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by Sapna Rangaswamy, Baroda

An eighteen year old boy started his journey from Kuchipudi to Madras with just two rupees in his pocket. He walked all the way resting on the wayside and satisfying his hunger with just bananas and water.

The boy was to go on to become Guru Shri Vempati Chinna Satyam.

He started a dance school in 1958 on his own, but failed. With his cousin's advice he started to teach at the dance school run by dancer-actress Rajasulochana. Soon he gave up and then started teaching students privately. During this time he tried his hand at films, acting as well as in choreography.

The year was 1962 and Vempati Chinna Satyam was still unsettled and the Kuchipudi dance school, which he had started a few years ago, had not been a success. Shanta Rao came forward to help him start a school for Kuchipudi dance. Chinna Satyam readily agreed. Shanta Rao rented a spacious building on Boag Road in T.Nagar. She stayed on the first floor and kept the ground floor for the school- Kuchipudi Dance Academy.

Chinna Satyam put his heart and soul to it and taught students from 7 am to 1 pm and from 4 pm to 8 pm. After the class he used to teach Shanta Rao until 10 o'clock at night. Shanta Rao became very demanding and possessive. Some of Chinna Satyam's students like Yadavalli Rama and Chandrakala made rapid progress and won praise, but Shanta Rao did not like it. It was the worst time of Satyam's life. He was in the grip of an enchantress who was extremely jealous. She wanted his art to be kept for her disposal only. This made him very much confused and worried. It was not all that easy to get
free from the situation. At last he bade good-bye to her.

Chinna Satyam was literally on the streets. He was back to square one where he had been 15 years before. But there was a difference between then and now in 1963. He had earned a solid reputation as a very competent choreographer...He was now a recognized artist with a mission. Now his future was in his own hands. Under these circumstances he started his own school. Thus was born the Kuchipudi Art Academy in rented premises near Panagal Park in T. Nagar. He started with about 45 students.

Days passed into months and months into years. Students came to him in large numbers from far and near and he was to give them the best that he had.

On 6th January 1966 in a college hall, Chinna Satyam presented his students in a dance programme, which drew appreciation beyond his expectations. Balasaraswathi suggested that he repeat his programme. This happened a few weeks later in a packed auditorium at Sri Krishna Gana Sabha. Rukmini Devi witnessed the programme and sat there right through the performance.

More and more students came knocking at the door of the Academy. Vyjayanthimala, Sonal Mansingh and Hemamalini were already outstanding dancers in their chosen styles and they would have never come anywhere near Kuchipudi unless they were convinced of its intrinsic worth. Even when Hemamalini was at her peak of stardom she never allowed herself to forget her moorings and always stood by him when Chinna Satyam was struggling to raise money for the construction of the Academy's own building on Greenways Road. She came forward with her personal contribution.

The late Dr. M.G.Ramachandran , Chief Minister of Tamilnadu, was so impressed with Chinna Satyam's work that he allotted 5 grounds for the construction of permanent buildings for the Academy at very concessional rates and also gave personal contributions. He also laid the foundation stone for the Academy on June 2nd 1986.

When Dr. J.Jayalalitha, a former student, became Chief Minister she allotted another 3000 square feet adjacent to it at the same old concessional rate. The Academy's building construction work was completed with the generous contributions received from lovers of Kuchipudi in India and abroad. U.L.Dutt, J.V. Somayajulu, Hemamalini, Prabha Ramesh Gutti Vara Prasad Rao and several others contributed for the completion of the Academy.

The Academy shifted in April 1990 from its rented premises to its own premises, the new building on Greenways Road.

I was not there to witness the tears of joy and satisfaction of my Guru - our Master Vempati Chinna Satyam. But I am thankful to all the people who helped to convert his dream into reality and gave me thus an opportunity to stamp my feet to his "Nattuvangam".

Sapna Rangaswamy is a Bharatanatyam and Kuchipudi exponent based in Baroda.