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Cultural icon and dance doyenne Santha Bhaskar dies aged 82

The celebrated dance teacher and artistic director of Bhaskar's Arts Academy "left with the same vigour and positivity with which she lived her life", said a former student. 

Cultural icon and dance doyenne Santha Bhaskar dies aged 82

Cultural Medallion recipient Santha Bhaskar died at the age of 83. (Photo: Facebook/Santha Bhaskar)

Santha Bhaskar, pioneer of the arts in Singapore and beloved doyenne of Indian classical dance, died on Saturday (Feb 26). She was 82. 

Bhaskar was the chief choreographer and artistic director at Bhaskar's Arts Academy, which was founded by her husband K P Bhaskar in 1952 and which she first joined as an instructor.

The academy is in the midst of its 70th anniversary celebrations and had just staged a musical performance last weekend at the Stamford Arts Centre called Sangeetha Sapthathi. Both shows were sold out. 

Bhaskar was reportedly at the show on the second night when she felt unwell and was taken to hospital. She died as the first song of the evening started playing, according to a note sent to students and parents of the academy.


The academy announced her death on Sunday morning, saying she had "taken her final bow". 

"It's with a heavy heart that we announce artistic director Santha Bhaskar is no longer with us. We are still processing this sudden and unexpected loss," the academy wrote on Facebook.

"We are deeply touched by the many calls and messages that have been coming in. We can only believe that this well-loved soul of the arts community, and just about everyone else, is smiling from above and asking us to look ahead and continue the journey she started that many years ago," it said, adding that wake details were still being confirmed.

Bhaskar's work is widely celebrated – she was awarded the prestigious Cultural Medallion in 1990 and the Public Service Star in 2016. Last year, Bhaskar was given the Meritorious Service Medal and inducted into the Singapore Women's Hall of Fame.

Aside from her knowledge of traditional Indian performance arts, Bhaskar was also known for her keen interest in other cultural art forms. One of her landmark works is The Butterfly Lovers, a definitive piece in 1958 infusing Chinese visual elements with Indian song and dance. 

Vidhya Nair, a director at local dance company Apsara Arts and former president of the Singapore Indian Fine Arts Society, penned a touching tribute to her Bharathanatyam teacher on Facebook Saturday night.

"There will never be another like her," said Nair. "As Singaporeans, we should be proud to look back on her life and work. She blessed and kicked off the 70th-year celebration of her company. Perhaps it was meant to be. She left with the same vigor and positive (with which) she lived her life."

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Source: CNA/hs