Dr Narthaki Nataraj, a well known Bharathanatyam dancer, became the first transgender person to be awarded the Padma Shri, India’s fourth highest Civilian Award, by President Ram Nath Kovind.

Dr. Nataraj specialises in Thanjavur-based Nayaki Bhava tradition of dance. She was born in Madurai and trained for 14 years under the guidance of Tanjore Shri K P Kittappa Pillai.

However, it has not been an easy journey for her. Website Orinam writes that, “As a young adult going through a gender identity crisis, she fled home due to lack of support from her parents.”

After the awards list was announced in January, she told news agency ANI, “I was chosen not because of my transgender identity but on basis of merit as a Bharatanatyam artist. I have given more than 30 years of my life in the service of Bharatanatyam.” 

Sukhdeep Singh