Uday Shankar

Date of birth: 
08 Dec 1900
City of birth: 
Country of birth: 
Date of death: 
26 Sep 1977
Location of death: 
Calcutta, India
Date of 1st arrival in Britain: 
23 Aug 1920
Dates of time spent in Britain: 





Uday Shankar was an artist, dancer and choreographer who popularized Indian dance through his effective use of western theatrical techniques in combination with classical Indian dance. Uday Shankar arrived in London in 1920 to study art at Royal College of Art under the tutelage of William Rothenstein. While in London, William Rothenstein sent him to the British Museum to study the reproductions of paintings from the caves of Ajanta and Ellora. The Russian ballerina Ana Pavlova convinced Shankar to turn to dance, winning a fiercly fought battle with Rothenstein over the future artistic direction of Shankar. His performances with Pavlova, partnering her in the ‘Radha Krishna’ ballet and ‘Hindu wedding’ in her programme titled ‘Oriental Impressions’, caused a sensation when first performed at the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden in September 1923 and they toured extensively through Europe and the US. Uday Shankar returned to London in 1923 and struggled to make a living by trying to find engagements in London cabaret clubs. In 1925 he moved to Paris, where he had more success. In 1926 he was joined by the French dancer Simkie, whom he taught classical Indian dance and who joined him on subsequent tours of Europe.

Shankar returned to India in 1927 and toured all major cultural centres in India to fire his imagination. At that time he also met Rabindranath Tagore. In 1930 he formed a new troupe of dancers and with a new programme returned to Paris in 1931 and subsequently toured with the programme to London and other major European cities. These performances in the early 1930s had a huge impact on art lovers in particular and led to a rediscovery of the cultural heritage of India. Shankar returned to India in 1935 and then toured Europe from 1936-8 with a new troupe, which included the dancers Shanti Bardhan, Simkie, Zohra Sehgal, and Uzra, once again taking all the big European cities by storm. During this time the troupe perfomed a charity performance at the Hindustani Social Club in London. In 1939 Shankar established the ‘Uday Shankar India Culture Centre’ at Almora, India, which continued until 1943 – it  had to be closed down because of the impact of the Second World War and financial difficulties. From 1943-7 Shankar worked on the dance film ‘Kalpana’, which was widely acclaimed and which he personally presented in Europe, the USSR and the USA in 1948. He went on a two-year tour of Europe and the US in 1949/1950 to raise funds for a new dance school in Calcutta. He died in Calcutta in 1977.

Published works: 

S. Hurok presents Uday Shan-Kar and His Hindu Ballet (New York City: Nicolas Pub. Co., 1938)


Daily Herald (8 March 1937)

Daily Herald (10 March 1937)

The Daily Telegraph (10 March 1937)

Evening Standard (10 March 1937)

The Times (10 March 1937)

Evening News (10 March 1937)

Morning Post (10 March 1937)

Daily Mirror (12 March 1937)

The Observer (14 March 1937)

Sunday Times (14 March 1937)

Sketch  (30 June 1937) 

World Film News (July 1937)

The Times (28 Jun 1937)

Evening Standard (2 July 1937)

The Daily Telegraph (6 July 1937) 

Evening News (6 July 1937)

The Star (6 July 1937)

The Times (6 July 1937)

The Stage (8 July 1937) 

New Statesman and Nation (10 July 1937) 

The Observer (11 July 1937)

The Times (13 July 1937)

Secondary works: 

Banerji, Projesh, Dance of India (Allahabad : Kitabistan, 1942)

Banerji, Projesh, Uday Shankar and his Art (Delhi: B. R. Publications, 1982)

Ghosh, Dibyendu (ed.), The great Shankars: Uday, Ravi (Calcutta : Agee Prakashani, 1983)

Khokar, Mohan, His Dance, his life: a Portrait of Uday Shankar (New Delhi: Himalayan Books, 1983)


Review in The Truth (14 July 1937)


Tradition and Nationalism:

Their art, therefore though it is founded upon the traditional themes, is much more than merely a revival of traditions. It is a development of them as well, and herein lies their importance not so much for us in West as for Indians. These dancers and musicians may be regarded as one of the manifestations of that rising spirit of Indian nationalism which the British Government has lately recognised in the Government of India Act. It is pleasant, therefore, to see that so very Western an institution as Dartington Hall is supporting them in their ambition to found a Dance and Music Centre at Benares the function of which will be to acquaint the people of India with an inheritance they have so nearly lost and to foster development in these arts.


The extract offers an interesting observation on Shankar's art and places it firmly into a context of Indian nationalism, which adds a different dimension to  the nature of his performances. These comments are unusual as they establish a political context for Shankar's performances, rather than discussing the exoticism of his ballet which other reviewers tend to overemphasize.

Archive source: 

Uday Shankar Performance Scrapbooks, Nehru Memorial Library and Museum, New Delhi