He was born into a Bengali family as Uday Shankar Chowdhury. Uday’s childhood was mostly spent in his maternal uncle’s house at Nasratpur along with his mother and siblings. This was because his father’s work forced him to shift cities on a regular basis. As a result, Uday had to change many schools across places like Nasratpur, Gazipur, Varanasi, and Jhalawar. Though Uday was not introduced to dance at an early age, his affiliation with other art forms like music and photography happened in his school at Gazipur.
Somewhere within the course of changing schools and cities, Uday Shankar was taught music and photography by his drawing and Crafts teacher, Ambika Charan Mukhopadhyay. After the completion of his schooling, an eighteen-year-old Uday began his journey to Mumbai to study and learn fine arts at J. J. School of Art. Two years later, he traveled all the way to London and got himself enrolled in the Royal College of Art. There he practiced painting under the supervision of Sir William Rothenstein. Thereafter, he went to Rome on a scholarship provided by the French Government to study art in its advanced form.
The seed for Uday Shankar’s dancing career was sown during his stay in London, where he was exposed to ballet. Thanks to his brilliant mind, the thought of fusing this western dance form with the dance forms of India became inevitable. This idea materialized during his meetings with various Western dancers. But none proved to be as worthy as his encounter with the famous Russian ballerina, Anna Pavlova.
Uday’s collaboration with Anna led to many fabulous ballets based on Hindu themes. This new fusion got the attention of several people and was an instant hit across London and the United States. After a long and fruitful collaboration with Anna, Uday started his own stage shows in Paris.
Awards and Achievements
- Sangeet Natak Akademi Award – In 1960, he was given this prestigious award for his creation of ‘creative dance’
- Sangeet Natak Akademi Fellowship – This is the highest honor given by the National Academy of Music, Dance & Drama. In 1962, this award was given to Uday Shankar for his lifetime achievement
- Padma Vibhushan – Uday Shankar is a recipient of India’s second-highest civilian award. It was given to him in the year 1971
- Desikottam – Desikottam is the highest honor conferred by Visva-Bharati University. It was awarded to him in 1975.
Uday Shankar initiated a unique moment in the revival of classical dances in 1930. What he lacked in formal training, he made up for in his unique and creative presentations which made him stand out. Uday Shankar used the essence of various traditions and techniques in his dance dramas and succeeded in presenting an integrated composition. This paved the way for a new style of dance which is an immense contribution in itself.