Narthaki Natraj, a Transgender Bharatnatyam dancer, was conferred with the third highest civilian award in the country, the Padma Shri at this year’s Republic Day. It is a moment of pride for the country and not just the Transgender community.
Born in 1964 in Madurai, Tamil Nadu, it was not an easy journey for her as she faced a lot of exclusions and criticism for wanting to join the world of dance as after her birth she was proclaimed as Male. She took interest in Bharatnatyam despite the fact that not a lot of men chose this dance form. She became aware of feminine identity at the age of 10 and the only way she could express it was through dance. Because of this, she had to face a lot of social stigma and unacceptance. She ran away from home at age of 12 and started to do menial jobs to make a living. It was only in 1984 when her dream of becoming a dancer took a flight. That year she met her dance guru Thanjavur Kittappa Pillai, who is known to have dance disciples such Vyjanthimala Bali, Hema Malini and the like.
Natraj specializes in the Thanjavur based Nayaka – Bhava form in which she became well known in no time. For her dancing, she has received a lot of accolades before the most coveted one that she got this year. She became the first transgender dancer to receive the Sangeet Natak Akademy award by the former president, Mr. Pranab Mukherjee and a Senior Fellowship from the Department of Culture, Government of India. She has also received the honour of performing in many festivals in Europe and USA. She also started a dance school named Velliamballam School of Dance which has international branches as well.
“It only takes passion and self-confidence to achieve success,” these words said by the dancer herself hold completely true. Despite the societal pressures and the stigma that she faced while pursuing her dream, it did not deter her from reaching the stars. This determination made her the most well-known face of Bharatnatyam and a beacon of hope and inspiration for the Transgender community not just in India but also all around the world to never stop dreaming and believing.