Miss Universe Pageants, run by the American based Miss Universe Organization, is known to all. Over 190 countries participate in this pageant. The winner gets fame, stardom, and everything one dreams of. The first-ever Miss Universe pageant was held sixty-seven years ago, in 1952. While Finnish beauty queen Armi Helena Kuusela won the title, an Indian contestant gave a tough competition and impressed everyone with her bold choices.
Indrani Rahman, India’s first Miss Universe contestant
Indrani Rahman was the first woman to represent India in the introductory edition of the Miss Universe pageant in 1952. She was from Chennai. Indrani’s mother, Esther Luella Sherman (later known as Ragini), was an American, and her father’s name was Ramalal Balram Bajpai, who was an Indian.
Indrani refused to bow down in front of societal norms. Thus, at the age of 15, she eloped with a thirty-year-old world-renowned architect, Habib Rahman. Their pictures prove they were happy and madly in love with each other.
Her love for dance
Indrani was a fantastic classical dancer who was trained in four dance forms, Bharatanatyam, Kuchipudi, Kathakali, and Odissi. In the 1940s, she started getting trained in Bharatanatyam Guru Chokkalingam Pillai. She was trained in Kuchipudi by Korada Narasimha Rao. She traveled all over the world and in 1947, she was noticed by India’s leading art and dance critic Dr. Charles Fabri. He suggested her to learn Odissi. Indrani learned Odissi for almost three years and became a professional Odissi dancer which led to her popularity all over the world.
Ticket to stardom
In 1952, Indrani walked the ramp for Miss Universe Pageant, at Long Beach, California. She was 22 years old and the mother of a child. She was crowned Miss India in the same year. As Indrani walked the ramp at the global pageant, she was bold and unapologetic.
In the swimsuit round, she stood out as she sported a gajra and a bindi. Though she couldn’t win the competition, she became popular worldwide.
Life after Miss Universe pageant
Indrani’s love for dance continued even after her pageant days. She toured the world with her mother letting people know about the classical dance forms. In 1961, Indrani became the first dancer to participate in the Asia Society Tour.
When Former Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru visited Washington D.C., Indrani performed for him and former US President John F. Kennedy. Queen Elizabeth II, Mao Zedong, Fidel Castro have also seen her performance. In 1969, she was awarded the Indian Government’s National award, Padma Shri. She was also honoured with Sangeet Natak Akademi Award and the Taraknath Das Award.
Indrani settled in New York and made people aware of Indian dance forms as a teacher. In 1976, Indrani was a faculty member in the Juilliard School at New York’s Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts. She also taught dance at the prestigious Harvard University. She passed away in 1999 in Manhattan.
She was a woman, who didn’t fear to follow her heart. Indrani was ambitious and knew what she wanted. Thus, she didn’t listen to society and reached the position where she became the inspiration of many.