Narthaki Nataraj
Pranab Mukherjee presenting the Sangeet Natak Akademi Award-2011 to Narthaki Nataraj [1]
Madurai, Tamil Nadu, India
OccupationBharatanatyam dancer
AwardsPadma Shri (2019)

Narthaki Nataraj is an Indian trans woman Bharatanatyam dancer. In 2019, she was awarded the Padma Shri, making her the first transgender woman to be awarded India's fourth-highest civilian award.[2]

Early life

Narthaki Nataraj was born in Madurai, Tamil Nadu. In an interview, she said she became aware of her feminine side at the age of 10 and found dance to be the only way of expressing herself. Owing to societal pressures and stigma, she ran away from her home at the age of 12.[3]

She started her training in dance under Namanur Jeyaraman of the Tanjavur bani.[4] She later became a disciple of K. P. Kittappa Pillai in 1984, who was a direct descendant of the Thanjavur Quartet.[3]


Narthaki Nataraj took the name "Narthaki" during her debut performance as a woman in 1983.[4] She worked as a demonstration assistant to Kittappa Pillai in Tanjore Tamil University.[3] She established a dance school Narthaki Nritya Kalalaya in Madurai to take her guru's vision forward. In 2000, she moved to Chennai and has been a full time professional dancer since then.[4]

She specialises in the Tanjore-based Nayaki Bhava tradition. She established a dance school Velliambalam Nadana Kalai Koodam in Chennai and Madurai, with her friend Shakti Bhaskar, where she trains her students in the traditional repertoire of Thanjavur Quartets.[3] The school has branches in the U.S., the U.K. and Canada.[4]

She along with her friend, Shakti, has been conducting annual workshops at the government department of music in Oslo. They teach Indian and Norwegian students the Tevaram, Tiruppugazh and Tiruvachakam.[4]

Her life and journey has been included as a lesson in the 11th standard Tamil text book by the Tamil Nadu government in 2018.[5] In 2019, she was awarded the Padma Shri, making her the first transgender woman to be awarded India's fourth-highest civilian award.[2]

Social reforms

Narthaki Nataraj was stopped at many airports as her passport denoted the alphabet "U" for her gender. In 2002, she took part in one of the earliest campaigns for the rights of transgender people. She pursued Union Home Ministry to change the alphabet "U", representing eunuchs for transgender people in India to alphabet "F", representing female.[6]

She also took part in the fight to replace the derogatory Tamil word aravani with thirunangai, meaning "supreme woman" in the official circulars of the Tamil Nadu government.[6] In November 2019, the government has changed the denomination to use the old word of moondram paalinathavar.[7]



  1. ^ "Sangeet Natak official website".
  2. ^ a b c "Padma Shri Awarded On Merit, Not Transgender Identity: Narthaki Nataraj". NDTV. 31 January 2019. Retrieved 7 June 2021.
  3. ^ a b c d e K V, Navya (27 January 2019). "It only takes passion, self-confidence to achieve success: Padma awardee Narthaki Natraj". The New Indian Express. Archived from the original on 12 August 2022. Retrieved 7 June 2021.
  4. ^ a b c d e "Narthaki Nataraj". Sruti. Archived from the original on 11 March 2022. Retrieved 7 June 2021.
  5. ^ Kolappan, B (9 June 2018). "Transgenders find a place in Tamil textbook for Plus One". The Hindu. Retrieved 7 June 2021.
  6. ^ a b c Janardhanan, Arun (28 January 2013). "University of Madras presents Vetri Award to dancer Narthaki". The Times of India. Retrieved 6 June 2021.
  7. ^ "Tamil Nadu govt. suspends use of word 'thirunangai'". The Hindu. 24 November 2019. ISSN 0971-751X. Retrieved 7 June 2021.
  8. ^ Sai, Veejay (29 April 2016). "On World Dance Day, meet the transgender superstar of Bharatanatyam". Retrieved 6 June 2021.
  9. ^ "Awards and titles". The Hindu. 1 December 2009. ISSN 0971-751X. Retrieved 6 June 2021.
  10. ^ Chakrapani, Saranya (13 October 2016). "Narthaki Nataraj to get honorary doctorate". The Times of India. Retrieved 7 June 2021.
  11. ^ "Archived copy" (PDF). Archived from the original (PDF) on 21 September 2018. Retrieved 27 January 2019.((cite web)): CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)