Vijaya Rao

Abhisarika Nayaki
Vijaya Rao is currently one of the most profound exponents in Bharata Natyam. She is a dedicated representative of this timeless art and well known for her unparalleled work in Europe as dance artist, cultural ambassador and teacher. Vijaya Rao is a master of her class and has remained faithful to the tradition and the responsibilities, which are tied to it. With her experience of more than 30 years in teaching Bharata Natyam she has built Nateschwara, an institution that is internationally well known, especially as a centre for authentic training and thoroughgoing teaching.

Heritage and education

Maestro Vina SubbanaVijaya Rao’s family is originally from Mysore. She was raised in aSouth Indian family of great musical tradition. Two of her notable forefathers were the great musician Veena Subbana and the famous flutist Palladam Sanjivarao. Vijaya Rao received her initial training inBharata Natyam by the late Shri Umesh Herenjal and had her firstlessons in classical Music under Sitar-Maestro Shri Rajbi Khan in her hometown Dharwad (Karnataka). This is where she also made her debut on stage proving her talent as an expressive dancer at an already early age. Later, as a private student under the guidance of the distinguished and renowned Bharata Natyam master late Shri Pathagudi S. Ramaswamy she developed into a full-fledged and accomplished Bharata Natyam dancer and teacher.

With her Gurus Shri Pathagudi Ramaswamy and Narayanaswamy Purushothaman at museum Rietberg Zurich 1992 She studied vocal Carnatic Music under famed and renowned teachers like Shri Bhimarao Raghuram, Smt. Rajamma Keshavamurthy and Gottuvadyam-Maestro late Shri Narayanaswami Purushothaman.


Vijaya Rao earned her reputation as main dancer in the Bharata Natyam dance troop of her first Guru, late Shri Umesh Herenjal, which was selected by the Gymkhana Club of the Karnataka University Dharwad to perform in France and Germany. She gave a number of dance recitals organised by the All India Radio Dharwad and participated in several dance competitions where she won creditable prizes. In 1970 she came first at the dance competition of the Karnataka University Dharwad. In the following year she was honoured with a gold medal for her Bharata Natyam performance at the dance competition of the Inter-University Youth Festival in Mysore.

After completing her M.A. in German and French literature Vijaya Rao won the UGC-scholarship to do her Ph.D. One year later she went to Switzerland and joined the University of Zurich for her dissertation on the German writer Herman Hesse. She was soon offered to conduct courses in Indian dance by the sports department of the University. Within a short time she won the reputation of a well-versed and charming classical Indian dancer. In the year 1979 she married the yoga- and meditation-teacher Anton Tönz. Together, in 1980, they established the Nateschwara Academy in Baden near Zurich.

Assets and special skills

Vijaya RaoVijaya Rao is a pioneer of India art in Europe. Thanks to her outstanding knowledge in German language she has been indefatigably campaigning the authentic form of Bharata Natyam and its traditional repertoire since 1977. By touring regularly across whole of Europe, many of these tours also with her dance master Shri Pathagudi S. Ramaswamy, she promoted Bharata Natyam and Indian culture. Her deep insight for this art have enabled her – especially in the German speaking countries like Switzerland, Germany or Austria – to introduce dances in a vivid way to the public and to explain their content. Certainly this has contributed considerably to a better understanding and appreciation of Indian art and has given Indian culture a new significance in the European society. Due to her tireless work in spreading and encouraging Indian dance in the West Vijaya Rao has become one of the most significant forces in this field.

Vijaya RaoHer professionalism and her high demands in dance, but also her charming personality and her easy way of presenting her art have earned Vijaya Rao great recognition among experts and lovers of Indian art. Vijaya Rao does not only represent a tradition, she also stand for its spiritual meaning and depth. In addition she has the rare skill of portraying facial expressions (Abhinaya) and subtle nuances in mimicry in such an intensity, that it captivates the beholder on the spot.

Teacher, choreographer and ensemble leader

Vijaya Rao teachingVijaya Rao enjoys the reputation of being a dance teacher with excellent pedagogic skills and a distinguished choreographer and dance ensemble leader. She has an extraordinarily vast and precious repertoire of traditional dances at her disposal. She presents Bharata Natyam as a vibrant and grand dance form in this day and age. In her Academy she teaches Indian as well as European students and has trained many of them to a high level of professional Bharata Natyam artists. As one of few dance teachers worldwide Vijaya Rao is proficient in the demanding technique of accompanying dance with Nattuvangam. She directs as lead singer the stage debuts of her students and also the performances of her daughter Sharmila Rao and the Nateschwara Dance Company.

Maria MagdalenaAs a leading Bharata Natyam exponent and representative of the unique dance style of her Guru Shri Pathagudi Ramaswamy Vijaya Rao has produced choreographic works based on Indian mythology as well as western topics. Through her love for the Sanskrit language and ancient literature she has won the support of many scholars and university graduates. Among them is one of the foremost Sanskrit scholars and poets, Professor Dr. Jaydev Jani of Vadodara University. Under his textual guidance Vijaya Rao was able to produce some of her most appreciated works, like the love story "Savitri" (2002) or"Jesus Charitam" (Jesus of Nazareth, 1999), a moving dance-drama on the life of Jesus Christ.

Aabhijnana ShakuntalamOne of her major productions, “Abhijnana Shakuntalam” (The recognition of Shakuntala, 1994), based on the great work of the Indian poet Kalidasa (appr. 200 A.D.), was received from connoisseurs and audience with critical acclaim and was hailed as her seminal work. Another highlight of her productions is “Divya Darshana” (Image of the Divine, 2005) which depicts the divine origin of Indian dance. Additionally Vijaya Rao choreographed numerous traditional Bharata Natyam items and solo programs like "Ashta Nayaki" (the eight emotional states of a woman), "Ballad of Love", the epic "Ramayana", “Spirituality in Indian dance”, the jubilee production “Jaya Ganesha” and many more.

Ambassador of Indian art and culture

Vijaya Rao wrote several articles and published in 1987 the book “Image of the Divine - Bharata Natyam, the Classical Indian Dance" which is among the first German nonfiction books on Bharata Natyam and a standard work in this field. In the same year she was appointedas cultural ambassador for UNICEF in Switzerland. Up to 1993 she visited over 600 Swiss schools and introduced children of all age groups to the Indian culture with her cultural program "Encounter with India". The Swiss National TV broadcasted parts of her UNICEF-Program in the national TV-News and other TV shows. Since then she has given many lectures in teacher-seminars and conducted practical demonstrations in well-known academic institutions like the C.G. Jung Institute Zurich, the Museum Rietberg Zurich, the Pestalozzianum Zurich, the Music Academy of Zurich and the Music Academy Oslo.


In 1995 Vijaya Rao was honoured with the title ‘Natyakalabushani’ by Shankarabaranam Trust Chennai in recognition of her outstanding contribution to the art of Bharata Natyam, her great work as a dance artist, teacher and choreographer. In January 2009, on the occasion of the first release of the dance drama "Jesus Charitam" in Bangalore, Karnataka Kalashree B. Bhanumati awarded her on behalf of Nritya Kala Mandiram the title "Natyashree".