Student Union of University of Hyderabad hosted Padma Shri Dr. Narthaki Nataraj, renowned Bharatanatyam artist at C V Raman Auditorium to deliver a talk on Arts and Harmony as part of Ek Bharath Sreshta Bharath series, a project by Ministry of Human Resource Development. Event was co-chaired by Aarti Nagpal, President of Student Union. Niyanthri Muthuramalingam of PhD Dance (Bharatanatyam) was the translator for Dr Narthaki.

Dr. Narthaki Nataraj hails from a small village Anuppanadi near Madurai, Tamil Nadu. This small village houses two police stations, a sign to show the violent nature of the village. No cultural event has happened in this village till now.

For her art form (dance) starts with soul and divine harmony is expressed through art. She discovered her femininity when she was around three years old. She embraced and enjoyed her femininity as she grew up, even though her family and society rejected her. For her happiness and peace lies within and not something that can be given.

In all this adversities she met a friend Shakthi, who shared her identity too. They found solace in each other when their families abandoned them. They considered their local deity Ayyanar as their friend and family, since he too is remembered only on festivals and forsaken for rest of the year. Temple became their first stage and Ayyanar was their first audience. She and her friend use to frequent a movie theatre owned by her relative and emulate actors and actresses and this was their introduction into the dance world. Actress Vyjayanthimala was their favourite and they argued among themselves over who would emulate her for the rest of the week till the next movie is released.

She participated in many local competitions and won, but she never brought the prizes back home. She hid them behind the idol of Ayyanar. She use to careful by removing her makeup but her brothers use to find out and make fun of her. In spite of all this, she likes being with her family (she has ten siblings) and she hates loneliness. Now when she visited her school all her prizes were preserved and she was the last prize winner from her school and there were no trophies after 1983.

Dream of becoming a dancer didn’t happen in a day, it grew from her childhood even though she had resistance from the family. She along with her friend came out of their houses at the age of 12 and stayed at random friends’ places, till they finished high school. After her high school they knocked the door of Shri K P Kittappa Pillai who was a direct descendent of the Tanjore Quartet brothers (considered the fathers of Bharatanatyam) and were trained under him for 14 years without giving any performance. They learned rare compositions as was practiced in ancient Tamil temples. She used to even observe her master breathe, as she considered. She fixated on him like a house cat and observed all his activities. Her mentor passed away in 1999 and till 2001 she had no clue what would be her future. “1999 to 2001 was the darkest year for me” she recalled.

She said “If you dream big or rich, you will reach them.” She has high self-respect, self-confidence and she earned whatever she achieved. She never used her family name which had lot of reverence. Her confidence was in her art and not asking anything from anyone. She never considered herself inferior. Once in an interview when asked by an interviewer on whom she associated with she answered “Imagine the most intoxicating person and I am 10 times more than that.”

She has never confused with her identity. She says “Identity is for the soul and not for the society.” She laments that society prays to Ardhanareeswara, Ayyappa but can’t accept the third gender in the society. So the fault lies with the society and not with her. She has been looking up ancient literature for references of transgender and she found many in Sangam literature, Tholkkappiyam where they have been glorified. She is optimistic about the current society too will change for good and accept third gender as their own.

Harmony has made its appearance in our society, when her life story was made part of Tamil Nadu 11th standard text book for the first time in Indian history where a transgender story is published in textbook. The very school system which discriminated her is reading her life story and drawing their inspiration from her.

Dr. Narthaki Nataraj continues to spread her message of harmony through her art, Bharatanatyam and her research in our ancient literature.

-By Lokesh Naik, Department of Communication