India set a new example on Republic Day by awarding Padma Shree to Bharatnatyam dancer Narthaki Natraj who became the first person from the trans community to receive an honour which is considered to be the third highest civilian award in the country.
55 years old Narthaki Natraj is a transgender activist and a trained Bharatnatyam dancer from Madhurai. She also teaches Bharatnatyam in her dance school, Velliamballam School of Dance, along with her friend Sakhti Bhaskar. The institution has branches in the US, UK and Norway where she teaches Bharatnatyam to many Indians and foreigners.
She trained under veteran dancer Kittappa Pillai and she is very well known for her research and performances at many famous festivals around the world, she says, “I believe that dance is one of the most incredible ways to create a connection to our bodies and, fundamentally, our inner selves.”
Narthaki was designated male at birth and faced a tremendous struggle to enter the world of dance. She says that since the dance form and style of Bharatanatyam was essentially designed for ladies, very few men actually took interest in it.
She said that “I became aware of my feminine side at the age of 10 and the only way I could express it then was through dance.’’
Narthaki faced many obstacles in her life including finding a mentor for her Bharatnatyam training. As her gender identity was still unacceptable and frowned upon by the society, Narthaki was subjected to social insensitivity and stigma that forced her to run away from home at the age of 12. Simultaneously she was in search of a dance guru who could guide her to become a professional dancer.
Narthaki, at last, came across Thanjavur Kittappa Pillai in 1984, who took her under his wings and started training her. He also offered Narthaki a place in his gurukul in the south, where she lived and trained under him for 15 years. Some of the Pillai’s students include Vyjantimalla Bali, Hema Malini, Sudharani Raghupathy among others.
“I trained under him for 15 years. I was also a demonstration artist for the dance pieces he described in his research at the Thanjavur Tamil University. The number of performances of mine certainly increased, but acceptance initially did not,” Narthaki told The New Indian Express.
It took a lot of hard work and sincere effort to get the recognition she actually deserved. In 2011, she got her first major breakthrough when then President of India, Pranab Mukherjee and a Senior Fellowship from Department of Culture, Government of India awarded her with Sangeet Natak Academy award.
She said that at that moment she realized that how gifted every human being is. It doesn’t matter if someone is born as a male, female or trans, it only takes passion and self-confidence to achieve success.
Previously, Narthaki has also been a recipient of the Kalaimamani award, the highest honour of the Tamil Nadu government, the Nritya Choodamani of the Sri Krishna Gana Sabha in 2009 and the Vetri Award of the University of Madras for performers from marginalised communities in society in 2013.
Narthaki’s struggle and determination to go for what she wanted and established herself as a trained Bharatnatyam dancer has not only inspired the people from the trans community but also the people from all over the world.
The awards are conferred by the President of India at a function in Rashtrapati Bhawan in March or April every year.
Source – indiawomenblog.com, oneindia.com, edtimes.in, indiatimes.com, ibtimes.co.in