Indian Classical

Sobha Naidu, Kuchipudi’s brightest star- The New Indian Express

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Express News Service

HYDERABAD: Renowned Kuchipudi dance exponent, Sobha Naidu, died early Wednesday at a private hospital in Hyderabad where she was undergoing treatment for the past few days. She was born in 1956 at Anakapalli in Andhra Prgdesh and had received her training in Kuchipudi dance from her guru, Vempati Chinna Satyam. 

Naidu was awarded the civilian honour of Padma Shri in 2001. In 1991, she was awarded the Sangeet Natak Akademi award and before that she was awarded the title of ‘Nritya Choodamani’ by the Sri Krishna Gana Sabha of Madras. She also served as the Principal of the 40 year old Kuchipudi Art Academy, Hyderabad and trained more than 1,500 students from India and abroad.

When Sobha passed away, the world of Indian classical dance lost one of its brightest stars. She was a brilliant dancer, highly creative choreographer and fine teacher. Sobha was among the greatest performers of her generation and one of the best exponents of the Kuchipudi art form.

Sobha was also a dedicated teacher and strove to spread the chaste values of classical dance among her students. The eminent artiste was also one of the best-known disciples of her Guru and had completely imbibed his outstanding style and teachings. Sobha’s entire learning, almost so, was under Vempati’s tutelage and she was considered among the best representatives of his art heritage.

This was significant because the dance-giant Vempati had not only groomed many famous disciples like Shantala Shivalingappa and Manju Bharggavi but had also briefly taught some of India’s biggest names in the field of art, like film superstars, doyens of other dance-forms and even later-to-become chief ministers. Among those who came to Vempati to learn the finer nuances of dance were dancer-filmstars Vyjayanthimala, Hema Malini, and Rekha, Odissi doyen Sonal Mansingh, and later-to-be politicians Jayalalitha and NT Rama Rao and Prathibha Prahlad, among others.

My first memories of seeing Sobha dance are when she was a young, 20-something artiste and part of her guru Vempati’s outstandingly choreographed  presentations of  Srinivasa Kalyanam and Sri Krishna Parijatham, among others. Her performances as the haughty and petulant Sathyabhama, the graceful Padmavathi, and others won her wide appreciation.  Thanks to my parents’ own training in and love of the classical arts, I witnessed many great dances and music performances including her impressive work. Whenever I went backstage to meet her and her guru, she, despite all the exhaustion from the programme, would greet and thank everyone who congratulated her with modesty and graciousness. This is a trait that not every diva will show. And she would invariably say to me and my parents that her skill “was all her guru’s greatness and that she was just an obedient student”.

Years later, when I met her to interview her (the first of several), Sobha said: “Classical dance is my life, my very breath. I can’t think of being anything but a dancer or doing any other tasks (apart from family responsibilities) besides dancing, teaching or choreographing and that too, Kuchipudi alone.”

She added: “My guru Vempati Chinna Satyam had a great influence on me. It was the good fortune of previous births that made me his student of several decades. He was an uncompromising teacher and put us through a gruelling schedule and today, we students are reaping the benefits by receiving praise for our performances. At my own dance school, I consider teaching a sacred duty and try to teach the same values of Kuchipudi to my students.”

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