Born in Bangalore on 2 May 1928 Shrimati Maya Rao initially learnt Kathak from Pandit Sohan Lal
of Jaipur and later from Pandits Shambhu Maharaj and Sunder Prasad of the Lucknow and Jaipur
Beginning her career as a Kathak dancer, Shrimati Maya Rao soon branched off into choreography. From 1961 she studied choreography in Moscow on a Soviet scholarship and on return home in 1964 founded the Natya Institute of Choreography in Delhi.
Formerly Director of the Natya Ballet Centre, Delhi, Shrimati Maya Rao has over 50 dance-dramas to her credit including Krishna Leela, Vision of Amir Khusro, Tulsi ke Ram, and Surdas. She has also been consultant choreographer for two Soviet ballet productions — Shakuntala and Ramayana. She established the Natya Institute of Kathak and Choreography in Bangalore in 1988.
Shrimati Maya Rao received the Mysore State Akademi Award in 1968, the Sahitya Kala Parishad Award, Delhi, in 1985, the Rajyotsava award of Karnataka in 1986, the Sangeet Natak Akademi Award in 1989, and the Shantala Award in 2000. In 1999, she was given an Emeritus Fellowship for Eminence in Dance by the Ministry of Human Resource Development, Government of India.
Shrimati Maya Rao is elected Tagore Fellow of Sangeet Natak Akademi for her contribution to Indian dance.