Vempati Chinna Satyam left his native village in Andhra with just two rupees in hand

Kuchipudi exponent Vempati Chinna Satyam, who played a crucial role in taking the art form from a tiny village in Andhra Pradesh to the international stage, passed away at his Greenways Road residence here on Sunday. He was 82.

The legendary dance guru had a special Chennai connection. Credited with having systematised the dance form, drawing high recognition and international acclaim to it.

Vempati Chinna Satyam made Chennai his home when he was barely 18, and set up the Kuchipudi Art Academy in the city in 1963. The move from Kuchipudi — his native village in Andhra Pradesh — to Chennai marked the beginning of his remarkable journey in the field of dance. Vempati Ravishankar, his son, said: “My father has told us that he took two rupees from his older sister and walked all the way from our village to the Gudur railway station in Nellore district bordering Tamil Nadu.” His conviction to pursue the art form in Chennai, considered the Mecca of traditional dance, brought him all the way here.

Fatigued after walking nearly 400 km, he was sleeping at the station when a Train Ticket Examiner woke him up, invited him home for a meal and gave him some money. “My father used that money to travel to Chennai,” Mr. Ravishankar said.

In addition to performance and choreography, much of his time was devoted to training Kuchipudi aspirants.

Several leading artistes of today were once trained by him, including actors Manju Bhargavi and Hema Malini.

Actor Manju Bhargavi’s association with him goes back to the day she was born. “My parents were very close to him and he came and saw me at the hospital. I started learning from him when I was seven, and every class was memorable,” she said. Recalling that her guru was a rather simple man, she said: “But, he was a task master when it came to teaching dance. He was particular about the rigour in training. If Kuchipudi is so popular today, it is solely because of his efforts.”

Uma Muralikrishna, Kuchipudi artiste and disciple of Vempati Chinna Satyam, said that in her opinion, Kuchipudi was synonymous with her guru. “His choreography was captivating and as a teacher, he was most sincere. He redefined that art form considerably – what was seen as a rustic art form was later being perceived as a classical form, thanks to his efforts.”

Vempati Chinna Satyam received several honours and titles, including a Padma Bhushan as well as Kalaimamani from the government of Tamil Nadu.

Actively engaged in production and choreography until a few years ago, Vempati Chinna Satyam was diagnosed with pneumonia in February this year. Though he recovered, he developed other medical complications leading to multiple organ failure recently.

He is survived by wife Swarajyalakshmi, two sons and three daughters.

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