Pandit Ram Dayal Sharma (the author's father) is a nationally famous Nautanki artist, who has performed in theatre, including Ramlila and other North-Indian styles of theatre since the 1950s. He was born in the village of Samai, near Mathura in 1946. He is now based in both his village in the Braj region, and the capital Delhi. Pandit Sharma comes from a long line of actors and musicians in the Samai-Kherā gharānā (musical lineage or school). In the nineteenth century, his ancestors used to perform for Indian royalty, in the court of Nawab Wajid Ali Shah (1822–1887) in Awadh, and helped establish the Rahas form. Rahas, which is closely associated with its chief patron and participant, the Nawab of Awadh, involves singing, dancing, and play-acting stories about Lord Krishna and his beloveds. His father Pandit Khubiram Sharma (1919–1995) and uncle Pandit Ramswaroop Sharma (1928–1997), through their work in their dramatic troupe, played a prominent role in popularizing the Braj style of Nautanki and Swang in the Kanpur-Lucknow area.

By his late teens, Pandit Sharma was a major star in Nautanki, performing all over the Hindi-speaking regions of North India, in his family's company. Since then, he has directed and performed in Nautanki productions all over the world, and has also composed music for television and films, thus playing an important role in repopularizing Nautanki in contemporary times. Beginning in 1968, All India Radio (AIR) invited him to record Nautankis, and he has continued to make recordings for AIR up to the present. His early recordings of Nautanki were among the earliest of such recordings, and used to be played regularly on the radio, at a time when AIR, a public station controlled by the government, preferred to play elite forms of music, especially Indian classical music. Also in the late 1960s, Pandit Sharma began performing with, and teaching Nautanki to new generations of actors at the prestigious National School of Drama in Delhi, and continues to do so. In the early 1990s, Pandit Sharma was invited to England to compose music for a theatrical production of Heer Ranjha. During its run, the BBC recorded a series of interviews with him on Nautanki. He was the first Nautanki artist to receive such international recognition for his work.

Although Pandit Sharma primarily works in Nautanki, he also has much experience with other forms of traditional theatre in North India, including Ramlila and Raslila. Pandit Sharma stills runs his Nautanki company, Braj Lok Madhuri, and performs in both villages and cities. During his long career, he has served as a consultant for the Indian government and non-profit organizations on best practices for using traditional theatre in social service campaigns. In 2015, the President of India awarded Pandit Sharma the Sangeet Natak Akademi Award, the nation's highest honor for performing artists, one that is rarely given to Nautanki artists. Even today, his performances sell out at major venues, and millions fondly call him "Braj Kokilā" or "The Nightingale of Braj."


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