SNA award for Kuchipudi
- Madhavi Puranam
e-mail: puranam.madhavi@gmail.com

October 15, 2019

(This article is an excerpt from the editorial of Nartanam, Volume: XIX, No. 2, Apr-June 2019)

The latest Sangeet Natak Akademi award for Kuchipudi is given to a Bharatanatyam dancer who studied at Kalakshetra, Chennai, and has been a member of the faculty in the Central University of Hyderabad for decades teaching Bharatanatyam in the Dance Department. Is the body of his work in Kuchipudi so staggering as to warrant this coveted award? However, he possesses the most vital ingredient which makes the recipe for obtaining the SNA Award for Kuchipudi, i.e being born into a Kuchipudi family, whereby the divine art of Kuchipudi flows in his body and thus such a mortal can lay claim to the SNA award for Kuchipudi. Moreover, a Kuchipudi clan member sits in the General Council after obtaining a Bismillah Khan Award for 'achievements' in Yakshagana.

One must salute the visionary statesmen of the Kuchipudi clan like Chinta Venkatramaiah, Chinta Krishnamurthy, Vedantam Lakshminarayana Sastry and Guru Vempati China Satyam amongst other great gurus from Kuchipudi. They were the true leaders of the form. One cannot but remember all the stalwart performers from Kuchipudi in the days gone by. There were Kuchipudi clan maestros who took Kuchipudi out from the tiny village hamlet which today wears a ghostly look with a not-so-thriving University and a few clan gurus struggling to produce students of calibre. Chinna Satyam went to Chennai and produced innumerable disciples who have done yeoman service to Kuchipudi and are spread far and wide across the globe continuing their sterling work.

Outsiders whose veins are devoid of the exalted Kuchipudi family blood are today the foremost performers and gurus. There are youngsters (so called outsiders to the clan) who are doing brilliantly. Then, why is it that those born into Kuchipudi families despite their not-so-great achievements line up often for awards in both the SNA and the Bismillah Khan categories?

This question is left to the wisdom of the Sangeet Natak Akademi to ponder. One cannot appeal to the conscience of the receiver of the award to reflect on whether he/she genuinely deserves the award. Such a reflection is possible only for a true artist.

Madhavi Puranam is the Chief Editor of Nartanam. A trained Kuchipudi dancer, she has postgraduate degrees in Business Administration, and Performing Arts. Her book, An Indian Analysis of Aesthetics: The Dance, the Dancer and the Spectator with a foreword by Kapila Vatsyayan, was published in 2015 by Abhinav Publications, New Delhi. She is currently working on a book on Arts Management in India.



Response
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Nartanam is a well-known quarterly journal that focusses on Indian dance. It is a prime print medium that showcases the multi-faceted and rich cultural traditions of our country. Therefore it is slightly perplexing as to how the editor has expressed a purely personal opinion on the subject of awards and rewards. An excerpt from this editorial has been reproduced in Narthaki.com, a widely read dance website with a global outreach. Normally, personal opinions are to be taken with a pinch of salt. One has the right to state it, no matter how illogical it might be in reality. However, this particular piece was targeted at the Kuchipudi Parampara.

“The latest Sangeet Natak Akademi award for Kuchipudi is given to a Bharatanatyam dancer who studied at Kalakshetra, Chennai, and has been a member of the faculty in the Central University of Hyderabad for decades teaching Bharatanatyam in the Dance Department. Is the body of his work in Kuchipudi so staggering as to warrant this coveted award?”

I wish the editor Madhavi Puranam had done a little more research here instead of being so myopic. Pasumarthi Ramalinga Sastry started his dance journey as a Kuchipudi artist under the watchful eyes of his elders like legendary Kuchipudi gurus Vedantam Parvateesam and P V G Krishna Sarma. His talent and prowess in dance caught the eye of the Bharatanatyam legend Rukmini Arundale, who then took him to Kalakshetra, and taught him Bharatanatyam as well. But at heart, Ramalinga Sastry was (and continues to be) a part of the Kuchipudi parampara with an inner zeal and karmic commitment towards contributing to his traditional family art form. It was at this juncture that the Kuchipudi legend Vempati Chinna Satyam (under whose banner incidentally, Ramalinga Sastry has also performed) influenced Ramalinga Sastry to continue with the Natya Sampradaayam, that of a Kuchipudi Bhagavatha in upholding the rich cultural heritage of the Kuchipudi art form in its entirety, as a dance drama tradition and not just as a solo dance form.

Pasumarthy Ramalinga Sastry’s body of work includes more than fifty solo items, Kuchipudi dance ballets like Narakaasura Vadha, Raamakatha Saaram, Navanaayaka Deepika and over twenty five Nritya Rupakas among others. All of these display his range and depth in the various nuances that make up Kuchipudi. He also took upon himself the mantle of reviving one of the most popular Yakshaganas of Kuchipudi, ‘Sasirekha Parinayam’, giving it a new lease of life in the clatter of the solos only era. Incidentally, some of the names of the outstanding Kuchipudi artists mentioned in the Nartanam editorial like Raghava and Venkata Naga Chalapathy were also taught the style by Pasumarthi Ramalinga Sastry. Also surprising is how the editor, who herself was a key member in organizing Yakshaganotsavalu in the Kuchipudi village in collaboration with SNA and the Govt. of AP, has conveniently forgotten that she had given two ballets to Prof. Pasumarthi Ramalinga Sastry as opposed to only one for the others. Surely, such a distinction would not have been awarded to him without acknowledging his expertise in the art form!

Pasumarthy Ramalinga Sastry is someone who started with Kuchipudi, became adept at it, also had an opportunity to train in Bharatanatyam and then took it upon himself to continue working relentlessly for both the art forms. Now when his handsome contribution to Kuchipudi is being recognized and justifiably so, it is suddenly an eye sore for some. Furthermore, the editorial continues steering for troubled waters citing the SNA awardee as ‘yet another’ from the traditional family. If only the editor had made more of an in-depth study, it would’ve been revealed that the award had indeed gone to the right person. When one wields a pen, there is a responsibility attached to it, which is to remain unaffected by the emotions of so-called contenders of the award.

Kuchipudi’s is a unique gurukula parampara tradition of our country, one that is fighting hard to keep the torch of traditional knowledge systems alive and burning. To slap an appellation like ‘clan’ is to throw a shroud around the efforts of these traditional families. The reward for work is higher work. Kuchipudi Natya parampara will march on relentlessly with continued fervor, despite the system. It WILL bear the mantle of following traditions and handing them down for the benefit of not only traditional families but also the entire dance fraternity. And THAT is the only award to aspire to.

- Dr. Tadepalli (Nov 24, 2019)
(Hailing from Kuchipudi village, he is a Kuchipudi Yakshagana artist and research scholar, recipient of the SNA’s Yuva Puraskar, and a member of the General Council, SNA.)







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