With over 30,000 graduates, 10,000 classical dance performances, audiences in 97 countries and a vibrant performing arts environment, Darpana Academy of Performing Arts is a centre for artists committed to excellence, innovation and the excitement of using the arts for change. Darpana is one of India’s oldest performing arts institutions, not only in Gujarat but in the country. It has a beautiful campus on the banks of the Sabarmati River, only a mile away from Mahatma Gandhi’s famous Ashram. Mrinalini Sarabhai, the legendary Bharata Natyam dancer and founder of Darpana who passed away on 21st January 2016, wrote, “When Darpana was founded, it was regarded as a cultural oddity and a curiosity in this industrial city of Ahmedabad where artistic activity had hardly any place. But my husband, Vikram, kept telling me that someday Darpana would have a strong influence in Gujarat.” The early scepticism about Darpana, way back in 1949, transformed into an awakening, as the organisation grew from strength to strength and also diversified its activities to work for change in society through dance and the arts. Mrinalini Sarabhai, in a radical departure from the spiritual core of classical Bharata Natyam, used the dance style to depict the horror of dowry violence.
In 1977, Mallika Sarabhai took over as Darpana’s honorary director and accelerated its growth. In 1980, Darpana for Development was established to focus attention on changing behaviour through the arts. Government departments, ministries and other non-government agencies began partnering with Darpana to educate the public in issues of health, education and empowering women.
For instance, Darpana’s puppeteers worked with the ministry of rural development to teach rural women the benefits of using a smokeless stove. The theatre department created a play called Ma to rally people to educate and transform the masses. Over the years, two departments were established to focus on the work of using the arts for change.
In 2009, the Citizen Resource and Action Initiatives was formed to provide practical guidance to citizens on law, to help them fight their own battles; they were also trained to use the Right to Information Act, to solve problems and get justice.
During the past 30 years, Darpana has reached 12.5 million people. “Through the use of television and film, theatrical and street performances, quizzes and debates, puppets and board games, we have been able to effectively talk about a range of sensitive issues,” says a Darpana spokesperson. It organises workshops and runs short- and long-term courses for people, including children, on topics ranging from martial arts to puppetry, mask-making, painting and folk dancing.
Darpana’s library is a resource centre for students and contains materials on all forms of dance, drama, literature and other art forms, from around the world. It houses 10,000 volumes and has an impressive collection of arts-related periodicals and videos. In 2014, Revanta Sarabhai took charge of the conservatory, to revitalise it. While Darpana has been producing accomplished dancers, others can also come to the Academy and perform. In 1994, Darpana’s amphitheatre Natarani, a state-of-the-art venue, came into existence and provides local audiences the opportunity to see world-class performances while also providing an important platform to artists. Natarani presents close to 80 events every year, including dance performances, concerts, plays, arts festivals and film screenings. Darpana’s audiences range from arts-lovers to people in positions of power, the less privileged, children, women, tribal populations and more. Darpana is known around the world as a centre of innovation in the arts.
Darpana is an institution run under The Karmakshetra Educational Foundation, a public charitable trust, registered under the Bombay Public Trust Act 1950. Readers’ donations are welcome and are exempt under Section 80G of the Income-tax Act.
Darpana Academy of Performing Arts