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Madhavapeddy Murthy as Shiva
- Bhavanvitha Venkat

August 7, 2015

A mere mention of the word Kuchipudi readily evokes visions of grand drama of gods and goddesses. From the delicate feelings of Satyabhama, Rukmini, Usha to the aggressive Bali Chakravarthy, Mahisha, Bhasmasura, and divine heroes like Lord Rama, Krishna and Siva, we visualize all these wonderful characters. It is interesting to note that in spite of Kuchipudi being a rich dance drama tradition, there are not many who became synonymous with any character for extended duration. Legendary Vedantam Satyanarayana Sarma who played the role of Satyabhama remains one of the very few names of this exceptionally rare artistry.

With that introduction I should mention that Madhavapeddy Murthy, disciple of Dr. Vempati Chinna Satyam is one who belongs to such rare and unique accomplishment. He continues to play the character of Lord Shiva since the last few decades and that is something incredible. It did come as a surprise that it is Tamilnadu that honored him with Kalaimamani award and Andhra is yet to acknowledge such a fantastic achievement. Please note that he plays Lord Shiva opposite none other than actress Hema Malini.

A visit to Siva Foundation, Murthy's dance school in Chennai and interaction with him in his class and in his home about his contribution to dance, threw up some interesting information.

You are as agile and energetic as someone in his twenties. So how did your wonderful journey into Kuchipudi start?
My love for Kuchipudi dance started when I was very young. I was probably 4 years. Kuchipudi dancer Yedavalli Rama was our neighbor. I used to go to her house and watch her dance rehearsals and come home to do what I saw, repeating in front of the mirror. My father being a playback singer in the film industry knew Guru Vempati Chinna Satyam. Once when he asked me to dance what I knew, I danced what I had seen and then Master asked my father to admit me in his dance class at Kuchipudi Art Academy. It was 3 December 1973 when I first started learning my first adavu.

You have an incredible achievement; wonder if you yourself really ever thought about it. Learning from the legend is a blessing indeed. Yet another blessing it must be to have been the dancer chosen to play the most challenging role as Lord Shiva. The world knows how exacting are Master's standards and how meticulous he was in demanding the best from his students.
(With a smile...) Having learnt the adavus thoroughly for many years and being slim and tall, master chose me to do the role of Lord Shiva in his dance drama Srinivasa Kalyanam in the early eighties after almost 10 years of hard training. The 10 minute lasya tandavam along with Parvathi performed to perfection with my senior colleague Bala gave me an opportunity to impress people with whatever little talent that I had imbibed from Guruji's teachings. My journey started off from there. Even though initially with very little knowledge of what I was doing being a young boy, slowly I started living the role. Every program was an experience performing the role of the dancing deity.

When I turn back and see, it is almost 32 years of donning the role of Lord Shiva. I don't think I have scaled Everest (I had compared his achievement earlier to scaling Everest) by doing this role for several years because it is not a right comparison as I am a simple human being getting opportunity to do the mighty role of Lord Shiva. Every show is a lesson to learn. As a dancer I feel very lucky that I am able to perform the role to the best of my knowledge.

After performing the title dance for Hema Malini's Noopur serial and immediately getting an opportunity from Hemaji asking me to perform the lead role of Shiva in her magnificent ballet Durga with Sathi, Parvathi and Durga being performed by Hemaji herself was a big surprise. Today, having performed more than 400 shows with this dancing diva, I feel very happy and elated and thank my parents and my Guru Dr. Vempati Chinna Satyam for their blessings and gratitude to Hemaji for having confidence in me to carry on doing a role which is always a dream to all dancers.

Do you realize that there is perhaps only one more dancer who stands close to this achievement of playing a role so consistently well and over long duration in the recorded history of Kuchipudi in the modern era...Guru Vedantam Satyanarayana Sarma!
I do not want to be compared to stalwarts as I always feel I am in the learning process and every performance of mine is a lesson and an experience to better my dancing skills. I have learnt a lot of things pertaining to dance while dancing with Hemaji in presenting a particular role to perfection. Every show is a penance for a dancer and practicing for every show is a must.

As we continued our discussion further, he invited me to his house where I was able to see pictures of his performances with Hema Malini. There is also an impressive picture of Lord Krishna, yes of Murthy. A phone call from a documentary filmmaker alerted him of his next appointment for the day. Our discussions made me realize that the modern and commercial times have to respect and honor our committed artists much more.

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