Disciples recall the benevolence, discipline and humanitarian efforts of Vempati Chinna Satyam

Awards and accolades, name, fame, wealth and vidya were all there; yet the master remained his simple, rustic self — outspoken, disciplinarian as far as dance went, devoid of ambition or greed, generous and affectionate to his birthplace and his extended families, most approachable, a man with no airs — this was Vempati Chinna Satyam for all those who came into his orbit.

As a guru, he was the traditionalist and adopted age-old practice of chastising the pupils till they ‘got it right’. And the end product is perfection. As a person, I had the privilege to host him at my home in Nellore in 1985 when he had come with his troupe to perform a ballet. I was all awe by his imposing presence when he first entered my drawing room. But the moment he started speaking, I felt I had known him all my life. He was a replica of my own guru Vempati Kodandarama Sastri. I was overwhelmed when he offered to tutor me further if only I could make weekly trips to Chennai and to his academy. It remained a dream for more than one reason. He was neither garrulous nor reticent. The conversation was informal as was the person. He seemed oblivious of his stature as a man of consequence in the dance scenario. On leaving, he gifted me a video recording of one of his popular ballets Srinivasa Kalyanam, which I cherish to this day.

“He lived for art, while we live on art,” pronounced a visibly distraught Vedantam Ramalinga Sastri, principal of Siddendra Kalashetram at Kuchipudi. Recollecting his long association with the guru, Sastri says, “He is a yuga purusha whose glory will not eclipse for the next 400 years. He was my creator who made me into what I am today. He would often say that he wouldn’t want me to be another Chinna Satyam but achieve a mudra/a mark of my own. This inspired me to pen so many ballets which later, my guru lauded as a standing example for others to emulate. When Lord Nataraja danced, an anklet bell fell off His divine feet; that bell is my guru Chinna Satyam, a trailblazer who put Kuchipudi dance on the global platform. We are all walking on the path he paved so diligently for us. His love for his native village was immense. The old Siddendra Kalashetra building was constructed with the money from his ballet Ksheerasagara mandanam. He insisted on quality not quantity in terms of dance. His money was spent on feeding at least 30 people a day. He never craved for luxury. Dance was the wealth he cherished till his end. Words fail to do justice in describing guru Chinna Satyam in any way.”

For Sobha Naidu, his principal pupil, “If Siddendhra Yogi was the architect of Kuchipudi dance few era ago, it is guru Vempati Satyam who brought out the dance from the confines of a remote village and placed it right on the national and international map, lent a refinement that was acceptable to the urbane. With this in mind, he stepped in Chennai where Bharatanatyam was ruling the roost and the challenge is anybody’s guess. With excellent choreographies in the mould of dance drama, he flagged off Kuchipudi. Though he took to directing dance in movies, it was to sustain himself financially while his heart was on promoting classical Kuchipudi in an alien land. He would never compromise on quality. It was like a yoga for him. As a teacher, many dub him as an angry man, but that was the discipline he inculcated in usToday, if I have dedicated my life to dance, I must look back at the hand that chiselled me into a dedicated dancer. He lives in our movements, our memory for ever.”

Na bhootho na bhavishyati,” (there cannot be such a one in the past or future) grieves Deepika Reddy, another disciple and performing artiste of calibre. “It is a blessing that I happened to learn under him. He is synonymous with Kuchipudi. I rushed to Chennai at the news of his demise and danced along with hundreds of students in front of his mortal remains, in the blind belief that he’s watching us. He had a personal touch with his disciples. He was close to my family and came home to bless me when I had my twins. He used to get into a rickshaw with me to choose a costume that would suit me for a performance. He had an eye for detail; he would know even if a nose-ring was out of place. . He was an epitome of discipline. Abhinaya was taught on a one-on-one basis and I can’t forget the way in which he made me discern minute differences in expression. Sadhana is the key to success. Me and others who have trained under him will carry his legacy forward with devotion and dedication.”