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Shovana Narayan: My life is influenced by lessons of Gita

Eminent Kathak exponent Shovana Narayan warmly opens doors of her house as well as heart as Shilpa Raina narrates the terrific journey of the danseuse extraordinaire 

Women Achievers Diary features Shovana Narayan

Shovana Narayan at her residence/S Kumar

On stage, she has always been a picture of poise and grace, wowing audience with her intricate footwork and artistic gestures. But when we get a chance to meet Shovana Narayan at her residence, we meet a woman who displays an infectious zest for life, is warm and welcoming, and who lives and breathes dance. The décor of the house too reflects her taste for finesse, with antique and modern furniture complementing each other. She too is a living embodiment of elegance. Eager and inquisitive, she comes with the ability to crackle a joke in one second and recite a philosophical poem in another. These characteristics or, perhaps, virtues haven’t just been inherited. They have been cultivated, carefully and meticulously, over several decades, to ensure not a moment is lost in living life to the fullest.

It’s been only since the past two years that the acclaimed danseuse has started waking up at 5.30 am, but for as long as she can remember, she has always been an early riser. Ever since she made a conscious decision of balancing the two worlds — academics and kathak — she knew that she had to sacrifice one thing, i.e., her sleep. And, this she does by committing herself to a disciplined lifestyle and waking up at 4 am every day. “I remember, as a child, my mother told me, ‘you can waste as much time as you want, but later in life never regret that I wish I had not done that’,” she recalls.

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Women Achievers Diary features Shovana Narayan

S Kumar

These words stayed in her mind and she says that the “whole aspect of being responsible for your actions came from my mother. She told me if you want to see other people making news then it is a different thing, but if you want to do well in life then start early.”

“There is no excuse for not doing anything,” she points out. “Learning is a never ending process and one has to have the fire and the urge to achieve what one dreams of. Even if you lack by one per cent, it won’t give you the desired results. My parents always told me that if you want to do well in something, focus on that, never put your hands in too many things. But whatever you do, give it your best,” she says.

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The Padma Shri recipient is a disciple of Birju Maharaj. She is also known for being at the forefront of trying and experimenting with newer ideas and themes in her performances. For instance, she choreographed the dance ballet, Kadambari: The Poet’s Muse that highlighted the influence of sister-in-law, Kadambari, on Nobel laureate Rabindranath Tagore, a subject never attempted before. Or she presented a soliloquy Shakuntala (by Maithili Sharan Gupt), which rejuvenated the narrative tradition of the North-Indian dance form.

I remember, as a child, my mother told me, ‘you can waste as much time as you want, but later in life never regret that I wish I had not done that’

“I had never planned any of these things ever… they just happened on their own,” she says. “When I started working with prof Ramchandra Gandhi, he wrote plays for me in English. My performances on them turned out to be quite a rage. We never thought the idea would resonate so well with the audience,” she adds.

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Shovana Narayan

Shovana Narayan with husband Herbert Traxl/S Kumar

She was the creative director, producer and dancer of the first ever trilogy involving Western Classical Dance, Kathak and Spanish Flamenco in The Dawn After (1994). “When I first met the flamenco dancer and then the ballet dancer, we didn’t understand each other’s language, but our chemistry was superb. All we knew was the universal language of dance and expression.”

“Apart from that, I also realised that the three dance forms were very similar so this is how this collaboration happened,” she adds.

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Shovana Narayan

S Kumar

A choreographer, performer, festival director and an author, the Sangeet Natak Academy Award recipient dons several hats. She has written several books on dance, and is also one of the few performing artistes who was deeply involved with the organisation and presentation of the first artists’ sensitive outpourings and endeavours to help the families affected by the Kargil war, the Tsunami and the Bihar flood. “I respond to these situations immediately because I have never seen a closed door in my house. My family has always been welcoming to people,” she says. We believe so.


  • Ms Shovana Narayan has studied at Miranda House in Delhi with a master’s degree in Physics in 1972.
  • She also worked as a career officer for the Indian Audits & Accounts Service and retired in 2010.
  • She completed MPhil in Defence and Strategic Studies from University of Madras in 2008 and M.Phil in Social Sciences from Punjab University in 2001.
  • She is married to Dr Herbert Traxl, Austrian Ambassador to India (retired).

This interview is part of Born of Web’s exclusive interactive series, Women Achievers’ Diary, in association with Tantra by Ratna Jain. Know more about the series here!

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Queen of several trades, writing on art is what Shilpa primarily does for a living. She has reported on fashion, lifestyle, travel and food for publications like Deccan Herald, Indo-Asian News Service and Delhi Times. Her work assignments took her to Pakistan, Bhutan, and Sri Lanka, but now she travels for leisure. She is curious about things, especially history and culture. Over thinker. Eavesdropper. Observer. Dog lover. These days, you can read her articles in the Hindu and, an exclusive art website.

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