Singapore’s home-grown Indian classical dancing legend Rathi Karthigesu died on Monday at the age of 87.
Coming from a family of influentials in Singapore, the bharatanatyam dancer is survived by her son, lawyer Anand Karthigesu.
Ms. Karthigesu was married to Mootatamby Karthigesu, one of Singapore’s top appeal judges, who died in 1999 at the age of 75. She lost her daughter, Sharmini, 39, a few weeks after the death of her husband. Her son, Suresh, died in 2006 at the age of 48.
Ms. Karthigesu was the aunt of former senior minister and presidential hopeful Tharman Shanmugaratnam.
Her brother is former Member of Parliament P. Selvadurai, who in a 2001 interview with The Sunday Times cited her influence in shaping his interest in promoting classical Indian arts.
Ms. Karthigesu was considered a pioneer in establishing the Indian fine arts scene in Singapore.
According to a tribute posted on the website of the Singapore Indian Fine Arts Society (Sifas), Ms. Karthigesu briefly served as the society’s vice-president, with her husband serving as president for an undisclosed period of time.
Gayatri Sriram, director of Shrutilaya School of Dance, Singapore, says she met Karthigesu sometime around 1995-96, and the two forged a close relationship since they both had a passion for bharatanatyam.
“Her contribution to and impact on the Indian dance community in Singapore have been immeasurable,” The Straits Times quoted Sriram as saying.
“She began dancing at a time when women, especially married ones, were not considered to be professional artists in the bharatanatyam scene. She continued to dance even after her marriage and became an icon to many of us.
“She was also a big part of Sifas becoming the organisation it is today, and she has nurtured so many of us individual artists throughout our careers – myself included,” Sriram said.
Aravinth Kumarasamy, artistic director of Indian dance company Apsaras Arts, told Tamil-language newspaper Tamil Murasu, “She was a veteran artist who studied various Indian traditional arts, particularly bharatanatyam and kuchipudi dance forms. She performed not only in Singapore, but also in many countries around the world.” In 2007, Dr Lee Boon Yang, the then Minister for Information, Communications and the Arts, highlighted Karthigesu’s philanthropic efforts during a Patron of Heritage Awards ceremony.
“A prominent classical Indian dancer in the 1950s, Mrs Karthigesu has donated a collection of rare Indian sculptures in dancing poses to the National Museum of Singapore. Her contribution will certainly add much lustre to the museum’s collection and exhibitions,” he said.
“She was a very remarkable, strong and independent woman, and a devout Hindu who regularly made food donations to the temples,” said Rajakumar Chandra, 65, owner of Jothi Store and Flower Shop in the Little India precinct.
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