In conversation with Guru Vempati Chinna Satyam, Vempati Venkat and Vempati Ravi Shankar
- Dr. Sunil Kothari at Chennai
e-mail: sunilkothari1933@gmail.com

December 30, 2011

During the ‘season’ I have been staying for the past six years with Guru Vempati Chinna Satyam at his Kuchipudi Art Academy. On arriving from Bhubaneswar after the marathon international Odissi events, I saw few photos of Vempati sir being honoured at Vijaywada recently. As usual we started conversing, Vempati sir, his two sons Venkat and Ravi, and I.

Sunil Kothari: What was the event about at Vijaywada?
Vempati Ravi: We have in Andhra, a tradition of honouring senior gurus by offering a golden anklet known as Gandapenderam. Earlier, the Maharajas used to honour the Vidwans and distinguished gurus, scholars with a golden anklet.

SK: Was it held under any institution? Who are the main persons who planned this event?
Vempati Venkat: At Vijaywada, there is an institution called Hamsadhwani Kuchipudi Nrityalaya run by two disciples of my father. They are brothers Ajay Kumar who has specialized in sthree vesham (female impersonation) and his brother Srinivas who performs male roles in Kuchipudi. Ajay has won quite a reputation for his female impersonation. Both were planning a three day festival to honour Guruji for a long time. So they titled it as Vempati Nrityotsava under the banner of their institution, from 22nd December.

VR: Of course, such an event requires planning months in advance. Both brothers were anxious to have also two dance-dramas choreographed by our father Vempati Chinna Satyam. They selected ‘Chandalika’ and ‘Rukmini Kalyanam.’ On the opening day they performed. As I have mentioned, Ajay Kumar performs female roles with such finesse that the audience is full of praise for him.

 
Ajay in stree vesham

'Chandalika'
 
SK: Where did they perform? What was the venue like?
VR: At Smt Gokaraju Laila Gangaraju Kala Vedika in the Ghantasala Venkateswara Govt. Music and Dance College premises.

SK: How was the three day event planned? What happened on 1st day?
VV: It was a grand opening. All students of Hamsadhwani Kuchipudi Nrtyalaya were present and there were dignitaries. The first day of the festival was inaugurated by Jaya Peesapati, Founder and President of Hong Kong Telugu Samakhya who announced a Rs. 50,000 scholarship for poor and promising students of Hamsadhwani Vidyalaya. The festival was inaugurated by C Muni Kumar, Principal, GVR Music & Dance College, Vijayawada, Sri Golla Narayana Rao, Secretary, Andhra Arts Academy and VV Rama Rao, President, Basava Sankara Kalapeetham.

VR: Ajay Kumar opened the festival with his Ashtavidha, eight types of shringara nayika. Ajay’s beautiful frame as nayika emoting the eight different forms and moods of a woman was portrayed to perfection. Audiences were spellbound with his quick changing expressions of nayikas as Swaadheena Patika, Vaasaka Sajjika, Virahotkanthita, Vipralabdha, Khandita, Kalahantarita, Proshita Bhartrika and Abhisaarika - visual treat! I am a great admirer of Ajay Kumar and Vempati garu was very pleased with his presentation.

SK: In my memory it is Vedantam Satyam whose abhinaya I shall never forget.
VR: True. He is a legend. But from younger generation Ajay Kumar is making a name. He is known for his Rupanurupam depiction. He emotes the different nayikas’ emotions very succinctly. To me he is the true torch-bearer of Rupanurupam tradition in Kuchipudi.

SK: I have not come across this term for female impersonation.
VR: Rupapanurupam is an ancient tradition and an integral part of Kuchipudi, where a male dancer dons female attire, presenting a female role for a stage performance. As you know, it has been inspired from the mythological story of Lord Vishnu’s transformation as Mohini to serve the nectar to Devas. Ajay Kumar keeps this tradition alive with his excellent performances.

SK: Interesting. On second day?
VV: Second day of the festival was opened by Turlapati Kutumb Rao along with Dr. Saraswati, who is co-founder of Historical Society of Hyderabad. Others present were some you know - Vedantam Radheshyam, and Pasumarti Keshav Prasad, secretary of Akhil Bharat Kuchipudi Natya Kala Mandali of Kuchipudi village. My father’s choreographed dance-drama ‘Chandalika’ was staged. It compels the audiences to think how vain the caste system is. It also focuses on the Buddhist tradition of toleration, patience and equality in all living beings. The lead role in ‘Chandalika’ was portrayed by my wife Srimayi. Ajay Kumar as the Buddhist monk Ananda evoked a new meaning for peace and tranquility through his performance.  I think Aashritha as Maya did justice to her role.

SK: I am delighted to learn that during Gurudev Tagore’s 150th birth anniversary,’Chandalika’ has been revived and being staged at manyplaces besides the presentation at New Delhi during Sangeet Natak Akademi’s festival of Tagore’s dance-dramas in different dance styles.
VR: Also at Sri Krishna Gana Sabha on 31st December night.

 
 
 
SK: I would love to see it as I have not seen it for a long time. What about the final day?
VV: The felicitation ceremony, Guru Puja, Paada Puja amidst the traditional Aseervachanaalu by 5 pandits took place in a traditional manner. All students of Hamsadhwani Nrityalaya and also all the other Kuchipudi institutions from all over Vijayawada received blessings from my father during this auspicious event.  After the Guru Puja by Hamsadhwani Nrutyalaya students, founders Ajay Kumar and Srinivas presented the prestigious Gandapenderam and felicitated the master. Then ‘Rukmini Kalyanam’ dance-drama was presented. Dr. Gourav Uppal, Joint Collector of Krishna District, Malaldi Vishnu, MLA, Vedantam Satyam, Anand Kuchibhotla, Founder of Silicon Andhra, USA, and folk artist Karnati Lakshmi Narasaiah were present.

SK: When was Hamsadhwani Kuchipudi Nrityalaya started?
VR: It was established in 2002 and has trained over 500 students in Kuchipudi. About 120 students come to Vijayawada to master their Kuchipudi dance skills under the able guidance of Ajay Kumar. Under the Guru-Shishya parampara, the institute tutors promising students in Kuchipudi free of cost owing to their economic background. Hamsadhwani conducts regular workshops in Kuchipudi dance. Ajay Kumar has over 1800 performances to his credit and was recently honoured with Ekalavya Award in dance.

SK: I am deeply touched by Ajay Kumar and his brother Srinivas’s deep guru bhakti and honouring Guruji in this manner.


Dr. Sunil Kothari is dance historian, scholar, author and a renowned dance critic. He is Vice President of World Dance Alliance Asia Pacific India chapter, based in New Delhi. He is honored by the President of India with Padma Shri, Sangeet Natak Akademi award and Senior Critic Award from Dance Critics Association, NYC. He is a regular contributor to www.narthaki.com and is a contributing editor of Nartanam for the past 11 years.




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