My Beloved Guru Dr. Sobha Naidu

Sri Gurubhyo Namaha! 

Na guror adhikam tatvam na guror adhikam tapah|

Tatva gyanam puram nasti tasmayi sree guravenamaha||

There is no higher truth than Guru, neither there is any higher penance than to serve the Guru. The knowledge that he imparts is supreme, my heartfelt pranamams to such a Guru. One has to worship and dedicate themselves to their Guru who is as equal as God. On this Guru Poornima, I am honoured and privileged to share a few words about my Guru Padma Shri Dr. K Sobha Naidu.

My journey in Kuchipudi started at the age of six under the tutelage of Guru Sri Vedantam Prahlada Sarma, who is from the hereditary Kuchipudi family. I was under him for six years at Eluru and then later moved to Hyderabad. During the early 70’s, I happened to watch a young woman performing ‘Ksheera Sagara Sayana’ in DD8, Saptagiri. Throughout the performance I was glued to the television and couldn’t take my eyes off even for a second. It was none other than the young Sobha Naidu. I was mesmerised and awestruck by her expressions specially when she was enacting the Draupadi Vastraapaharana episode, where she promptly swaps between the characters Shakuni, Duryodhana, Draupadi and others. At that moment I just wished if I could meet her at least once in my life. To my surprise after few years, there was an announcement of the inauguration of Kuchipudi Art Academy by Padma Bhushan Vempati Chinna Satyam and Dr. K Sobha Naidu, I immediately got enrolled into her Academy and was fortunate enough to learn and nurture myself under her guidance. This began my journey with my dear guru and continued for more than 35 years. 

It is very difficult to just say a few words about her, as to my belief her life is like a magnum-opus, and in any page or chapter one can only find Kuchipudi and dance. She has dedicated her life to this Kuchipudi art form and stands as one of the iconic personalities and global representator of Kuchipudi. She has filled every page of her life with dance. As a student whenever I am stuck with anything pertaining to dance and choreography, I simply close my eyes and think of her, and will immediately get my answers. 

Her personality – Shobha Naidu Garu is highly principled and organised in both her personal and professional life. May be that is the reason that she always stayed young at heart. Her punctuality is something that one should really be inspired of. No matter what and how her works are lined up, she always reached the Academy five minutes before the scheduled time. Generally, it so happens that the students wait for the teacher but in my guru’s case it was always the other way round. This is something that I have imbibed very strictly watching her, in the initial stages of my career. I make sure that I reach any place five minutes early and preach the same to my students too. 

The Ultimate dancer – I am more than sure that Smt. Sobha Naidu is the only dancer who can portray any character with ease and finesse. You name a character and she has done it. She is equally brilliant in donning both male and female characters, be it the male characters like Rama, Krishna, Srinivasa, Arjuna or the female characters like Lakshmi, Sita, Satyabhama etc. Not just the mythological character she also credits great expertise in donning the social characters like Chandalika, Vivekananda and Sai Baba. Known as the most loved Satyabhama, one has to also see her perform Chandalika and Sai Baba. It is so said that in one of her performances at the US tour, during the last seen, when Sai Baba takes the samadi, there was a setting that she had to go underneath the stage, where she heard some strange sounds, she was worried to know what happened, to her astonishment by the time she finished her part and came on to the stage, most from the audience were in tears. A perfect example of rasa nishpatti. Hence, making her the ultimate dancer. 

A versatile artist – Smt. Sobha Naidu is known for her individuality, in producing dance dramas and other solo choreographies. She has around fifteen dance dramas and many solo choreographies to her credit. She takes greatest care of the literature, music and other technical aspects that are required in designing and choreographing these dance dramas. Her association with stalwarts like Sri Kocherlakoti Surya Prakash Rao, Balantrapu Rajinikantha Rao and others has given her the opportunity to acquire knowledge in all these aspects and made her into an independent dancer-choreographer-guru. Even though she is not trained in music, she can quickly identify and suggest which raga suits a situation or emotion. Similarly, her deep study in different aspects of the chosen plot of the story, gave her command over the sahitya and literature that she uses for her choreographies. One such example is the idea and effort that she has put into her dance drama ‘Jagadanandakaraka’, the Ramayana through Tyagaraja keertanas

Her keen interest in taking care of every minute detail in showing the character or the scene is one of her peculiar qualities. This developed an interest in her to associate with the Surabhi family and include magnificent and lovely background settings in all her dance dramas. When it comes to costuming, she takes utmost care not just for herself but also for each and every character. One such experience that I share with my guru is, when we were performing Chandalika dance drama, I was given Maaya character who is the mother of Chandalika, I wore big hangings to my ears and a waist belt. Just a few minutes before the performance, after she got ready, she came and observed all of us. She saw me and asked the makeup artist to change my ear rings to big studs and made sure I remove my waist belt. She also asked me to put a big round bottu. Quicky after these changes I was amazed to see myself way too older, (exactly as a mother to Chandalika) than what I was looking before. This shows her observation to each and every detail of a character. 

Down to Earth – To her stature and position, she has never been proud to her fellow artists, students, connoisseurs and others. She always addressed everyone with utmost love and affection. She took care of her students like a mother and always loved to travel along with her students whenever there is an out-station performance. Even though she had an opportunity to travel in much more comfortable means of transportation, she always chose the simplest modes in order to accompany her students and team. 

I had a great fortune to see her perform in her prime, at the same time as a thriving teacher in the classroom. I feel much privileged than this generation dancers to have got an opportunity to see one of the finest times of her performing career. I owe my dance career especially as a teacher completely to my Guru Dr. K Sobha Naidu. She was the one who noticed the teacher in me and encouraged to start teaching in her Academy (Srinivasa Kuchipudi Art Academy) which eventually gave me confidence and boost to establish my own academy in Hyderabad. As part of her vision and quest to spread the art and continue the legacy of gurushishya parampara, I was blessed to show her not just her prashishyas but my prashishyas too. This is my humble and tiny contribution in her vision. 

It is still unbelievable and brings lot of pain to imagine that she is physically not present with us, nevertheless, we as her students will always strive hard and continue to carry forward her legacy. On this guru Poornima, My Sashtanga Pranamams to my Guru Padma Shri Dr. K Sobha Naidu.    

~Prativadi Bhayankara Krishna Bharathi

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