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This chapter tells us about the life and work of the great dance maestro Dr. Vempati Chinna Satyam. He worked all his life to establish Kuchipudi as a prominent classical dance form in India. He was successful in his mission and remains an icon who serves as an inspiration to countless people.
The 18-year-old boy, a school dropout, left his house with just two rupees to realize a dream. His dream was to increase the status of an art form he had learnt from his great gurus. He decided to dedicate his life for its enrichment.
The lad left his house for Madras (Chennai), about 400kms away from his place. He started from a village about 50kms away from Vijayawada in Krishna district. He walked all the way, feeding himself on plantains and water.
A stationmaster at Venkatachalam offered him a full meal and asked where he was going. The lad didn’t reply and looked at the endless sky. The lad was Dr. Vempati Chinna Satyam and the place where he started from was Kuchipudi. The art form he was passionate about was KUCHIPUDI.
The dance form originated in the village of Kuchipudi. It was performed at temples during annual festivals and in streets for people. It was originally a male oriented dance form. Even female roles were played by men.
Great gurus like Vedantam Lakshminarayana and Chinta Krishna Murthy enriched and transformed it and welcomed women. They produced many dance dramas and choreographed several solo items and even let women play male roles. Still, it was not very popular till 1958.
Satyam had big aspirations but small achievements. He had a difficult childhood. He had a strong desire to learn Kuchipudi but was humiliated by a teacher in his village who called him unfit for it in front of his friends.
Some ridiculed him while others sympathized with him. Then his father died and he had to feed four sisters and a mother. Satyam was interested in nothing but this and the basic knowledge he had about Kuchipudi.
Works and Achievements
Tadepalli Peraiah Sastry and Vedantam Lakshminarayana Sastry taught him the difficult aspects of Kuchipudi style and inspired him. He sometimes sold his meal tickets to watch dance programmes in Chennai. He only wanted to make Kuchipudi popular.
Encouraged by his cousin Vempati Pedda Satyam, he entered the Telugu film world. Telugu film lovers cannot forget the dance sequences in “Narthanasala”, “Devadasu”, and “Pandava Vanavasam” directed by Dr. Vempati.
He established Kuchipudi Art Academy in 1963 in Madras. 180 solo items and 15 dance dramas were composed and choreographed by Dr. Vempati. They have been performed all over the world.
He composed his first dance drama ‘Sri Krishna Parijatham’ followed by ‘Ksheera Sagara Madhanam’. Both were received well and brought him acclaim. Some of his masterpieces like ‘Padmavati Srinivasa Kalyanam’ showcase the depth of his knowledge and mastery over Kuchipudi.
He could communicate the dance to both connoisseurs and laypersons. Dr. Vempati’s prominent disciples include Shanta Rao, Yamini Krishna Murthy, Vyjayanthimala Bali, Hema Malini, Manju Bhargavi, Shoba Naidu, Bala Kondala Rao and the Union Minister Daggubati Purandeshwari.
Dr. Vempati was awarded the “Padma Bhushan” title by the Government of India. Andhra University awarded him an honorary doctorate in 1980. Sri Venkateswara University, Tirupati, honoured him with an honorary degree, D.Litt. in 1983. Dr. Satyam was presented with the ‘Golden Key’ by the mayor of Miami, USA, Stephen P Clark in the year 1981.
He was chosen for the Sangeet Natak Academy fellowship. The Raja-Lakshmi Foundation, Madras presented the ‘Raja-Lakshmi’ award to him. In the year 1976, the TTD made Satyam the ‘Asthana Natyacharya’.
He was born to Venkatachalamaiah and Varalakshmi on 15th oct 1929. He led a notable life of 83 years and died on 29th July 2012. He had two sons and three daughters with his wife Swarajya Lakshmi. “Kuchipudi” and Dr. Vempati’s work are honoured both by Telegu speakers and people worldwide.
Kuchipudi has established itself on the same level as other classical dance forms of India like Bharathanatyam, Kathak and Kathakali. Dr. Vempati remains at the centre stage of Kuchipudi’s rise as a classical dance form in modern India and is a source of inspiration to many people. Thus, he can rightly be called “Maestro with a Mission”.
Dr. Vempati’s life story is extremely inspiring. He started from humble roots and went on to popularise Kuchipudi worldwide through his dedication and passion. His contributions to Indian classical dance are unforgettable and solidify his position in the world of art and dance.