “entrusted by generations of Nehru-Gandhis with their showpieces”.

She adds:

“Jawaharlal Nehru asked her to take troupes of artists to all parts of the world, in what he called ‘splash diplomacy’ under the aegis of the Indian Council of Cultural Relations. Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan gave her three weeks to turn Teen Murti House into the Nehru Memorial Museum. The always correct Maulana Abul Kalam Azad asked her to write ‘akademi’ 100 times to get the spelling right. Indira Gandhi asked her to prepare an exhibition of Chola bronzes at the National Museum to coincide with the Non-Aligned Movement Conference in Delhi in 1983…”

Vatsyayan was nominated to the Rajya Sabha in 2006, though she resigned in March 2006 after a controversy over her holding an office of profit. She was renominated in 2007, with her term expiring in February 2012.