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‘One guru said I was too ugly to dance’

Kuchipudi doyen Raja Reddy looks back at the guru who had turned him away,and at his own modern-day students.

Written by Dipanita Nath |
November 11, 2013 12:14:54 am

The Natya Tarangini Institute of Kuchipudi Dance in Delhi creates the first impression of being a temple,one that grew organically around various stone sculptures of dancing figures,Ganeshas,and brass icons that dot the premises. Even the hammer blows by construction workers do not disturb the serenity indoors. Stretched across four floors and a basement,the institute is where Kuchipudi maestros Raja and Radha Reddy with Kaushalya Reddy train 120 disciples.

As he waits for civic clearances before officially inaugurating the institute next month,Raja Reddy talks about the challenges of

being a 21st century guru,complex dance postures and growing old. Excerpts:

Back to the Basics

In Kuchipudi village of Andhra Pradesh,a student first practises yoga,then the dance fundamentals and lastly,the items. In Delhi,students nowadays don’t have time,primarily because academics has taken centre stage. We stress on the traditional training style,which includes yoga. Apart from Kuchipudi and yoga,the centre also focuses on music and art. There are several rooms for students to practise as well as hostel facilities.

Tough Teacher

I remember the first Kuchipudi teacher I had gone to in Hyderabad. He told me,‘Look at your nose,your fingers,your complexion. Kuchipudi dancers are fair boys with small waists so that they can play female roles. Return to your village and do some farming.” Thankfully,another guru,Vedanta Prahlada Sarma,accepted me and Radha as students. He was very strict; I am very strict,too,as are Radha and Kaushalya. We follow the traditional style minutely. This means that a student must touch a guru’s feet and seek blessings as well as treat the ghunghroos with great respect.

New World

Today,we experiment with lighting and use gestures to depict Krishna’s heavy ornaments instead of wearing lots of jewellery ourselves with layers of make-up. Pieces such as Dasavatara (the 10 forms of Vishnu) was traditionally performed solo,but Radha and I began presenting it together. Ardhanareshwar,too,which depicts the coexistence of the male and female in one body,was performed by a single dancer,but I started doing Shiva’s role and Radha Parvati’s. The audience and critics appreciated this. What will never change is the purity of every body movement,mime and gesture. All dance forms originate from a single divine source,but have developed their regional characters that must be maintained. Dance is similar to a river; the old water flows into the ocean,and is replaced by the new but the river remains where it has always been.

Rare View

We used to give 30 or more performances across the world even a few years ago. At present,however,Radha and I have restricted this to half a dozen. Though we are performing practically everyday with our students,it is true that age is also catching up. A posture of Shiva,in which I raised my leg backward until it touched my head,now seems a little tough. Today,I watch my daughter and disciple Yamini (Reddy) perform this piece and I know that the legacy will live on.

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