Vempati Chinna Satyam (1929-2012) — A Tribute by His Student

By Jaya Mani       e-mail:

Note:  Jaya Mani has taken nearly 100 students through their Bharatanatyam arangetram over the last three three decades. Her classes are held at the S.V.Temple.

The Guru Vempati Chinna Satyam

For some time I was aware that Guru Vempatti Chinna Satyam, 83, was suffering from an age-related illness, but unable to reconcile with the thought that he is no more. A legend in his own life time, Guru Vempatti Chinna Satyam, through his relentless efforts, popularized and revitalized a dance form now known as Kuchipudi that was earlier known as Bhagavata Mela, confined within the boundaries of an obscure area in the Divi Taluk of Krishna district in Andhra Pradesh, India. He also broke away from the tradition.

The dance form was the exclusive preserve of a few Brahmin families, with only men allowed to dance, even taking up women’s role in the story. Guru Vempatti taught women the dance form, and today, women Kuchipudi dancers overwhelmingly outnumber men. Guru Chinna Satyam, while maintaining the purity of this dance form, also infused it with other classical elements, closely following the structure and grammar in ancient texts.

L to R: Guru Chinna Satyam, Kanaka Durga and Jaya Mani after the recital at S V Temple (1984).

I am honored that I am one of the lucky few to be a member of the “first generation disciples” of the magical dance maestro. My dream came true when I gave a solo Kuchipudi dance program at S.V.Temple in Pittsburgh in the 1984.  This was special because the Guru himself provided nattuvangam with Shrimati Kanaka Durga offering the musical score. A man of deep thoughts and few words, Vempatti Chinna Satyam had an imposing personality, revered and respected by anyone who came into contact with him.

Who was this legendary maestro? The Guru was born in a Brahmin family in Kuchipudi village on October 15, 1929. Following family tradition, at the age of six, Chinna Satyam began his dance training under Vedantam Lakshmi Narayana Sastry, later honing his skills under Sri Tadepally Perrayya Sastry. Still very few artists either performed or were aware of this impeccable dance style outside of Krishna District in Andhra Pradesh. With the knowledge he gained from his training under the guidance of several dance teachers and an irresistible passion to showcase this dance style outside of Kuchipudi, he arrived in Chennai, and in 1963, through dedication and hard work, he established the Kuchipudi Art Academy in Chennai. He was awarded the title Padma Bhushan by the Government of India in 1997.

The S.V.Temple organized several of his dance-drama tours in the 1980s and 1990s. Guru Vempatti leaves behind a large number of his students all over the world, who carry the dance form he established.

A few of Guru Vempatti’s students in the US organized a dance homage called Guru Smaranam to the legend on October 6, 2012 at the SVTemple auditorium. This program, sponsored by The Srinivasa Prasad International Foundation for the Performing Arts, started with a brief slide show on the life and achievements of Guru Vempatti.

His junior disciples — Radha Kotamraju Lee, Sangita Rangala, Indira Sarma, Vanita Sundararaman, Sudha Natrajan, Bindu Madhavi Gutti, and Mangala Maddali (L to R in the picture below) — living in different cities in the US participated in the event, paying their homage to the maestro by dancing to the songs choreographed and taught by him.

Starting with the prayer, the dancers brought out the graceful movements unique to Kuchipudi dance style and performed Purvarangam. Followed by a few solo items, the program concluded with a Tillana performed by all the disciples.

Guru Vempatti passedaway on July 30, 2012. The memories and legends of this genius will stay in the hearts and minds of art lovers around the world. His students — many seasoned choreographers having their own dance schools — will keep the art form alive for all time to come.   

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