Kalasri Dr. P Rama Devi, who was born and brought up in the Telugu land, learnt the Telugu dance Kuchipudi, has been teaching and performing the art form and was recently honoured with two awards – the Bhagavathula Ramakotayya Memorial Award at Shilparamam Madhapur on Saturday last and the Noble Teacher Award on Teacher’s Day, the birth anniversary of Dr. S Radhakrishnan. Speaking to Natyahasini, after receiving the awards, Dr. Rama Devi says that receiving an award is always thrilling and gives a great feeling, but it also reminds of the tremendous responsibility bestowed on the receiver. “People have an expectation from you to keep up the tradition. I feel it is a great honour that someone has recognised my contribution towards the art and their honouring with an award means a lot. And each award is special,” she says.
Dr. Rama Devi says that when she received the Bhagavathula Ramakotayya memorial award, she had tears in her eyes as the award was given by her Guru Bhagavathula Sethuram garu, The Kuchipudi exponent states that she has been learning dance since the age of four and even today, she is learning and she is an avid student. She reveals that the Kalasri award bestowed by the Kerala Sangeeta Nataka Academy holds a pride of place in her heart. “Being a Malayali and learning the Telugu art form, Kuchipudi, because of being born in this land and the Kerala state coming forward to honour me for popularising this art form is really special for me,” she confesses. The dancer also admits that the Keerthi Puraskar bestowed by PS Telugu University, in 2018, where she studied her Masters and pursued Ph. D. is also special.
Learning Golla Kalapam: On learning Golla Kalapam and promoting it, Dr. Rama Devi says that since her college days in Bapatla, she was very inquisitive in the X & Y chromosomes. And that interpretation of Pindothpathi (conception) and Yagnapattu drew her to Golla Kalapam. When she joined the Sri Bhakta Ramdas College of Music and Dance she heard about Golla Kalapam, but did not pay much attention to it. It was only after she joined Masters in PS Telugu University, when Prof. Lakshmi Narasimha garu spoke about it and said that it was not being performed now. When she questioned how she could learn, she was asked to approach Bhagavathula Sethuram garu, who was the direct descendant and right teacher. Today, she says, she is humble and blessed when presenting Golla Kalapam along with her Guru Bhagavathula Sethuram garu. “Since 2004, I am performing this great philosophical Kalapam along with my guru Bhagavathula Sethuram garu allover India and America, thus propagating the legacy of the great guru Bhagavathula Ramakotayya garu with utmost devotion towards this great guru and scholar. After 16 years, my guru himself recognised my passion and devotion in propagating Golla Kalapam – which is his and his father’s legacy and felt like honouring me with an award constituted on his father ‘Bhagavathula Ramakotayya Memorial Award’ is an honour,” she admits.
To popularise the Kalapams, Dr. Rama Devi held a two-day dance festival of Kalapams under the banner of her dance academy Sri Sai Nataraja Academy of Kuchipudi Dance in the early 2000s. “In the morning many stalwarts like Vedantam Satyanarayana Garu, Nataraja Ramakrishna Garu, and others spoke about the kalapams and in the evening, I performed Golla Kalapam and Bhama Kalpam,” she says with a smile. On her learning from Sethuram Sir, she says that it was like Bhagavathalu Ramakotaiah garu teaching her through him. “I have the same feeling whenever I perform the Kalapas that I have the blessings of the great man,” she says. She also performs the Dadinamma Kalapam, which she has learnt from Pasumarthi Seshubabu garu. For the benefit of Kuchipudi dancers, the dance teacher has penned ‘Kuchipudi Kalapas – An Odyssey Rediscovered’.
Authored Six Books: She also shares that she has in total written six books. She has written ‘Kuchipudi Natyam’ (Telugu) for Diploma and Certificate syllabus, in 2006, after the success of Kuchipudi Dance in textual form, in 2000. This was followed by ‘Histrionic Expressions in Kuchipudi Dance, in 2011, and also published her Ph. D. paper, ‘Comparative Study of Chathurvidha Abhinayas between Kathakali & Kuchipudi Yakshagana’, in 2013, and she also brought out a CD “Natya Sastra in a Nutshell, in 2013. She shares that currently she is working on a book, “The Great art of Telugu land”, which highlights that Kuchipudi is a mirror image of Natya Sastra.
On how tough is checking answer papers of dancers, Dr. Rama Devi says: “When you have a thorough knowledge about the theoretical aspects of dance, it will be very easy for you to evaluate. But if you ask me to correct Physics paper, yes it will be difficult for me,” she says. The Kuchipudi exponent has four branches of her Academy – Hyderabad, Nagpur, Kerala and the US. She visits all the places from time-to-time and has a one-on-one session with the students and also conducts workshops and encourages the young learners.
Passion Important: On pursuing so many things, Dr. Rama Devi quotes the old adage that where there is a will there is a way. “Another blessing in my life is I have a god given daughter, Renuka, who takes care of cooking and other things in the house and I just have to supervise. So, for me there is no other world and I have only my family and my dance,” she says. The Natyachaarya emphasises that the young dance learners must understand the value of classical dance. “I understand that a 10 or 12 year-old does not know much. Even when I was learning, there were times when I did not want to go to class. But my mother was strict and never gave in to my lame excuses, even my dance teacher was strict and when he heard I cried for coming to class, he would ask me to repeat the steps or recall what he taught in a few earlier classes,” she says.
Dr. Rama Devi acknowledges that as she was growing up, she really understood the importance of Kuchipudi and started learning sincerely and from childhood, Abhinaya was her priority. She says that her sincere advice to parents and children is to understand the greatness of this classical dance, as it is not cinematic dance or Western dance. “Classical dance preaches the four Purusharthas – Dharma, Artha, Kama and Moksha and walk on the righteous path. Classical dance helps them to grow into beautiful human beings. Dedication, devotion and discipline – the three Ds are very important to a dancer,” she says.
Senior-most dance performer, academician and choreographer calls upon the young dancers coming up with choreography to thoroughly pay attention to Natya Shastra and Abhinaya for beautiful presentation of the composition