Chinta Sitaramanjaneyulu has been conferred the Sangeet Natak Academy award for Kuchipudi. The humble nonagenarian has bestowed great meaning to the art form

‘Full many a gem of the purest ray serene, the dark unfathomed caves of the ocean bear….’

Thomas Gray

In the twilight zone of his life, the nonagenarian is bestowed with a national recognition in the form of Sangeet Natak Academy award in the arena of Kuchipudi dance. Better late than never!

His name was hardly heard in the dance circles of Andhra Pradesh, at least not in the near past. Yes, his own natives of Kuchipudi, a village where dance is the vocation of male folk, are proud of him, talk high of their elder in the field and are full of esteem for his contribution to the repertoire of Kuchipudi.

When you finally come face-to-face with the veteran, Chinta Sitaramanjaneyulu, strikes you as a humble, conventional, elderly person; you cannot venture a guess that here is a great guru – performer who has stirred the ocean of the classical Kuchipudi genre, blended it to the times by shifting the stress to fine expressionism from the melodramatic, and yet preserved its original contours as a classical medium. “Untouched, not influenced by movies,” he says with a wink.

“I cannot take pride in claiming that I have innovated anything in Kuchipudi that was not there always in this dance form. Our forefathers and great gurus have preserved the exceptional qualities of this genre even as they handed it over to the generations ahead without an iota of distortion. If they added something to it or detached anything out of it, well it only enhanced and enriched the form. I owe this recognition to my guru; he was par excellence; it brings tears to my eyes when I think of him,” he pauses as his voice chokes.

“My guru was the inimitable Vedantam Paarvateesam. He was not only a dance exponent; he also full of humanity. He picked and chose five of us in our boyhood, called us over to his place; made it a gurukulam stay, would feed us day in and day out with surging affection and teach us dance. His greatness lay in the fact that he was a karma yogi as the Bhagavad Gita says. He expected no returns for what he offered; he just chiselled us into dancers with unending patience and love. He laid great stress on Satvikabhinaya while giving nritta its due and this is what I propagate to this day. Though my own uncle, Chinta Venkataramaiah was also training us at home, it was with my guru that I learnt and perfected the nuances of Kuchipudi. There cannot be another guru of his stature,” he says wiping away an unshed tear.

It would be a surprise for many of us to know that the veteran was the first to have gained popularity for his female roles (impersonation). “Oh yes,” he chuckles when you question him on that. “Actual Kuchipudi means Bhagavatha mela/Yakshaganam (dance drama) and Kalapam. Naturally, we were adept at both and not at the solo repertoire that came into vogue in later days in the lines of Bharatanatyam. I was the first to don the roles of Usha in Usha Parinayam dance drama, Leelavathi in Prahalada, Chitralekha in Gayopakhyanam, Mohini in Mohini-Rukmangadha, not to talk of Lava-Kusha, Krishna and other such male roles too. We toured the length and breadth of the State with our ‘Chinta vari melam’ (Bhagavatha mela of Chinta family). I was Satyabhama in Bhama Kalapam and the milkmaid in Golla Kalapam. It was when I saw Vedantam Satyanarayana as a teenager learning dance with grace that I decided to pass on the mantle of female roles to him and retire from donning them any longer. I moved out of Kuchipudi and set up my family and taught at Gudivada. Later, I was invited to teach at Bal Bhavan (now Jawahar Bal Bhavan) at Nagarjunasagar where I spent the best and most part of my life, dancing as well as imparting dance to youngsters including my son, Chinta Shiva Adinarayana,” he details.

Born into the illustrious Chinta family in the dance village of Kuchipudi, Seetaramanjaneyulu is a proud son of the soil with his artistic values and ethics in tact. He was responsible for handing over the Bal Bhavan at Nagarjunasagar to the Central government after steering it into a reputable centre for a long time. There is no retirement for an artiste, as Rukmini Devi Arundale always maintained. Even today, the grand old sire teaches students, is sharp enough to rectify their slips and continues a peaceful life living with his son in Hyderabad. “We were taught to improvise on stage with all our artistic creativity. This no longer holds good today. It is all choreography that has to be spoon-fed so that some amount of discipline and perfection appears on stage. I have choreographed Bhakta Kannappa, Bheeshma Pratigna, etc transferring my creative abilities to penning and choreographing new dance dramas.”

He doesn’t mention the innumerable local awards and accolades he got in his seven-decades-old dance career. “What are awards or fame? My guru was beyond these mundane aspects as a dancer. Even today, as I go to receive this prestigious national recognition of which I hardly know anything, I can say, the award actually goes to my guru Vedantam Paarvateesam without whom Seetaramanjaneyulu would not have existed,” he trails off, choked with the memory of his mentor-guru.