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Maya, the magnificent
- Dr. A.V. Satyanarayana

October 16, 2014

The wood can dance and stone can express with the magic (maya) of Maya Didi, as she was fondly called. If the one face of Dr. Maya Rao is art, the other face is her benevolence. Maya Rao who passed away in the early hours of 1st September 2014, left the dance circle in a vacuum, and an unbearable loss for her students.

We rarely find such a guru who looks after her students with love, affection and concern as a real didi, irrespective of if he/she is a highly talented or an average student as well as people from all walks of life. Even as a student at Maharani College, Maya Rao formed a club and raised funds through cultural programs to help the needy students. She never forgot to express her gratitude to those who helped her. To make her productions more effective and meaningful she used to consult experts in the field of dance and allied fields. She would share the credits of success of a show with all. She used to be a like a friend after the class and rehearsals. She was always positive in her thoughts, wanting the performances to end with positive thoughts and give positive message to the community. Her mantra was dance, music, love and life.

She always encouraged and blessed her students. We used to hear lot about her experiences during the initial days of opening her institute at Bangalore. She never used to take for granted that a show would go well. Before the presentation, strict dress rehearsals (nowadays very rarely done), stage rehearsals with lights were a must. Talented and hardworking students were selected for shows without any bias. In her opinion, Rangapravesh was not necessary; it is only pomp and burdens the middle class parents who wish to follow the wealthy people at the instance of their gurus. She was even against too many festivals organised only at city levels. Through her dance productions she not only involved the Natya students but also invited many artists from other dance schools of Bangalore and outside Bangalore, which resulted in not only enriching their knowledge but also creating a harmony among the dancers. She used to travel in sleeper class with her students even though she was entitled to travel by air as a chairperson of the Karnataka Sangeeta Nrithya Academy. When someone questioned her on what property she had acquired in her 60 years of service in the dance field, the heartfelt answer was, "My students."

In 1960 Maya Rao was selected to learn choreography at Russia. She is the only Indian with a Post Graduate degree in Choreography from the USSR. Maya Rao assisted and taught ballerinas for the production 'Shakuntala' in Russia. After returning from USSR, Maya Rao was offered the assignment to assist Natya Ballet Center at Delhi by Kamaladevi Chattopadhyay, her mentor. To name a few highly profiled artistes like Raja Reddy, Sonar Chand, Satyanarayana Charka, Shambu Hegde, Shakti Bhatnagar, Rani Karnaa, Pratap Pawar were trained under Maya Rao at Delhi. In 1964 Maya Rao's brainchild Natya Institute of Choreography was inaugurated. Maya (the Shakti) and Nataraj (the other name of Shiva) got married in 1964. In 1992 the institute introduced degree in choreography, first of its kind in India (affiliated to Bangalore University). More than 3000 students have been trained under Maya Rao across the country and abroad. The performing unit of the institute has performed across the globe in more than 30 countries. Basant Panchami, an annual event at Natya Institute is a joyful event, and all students have an opportunity to offer Nrithya Nivedana to goddess Saraswati. Sometimes Holi is also celebrated at the institute as a festival of colours and fun.

When Maya Rao was the Chairperson of Karnataka Sangeeta Nrithya Academy, she was responsible for launching national festivals of music and dance at heritage places like Somnathpur (in Mysore Dist), Pattadakal (Bagalkot Dist) and Hoysala Festival at Halebid (Hasssan dist). High profile students of her Bangalore center are Nirupama Rajendra, Nandini Mehta, Mysore Nagaraj, her daughter Madhu Nataraj, the STEM Dance Kampni (the brainchild of Madhu Nataraj), and many more. The credit for recreation of Purvaranga and introduction of one act plays in Sanskrit goes to Dr. Maya Rao. Art is long, time is short and life is uncertain. Karnataka is proud of this legendary guru.

Dr. A.V. Satyanarayana is the director of Shristi Center of Performing Arts and Institute of Dance Therapy, Bangalore.

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