SUMITRA CHARAT RAM: THE FOUNDER
Sumitraji, as she is fondly called, was born on 17th Nov. 1914 into an illustrious family of Land owners of Western UP, then known as the United Province. Her father Raja Jwala Prasad was a gifted individual who rose to become the first Indian Chief Engineer of UP. After early schooling in Nainital and Allahabad Sumitraji went on to join the Benares Hindu University under the tutelage of the best in Music & Literature such as Rabindranath Tagore, Madan Mohan Malaviya, Jaishankar Prasad, Mahadevi Verma, Ramdhari Singh Dinkar etc. It was this exposure that laid the foundation for her abiding interest in Art and Culture.
In 1941, she married Charat Ram son of Lala Shri Ram of the erstwhile DCM Shriram Group, one of the foremost Industrial Houses of its time. Sumitraji was as proud of her own family background as that of the family that she had married into.
During India’s freedom struggle, Sumitraji was filled with patriotic fervour and on the eve of Independence Day in 1947, she organised an all night musical soirée which proved to be a grand success. This led to the formation of the ‘Jhankar Music Circle‘ which continued to present musical events till 1952 when it got converted into ‘Bharatiya Kala Kendra‘, a Society formed for the purpose of preserving and propagating Indian Classical Music and Dance.
The Kendra soon set up a College to teach Indian Classical Dance & Music as well as a performing section to produce Dance Dramas based on Indian mythology and Folklore. Through the medium of this Institution Sumitraji went on to realise one of her greatest desires which was to revive the Kathak Dance style. She was determined to give Kathak the respect and recognition that it deserved and she succeeded in achieving her goal. Another great dream that Sumitraji had was to produce a Dance Drama on the life of Lord Ram. She was able to realise this dream as well when in 1957 she presented the inaugural show of ‘Ram Leela’ in front of the then Prime Minister to a standing ovation. 70 years later the Show now called ‘Shri Ram‘ still plays to packed houses.
In appreciation of her contribution to the Artistic world she was awarded the Padma Shri by the government of India in 1966.
The Kendra went on to become Delhi’s leading cultural Institute where the Who’s Who of Indian Classical Music and Dance Maestros taught and nurtured generations of younger Artistes who in turn went on to reach great heights of eminence.
Sumitraji gradually gave up the reigns of the Institute in the late Eighties to her elder daughter Shobha who now runs the Kendra. She was heart broken when her husband Dr. Charat Ram died in 2007. She herself passed away in 2011 with the satisfaction that she had found a successor in her lifetime.
As a mark of respect to the Founder and to acknowledge her distinguished contribution, the management has instituted the prestigious Sumitra Charat Ram Award, given annually to an eminent maestro of Indian classical music or dance.