At the young age of 22, Indrani Rahman was the first woman to represent India in the introductory Miss Universe pageant on June 28, 1952. At the time, she was a mother and wife, a renowned Indian classical dancer and an all-round beauty. Married at 15 to architect Habib Rahman, Rahman was well-versed in Bharata Natyam, Kuchipudi, Kathakali and Odissi, and is known to have popularised Indian classical dance forms in the West having performed for several famous personalities including John F. Kennedy and Jawaharlal Nehru during the late Prime Minister’s official trip to the Washington, Queen Elizabeth II and Emperor Haile Selassie, among others.
In the now-famous swimsuit round of the international beauty pageant Rahman looks stunning as she adorns a bindi and gajra in her hair, leaving little wonder as to why she caught the fancy of the people worldwide. After her participation in the pageant, Rahman went back to dance touring the world with performances and in 1961 she was the first dancer to become a part of the Asia Society tour.
“Indian traditionalism was further shocked by the fact that a married woman, Mrs. Indrani Rehman [sic] of Calcutta, was chosen as the winner. As Mrs. Rehman is a Moslem, her participation was especially defiant of custom, since old-style Moslem women, particularly wives, are even more secluded than their Hindu sisters. Emphasizing the departure from Indian tradition even further, the first Miss India is half-American,” reads a news report about Rahman’s Miss India win in the April 5 edition of The New York Times in 1952, as mentioned by Dr. Ragothaman Yennamalli.
A teacher at a number of universities in the United States, including Harvard University and in the dance division of the prestigious Juilliard School, New York, in 1976, Rahman earned several laurels in her prosperous dance career including the Padma Shri Award in 1969, the Sangeet Natak Akademi Award and the Taraknath Das Award–her’s is a phenomenal life journey, taking her all over the world.
We’ve posted below some of our favourite archival images of Indrani Rahman.