Veteran dance teacher Guru Smt. Rajee Narayan is a latest recipient of the prestigious Maharashtra Rajya Sanskritik Puraskar (known as the lifetime achievement award), for her contribution towards the enrichment and propogation of Bharatanatyam for over five decades.

This is probably for the first time that a South Indian in the field of classical dance has won the award. Besides the exquisite trophy, Rajee Narayan also received a cheque for Rs. 25,000.

Rajee is the daughter of S. Narayana Iyer, who was a great vedic and yogic scholar writer and poet. Her mother, Gangammal, was recognised as the only family lady who knew the maximum number of Tyagaraja kritis, padams and javalis, and was Rajee's first guru for Carnatic music.

Rajee had her schooling in the presentation Convent, Church Park, Madras and later she obtained higher grade diploma in Carnatic music from the government of Madras. She was the disciple of the veteran Thurayur M. Rajagopala Sarma and also gained insight into Hindustani music and specialised in Hindi bhajans and abhangs. She learnt Bharatanatyam from K. Lalitha of Saraswati Gana Nilayam for more than a decade and also studied other classical dances and got herself familiarised to Western classical dancing too.

A widow since '59, her husband died of cancer. Six years later she left Chennai and came to Mumbai where she established Nritya Geethanjali. Rajee Narayan is possibly the only Guru who is also a linguist, having composed innumerable dance compositions in Marathi, Hindi and Tamil, all of which these have been published. Her latest Nritya Geeta Mala Vol II has been submitted to the Sangeet Natak Akademi for a grant and thereby Rajee has succeeded in widening the repetoire for Bharatanatyam.

Besides teaching natya sastra to students, Rajee has also had a fruitful association with Nalanda Nrityakala Mahavidyalaya for over 20 years as the external examiner for graduate and postgraduate courses and at the University of Mumbai as a member of the Board of Studies.

Mumbai Doordarshan recently invited her to present Krishna Leela in varnam format in Marathi language, and Sankara, a ballet in different languages with untouchability as the theme, was conducted with physically and mentally handicapped children for the I.S.R.H. at the Nehru Centre in Mumbai. When the Nuclear Board of India sent a documentary film titled Atom for Peace to Russia during the Festival of India, Rajee was asked to compose the music and choreograph the dance for their script.

"I am happy that the Maharashtra government has recognised my services," admits Rajee Narayan. The other awards received by her are Kalavani, Natya Nipuni, Natya Tilakam, Natana Kala Bhushan and Shreshta Kala Acharya. Nevertheless, the award that is truly worth of her is the Sangeet Natak Akademi Award which should be bestowed on her very soon.

Vijay Shankar
June 20, 1998. Blitz.