Nataraja Ramakrishna was a pioneer, scholar and beloved guru.
Poignancy marked the function that Nataraja Ramakrishna and Vempatti Chinna Satyam participated last month, May 18 to be precise. The Kuchipudi veterans came face-to-face after a long time and the meeting turned out to be highly emotional. Frail and in wheel chair, both clasped hands and shed tears of joy. Ramakrishna’s words to Vempatti were, “We have done our best. Now it is for the youth to take over from us.”
Nataraja had insisted that they be felicitated on the same day and Vempatti went all the way from Chennai to Hyderabad, where the function was held at the Ravindra Bharati. They were honoured by the Andhra Pradesh Government and presented with a shawl and a purse of Rs. 50,000. Akkineni Nageswara Rao was the principal guest. That happened to be the last event that Nataraja Ramakrishna attended.
This is how Dr. Yamini Krishnamurthy paid tribute to the Kuchipudi master: NR was a pioneer, a veteran who wrote a number of books on the dance form. He called me Saraswati. He revived the “Devadasi Dance” of Andhra enriching it with more abhinayam. In 1981-82, when the dance festival was revived at the Chidambaram Nataraja temple, Dr. Kapila Vatsyayan and I performed along with NR’s troupe. In 2007, as chairman of Kuchipudi Academy he presented me with the “Sidhendra Yogi award. Sidhendra Yogi was the one who created Kuchipudi technique and the author of “Bhaama Kalapam,” dance-drama. NR dedicated his life to the revival of Andhra Natyam but did he get his due, I wonder.
Sudharani Raghupathi: He was inspiring, versatile and scholarly. He had his own way of expressions, unique and inspiring; he came up with authentic and dignified portrayals especially male in female roles. Subtlety was his hallmark.
V.P. Dhananjayan and Shantha Dhananjayan: He was a walking encyclopaedia – could clarify anything on natya. He did not get due recognition for his outstanding contribution.
M.V. Narasimhachari and Vasanthalakshmi: NR, a legend, was kind enough to attend all our programmes at the Ravindra Bharati. NR revived “Prerani” – meaning to inspire, infuse strength, used by the military to motivate the soldiers on the lines of Kalari. In Tamil, it is called “Perani” – dancing on the pot. Mangudi Durairaja Aiyer revived and popularised it in Tamil Nadu.
Venkat Vempatti, elder Son of Vempatti Chinna Sathyam, Director, Kuchipudi Art Academy: In the 1960s, Kuchipudi gurus had no English knowledge and were struggling to get classical status for the art form. NR was the spokesperson, holding a doctorate in dance. He was a multi-lingual scholar with sound technical knowledge. He fought and got the classical status for Kuchipudi. Both NR and my guru worked together in all Central and State cultural committees.
Dr. Padma Subramaniam: NR has done immense research in Natya Sastra. Pious and dignified, he was an excellent guru, good in both theory and practical, especially outstanding in abhinaya.