Dances of India - 2019

A Tribute to My Guru: Sumathy Kaushal

By Dr. Maha Gingrich

I want to dedicate this article to my first dance Guru Smt. Sumathy Kaushal. As she only had sons, she always told me that she considered me as her daughter. All the disciples lovingly called her “Sumathy Aunty". The most amazing thing is that she passed away on the “Guru Purnima Day". This festival is traditionally observed to pay respects to the guru to express gratitude. The festival is celebrated on the full moon day and the celebration is marked by spiritual activities in honor of the Guru called Guru Puja. The word Guru is derived from two words, GU and RU. The Sanskrit root GU means darkness or ignorance, and RU denotes the remover of that darkness or ignorance. Therefore, a Guru is one who removes the darkness of our ignorance and enlightens us. On Guru Purnima day, disciples pay respect to their Guru. It was as though she had planned this day to depart and forever allowing all her disciples to remember this special day. She dedicated all her life to present especially Kuchipudi dance form from Andhra Pradesh, South India in its purity.

I would like to share a little bit of history about her life's journey. Sumathy Aunty's parents Vaddadi Krishna Rao and Vaddadi Sowbhagyam started sending her to dance classes at the age of five. Due to their encouragement and support, she was able to pursue her passion to learn three different classical dance forms, namely, Kuchipudi, Bharatha Natyam, and Odissi. She has learned these dance styles in the oldest tradition of the Gurukul system, by staying with the Gurus. She has learned Kuchipudi under the guidance of legendary Gurus like Guru Late Sri Vedantham Lakshminaryana Sastry, Guru Sri Vedantham Jagannadha Sharma, Guru Sri Chinta Krishna Murthy, Guru Sri Vedantham Satyanarayan Sharma, and Guru C.R. Acharyulu (who was also my Guru). During an interview, she said, “While Sharma taught me the perfect Satyabhama moods, gestures and style, Chinta Krishnamurthy taught me the nuances of many dharuvus. Though I was from a big city, I learnt to live in Kuchipudi village. It was difficult in the beginning but gradually I got adjusted and the whole village treated me as their own daughter."

This rigorous training did not deter her from learning Bharatha Natyam dance style from Gurus like Guru Smt.K.J. Sarasa, and Guru Sri Kalyanam Pillai. Then she wanted to learn Odissi dance style. She approached Guru Sri Pankaj Charan Das, who of course was delighted to teach her this beautiful dance form, knowing she will preserve the tradition.

All through her life, she continued to perform and give demonstrations all over the world. Starting from the mid 1940s, she has performed at prestigious national and international occasions and venues. Her unique compositions and choreographies of Kuchipudi dances have been critically acclaimed for their purity and tradition. Her specialty was the dance of “ Sathya Bhama" (wife of Lord Krishna), called Bhama Kalapam. I remember watching her do this dance on the stage. Looking gorgeous, she looked like a princess. Her facial expressions were flawless and so real that she lived this character.

In an interview few years back, she stated, “It's overwhelming to see people of Hyderabad telling me they still remember my portrayal of Satyabhama on stage. It fills me with joy to see young girls pursuing Kuchipudi here with passion." For her amazing portrayal of this character, she was presented with the 'Sathyabhama Jada award' given to her by none other than Guru Vedantam Satyanarayana Sarma himself.

When my daughter Pavani did her arangetram (dance graduation), I invited Sumathy aunty as the keynote speaker. It was an honor to stand on the stage with her as I saw three generations of dancers at one time. Aunty also came and stayed with me for a week. I truly had the pleasure of doing the guru seva or serving my guru. She shared her personal stories of success and challenges with me.

Three years ago, I went to the 50-year celebration of her dance academy “Nritya Sikhara" where she presented the dance drama “Devi Vaibhavam". I emceed part of the show and had the privilege of watching her choreography again. Last year, all our hearts were broken as we heard the sad news of her son and my dear childhood friend Adarsh's sudden death due to cardiac arrest. All through auntie's life, she handled everything with dignity and self-respect. She carried this storm of sadness and sorrow in her heart with utmost silence and external calm. Now, within a year, this led to her passing away.

I wanted to share this story with my readers as what I am today has been partly influenced by this dignified and elegant person, we call “Sumathy Aunty". As these generations of great gurus pass away, I hope the knowledge they have shared continues to be instilled in our next generation of students. This way their legacy continues.


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