February 2, 2019
The Covai Post spoke to the Padmashri Dr Narthagi Natrajan on her inspiring journey, her formal training in Bharatanatyam and the social rejections she had to endure to get where she is now in society. Read on..
1.How was your childhood, especially when you thought you wanted to venture into the classical art?
To liberate the gender identity of being a female, that I felt within myself, i chose Bharatanatyam as a platform and this helped me evolve as an artist.
2.Tell us about your Bharatanatyam guru
My guru is K.P Kittappa Pillai, who is a direct descendant of Thanjai Nalvar. I stayed in his gurukulam for 15 years to learn the art.
3.How vigorous was your training?
My entire journey revolves around the inspiration from the city I grew up, Madurai district. Madurai is a place where Tamil culture emerged multi-dimensionally. Sangam literature started, evolved and spread it’s roots in Madurai. This cultural perfection in my city's history has inspired me greatly to improvise and achieve purity in my art.
4.Tell us more on your efforts to implement Feminism in your dance performances?
Where there is a will, there is a way. In a drive to express feminism in the most spectacular way, I relentlessly corrected myself to bring purity to my dance form. I consider this an on-going process to arrive at the perfection I aspire to achieve.
5. What are the challenges you faced while establishing yourself in this community as a Bharatnatyam performer and as a transgender woman?
(Laughs) I don't consider myself an icon of any community, be it Bharatanatyam or trans women. But we (Narthaki Natarajan, friend Shakthi and few other activists) deemed it our responsibility and struggled hard to get people to accept Thirunangai as the Tamil equivalent to trans women in the beginning of 90's. This has changed the views of many people and inspired transgender women to shape themselves and become respectable in this society. The Government also took cognisance and implemented several measures to uplift transgender community in this period.
Everyone has their own individuality and talent. One has to polish those skills and excel in this world. When there are obstacles in one's path, with self-confidence, determination and self-discipline one has to look for the ways to improve their talents.
My friend Shakthi helped me significantly in this journey. Her invincible personality and uncompromising self-discipline has been a driving force to reach my goals. I would like to laud her in all my achievements and she has been the best friend one could ever ask in life.
6.Tell us about your students.
Our dance school 'Velliambalam Arakattalai' has students all over the world. Now our establishment has many branches across the globe. My students have now become good teachers and they are now taking this art forward.
7.How receptive are transgender women to the art of Bharatanatyam?
Many transgender women have come forward to explore this art form. This is a great motivation to every one of us in the community. I have always believed that if one of us can perfect ourselves and head towards a journey, many will travel in the path which we have paved in this society.
8. Who is your role model?
Even a little child who performs this art with utmost dedication and perfection is my role model. I spend a lot of time learning from a child. Anyone who strives for purity will inspire and motivate me.
9. How is it to perform for rural audience ?
It has been a soulful experience every time I performed before a rural audience. These people have little knowledge or expertise but when I am able to make an impact with my performance, their response has been genuine and they shower the purest form of love. I always get emotional when someone from that community compliments me saying “your dance has touched our hearts even if we didn't understand it fully.”
10. How do you see it going forward ?
I have never had any ambition right