Raja Reddy, Radha Reddy and Kaushalya Reddy. They need no introduction and trying to attempt one would prove futile! The torchbearers of our State dance, Kuchipudi, they are known the world over for their spell-bounding and captivating dances. Now, their daughters, Yamini Reddy and Bhavna Reddy, ably carry their legacy forward.
Nearly two decades back the legendary Kuchipudi dance couple Raja and Radha Reddy created history by becoming the first couple to receive the Padmashree and Padmabhushan awards individually and simultaneously for bringing Kuchipudi onto the cultural map of the world. In their efforts to propagate this art form, Kaushalya Reddy and their two daughters have joined them.
Today they stand out as the only family in India, which is completely dedicated to dance. The renowned exponents of Kuchipudi dance Padma Bhushans Raja and Radha Reddy gave a Kuchipudi Dance recital recently in the city. It was a grandeur production "Natya Vaibhvam" featuring the entire family i.e. Kuchipudi Natya - Padma Bhushans Raja and Radha Reddy, Kaushalya and their daughters and disciple Yamini Reddy, Bhavana Reddy together on stage at Taramati Baradari on 12th December. The five-member family (group) has toured the United States, UAE and South East Asia with this production earlier.
About Raja & Radha Reddy --The Devoted Dancing Duo:
The world-renowned dancing couple, Raja and Radha Reddy, has given a new dimension to the age-old art of Kuchipudi dance without sacrificing the traditional poetry or dramatic sensibility. With rare excellence and perfection of technique, they stand tall on the highest stage of Kuchipudi today, among the major dance forms of India. They hail from the state of Andhra Pradesh, the birthplace of Kuchipudi style of Indian classical dance.
Through their togetherness and perfect unison, Raja and Radha Reddy portray the masculine vigour and lyrical charm of the classical pairs of Hindu mythology--such as Shiva-Parvati, Rama-Sita and Krishna-Radha--thus identifying themselves with the twin concept of Purusha and Prakriti, the male-female principle in Indian philosophy. In precise postures and refined patterns the duo re-enlivens the magnificent sculptures chiseled in the ancient temples of India.
Raja-Radha Reddy have formulated a syllabus for the Kuchipudi repertoire systematizing the basic movements and mudras. They have choreographed each item to make Kuchipudi classical dance form acceptable to modern cosmopolitan audiences.
Raja-Radha Reddy have taken upon themselves to propagate music and dance among the growing younger generation. What started as a passion for Raja and Radha has now changed into a tradition with both maestros working, indefatigably, towards initiating fresh talent into the cultural paradigm and perpetuate this art form.
Kaushalya Reddy, Grace Incarnate
Gifted with a svelte figure, a pretty and sensitive face, flawless footwork and scintillating grace, Kaushalya has in abundance all that it takes to be a first rate danseuse. Today she is considered as one of the most talented and established artists of the world-famous dance form of Kuchipudi.
Molded in the strict discipline and austere commitment of the Sidhendra Kalakshetra of Kuchipudi village in Andhra Pradesh and trained under the renowned dancers, Vedantam Rattiah Sarma and Raja-Radha Reddy’s stringent and meticulous supervision Kaushalya is a superb example of the union of a strong tradition with willingness—to experiment through her intellect and aesthetics.
Dancing since her childhood, she has been receiving rave reviews for her performances. Her portrayal of young ‘Prahlada’ in a dance drama staged by Raja-Radha Reddy is still considered as brilliant by many an art critic or a connoisseur of this dance form. As a delegate of the Government of India, Kaushalya has performed across all the continents of the world.
She has been the key person conducting the affairs of Raja-Radha Reddy’s performances all over the world for more than two decades. She also teaches Kuchipudi dance to the younger generation of students at Natya Tarangini, day in and day out and is the real arbiter of the Reddys’ glorious annual series of music & dance festival, the ‘Parampara’.
Yamini Reddy - "Yamini is made just for dance. She is a complete performer" -- Pandit Ravi Shankar
Born to the legendary Kuchipudi exponent duo, Raja-Radha Reddy in 1982, Yamini has certainly got dance in inheritance from her parents. Dance comes naturally to Yamini Reddy. She takes to dance like a fish to water. She has a multifaceted personality. Endowed with a sculpted figure, a perfect face and scintillating grace, a very captivating presence with the right aptitude for rhythm and expressions.
Yamini learned Kuchipudi from her parents, Raja-Radha Reddy, and gave her first solo performance at the tender age of three, when she cajoled her parents in allowing her to give a performance at Kamani auditorium in New Delhi. She performed a Tarangam item there. The applause she got from the audience forced her parents to let her perform a full length Tarangam that got her a standing ovation. Her portrayal of Narasimha, the Lion God, in Prahlada Charitam got her rave reviews, subsequently soon.
Famous parents can prove to be a tough yardstick for their kids, especially those who aspire to make their own niche in the same field. Yet, Yamini refuses to be intimidated by the tough road in front of her.
The younger generation today believes in experimenting, she says. "And that is essential too, but continuity is also necessary." Yamini has decided to master the conventional style of performing Kuchipudi dance. She is the thread of continuity in the family tradition of the Reddys.
She says that she considers herself lucky to be born in India to Raja-Radha Reddy, the doyen duo of Kuchipudi classical dance and true children of the soil who have taken upon themselves to propagate the sacred art of Kuchipudi, a remote village in the southern Indian state of Andhra Pradesh.
Yamini has toured the United Kingdom. France, the United States and Dubai. In Dublin, the Mayor of Dublin presented her with the golden key to the city after watching her captivating Kuchipudi dance performance. Recently she was awarded the Yuva Ratna (Youth Vocational Excellence) award by the District Rotaract Organization.
Her talents are not only restricted to dance alone. She takes a keen interest in other arts as well. She has been learning the Carnatic style of Indian classical music and other arts.
She was selected for studies abroad in the field of medicine but gave up the offer to stay back and learn and practice what is most dear to her heart. She has recently concluded her post graduation with a MBA degree in New Delhi.
Bhavana was born to Raja and Kaushalya on 20th March, 1990. Bhavna, by birth, has the God’s gift to understand and analyze rhythm.
Despite her age, she is dedicated to learn Kuchipudi dance and music. Bhavana is also learning Carnatic style of India classical singing and how to play the violin. She has an inborn attitude towards dance and music together with a sense of instinctive response. Bhavana has very good stage presence, with good expression that come naturally to her. She is excellent in the rhythmic and the expressions part of Kuchipudi dance. Bhavana gives solo performances and takes part in dance-dramas. She enacted the role of Prahlada in "Prahlada Charitam" at USA, which got her wide acclaim.
Bhavana accompanies Raja Radha and Kaushalya Reddy on their performances worldwide. She has already toured Dubai (1997-1998), and the U.S.A. (1998), Europe (2001) , South East Asia (2000) and United States (2003).
Excerpts from the conversation with Raja Reddy, Radha Reddy and Kaushalya Reddy.
After achieving so much, worldwide and in India, what is your dream…..rather, what is left for you to achieve?
Raja Reddy: This art is like an ocean and whatever you learn is like a drop in it and from that drop we are giving joy and happiness to others. And that is the most important thing. We are not after materialistic things. We have learnt so much but still we feel that we have to learn so much. You should never been satisfied. We want to continue this tradition and teach as many students as possible.
Kaushalya Reddy: I have never felt that I have achieved. I feel like give more and more happiness to the others. What joy that we are getting out of this dance, we want to share it with the others.
What do you think should be done to further Kuchipudi dance?
Raja Reddy: The government is encouraging arts by organising festivals but it is not getting its due encouragement. The generation should know the ‘sanskruti’’ of our country. All over the world, our country is known for its arts and culture not for modeling and films. The government and all kinds of media should encourage our art. It should be introduced in schools and colleges.
Kaushalya Reddy: They should include art in the university curricula so that they learn it. It should be done here. People should realise its importance here and not when they go outside the country. The government should take the initiative of including it in the curricula at the school level itself. Music and dance are the finer nuances of life so it makes you a finer person also. So, these are the things that should be taught in the beginning itself. It cannot be taught when the child is grown. It is like education. The jazzy things do not teach you anything. Government should take the initiative and have a budget for it. It never features in the Assembly or Parliament. We are known for our art abroad but not here as much.
Are the audiences more receptive abroad?
Kaushalya Reddy: You find that here also provided you are a fine performer. If you are able to cater to it then you have the audiences’ appreciation.
Over the years, how has people’s view changed about dance?
Raja Reddy: The younger generation is now more keen to know more about our dance and culture. In my age, they wondered why I got into dance. The government should make it a point that one child from every family should be involved in any art form, be it music or dance. Otherwise, everybody will forget about our culture. Dance and music bring in tremendous amount of discipline in a person.
Radha Reddy: It should help such families and help take the dance form more forward.
Kaushalya Reddy: It is sad. Actually Kuchipudi used to be performed only by men and here you don’t find men any more. This is where the government should help. It should give some kind of security to the traditional family and help the ones who are truly involved. You give a chance to everybody. A lot of stability comes into a child if he or she is learning dance or music. Our students themselves say that the dance form helps maintain sanity in them.
What are your views on fusion dances, in Kuchipudi and other dance forms?
Raja Reddy: It is fine as long as the format is not changed and our dance form is not spoilt.
Kaushalya Reddy: It is fine as long as it is fusion and not confusion. But very few people have the knack of getting it right. You should have the knowledge of the dance, choreography and many things to get it right. A lot of so-called fusion happens where our dancers are stretching like the ballet dancers so our format is gone. Retain your dance form and see what you can include from the other dance form.
Been the first family of dance, how does it feel?
Raja Reddy: India is known as the nectar of the East, mainly because of the music and dance. We are very proud and blessed to be so and all because of God’s grace. We are truly indebted to the Lord. We have sacrificed and taken risks and everything is fine thanks to God’s blessings. Otherwise there would be gain. My grandfathers used to say that I would go far in dance and that I would end up begging but thankfully due to God’s blessings all is fine. We are very happy.
Kaushalya Reddy: We have tasted the nectar and it is there for life. We are very happy. This nectar has kept Rajaji and his two wives together and their daughters too. The older daughter has completed her MBA but still pursues dance and the younger one even though is into western music still pursues Kuchipudi. That is the contrast. We can’t even think of anything else except dance.
What do you do in your pastime?
Raja Reddy: I love birds and animals. Madhubala is also a favourite of mine. I like watching old movies like Mughal-e-Azam, Baiju Bawra
Radha Reddy: I love cooking and shopping.
Kaushalya Reddy: I like interior decoration and designing jewellery and little things. I love parties.
Any memorable moments from your innumerable performances?
Raja Reddy and Radha Reddy: This was in 1976 and we are dancing on the Mississippi river on a ship and the ship was moving and at the end of it we were dizzy. Another one is while we were performing at the Gangautsav. It was an excellent experience. It was raining heavily and the organizers wanted us to perform the next day. I (Raja Reddy) went on the stage and said “If I’m a true dancer and if I have done ‘sadhana’ truly and if I’m a gift from God then Lord Shiva will hold the rain and put it in his hair. And the rain actually stopped and the minute the dance recital stopped, it started raining. It was reported all over India and they called me Shiva.
Raja Reddy, Radha Reddy and Kaushalya Reddy: Another recent episode is when we went to San Francisco for a performance. There was a difference of opinion between the two presidents of the cultural associations and they were politicizing the issue. They did not invite us properly. So we refused and we said that we will not perform if you do not respect artistes. It was our prestige. They should respect art and artistes.
Raja Reddy: I’m telling you all this since there are some not so pleasant things also behind art and not just pleasant things.
Any message for the youngsters?
Raja Reddy: One member from a family should learn any kind of art form, be it music or dance. Our Andhra is known for its cultural history. Youngsters should know about our culture.
Kaushalya Reddy: People can even make a living of music and dance as long as they have faith in it.
In conversation with Yamini Reddy:
Everybody knows more about you as a dancer, could you please share a little about yourself as a normal person of your age.
As a normal person of my age I do the normal things depending on the amount of time I get and I’m fun-loving person so I like to have fun in whichever manner possible and I’m not much of person who needs to be noticed. I need my privacy and I like fun in a calm manner. I love trekking with my friends and spending time with my husband, friends and family and especially my sister. I like reading, writing and painting. My favourite author is Amitav Ghosh.
One favourite pastime that you indulge in?
I love watching movies, going out and partying and eating out. I love the Hyderabadi cuisine. My husband, sister and I go out a lot together. My favourite movies are ‘Fight Club’, ‘Out of Africa’, ‘Pakeezah’ and ‘Sahib, Biwi aur Ghulam’.
How is it for you when it comes forward to carrying forward a legacy?
The expectations are always there. It’s easy to be their daughter because you have a platform but very difficult to keep up to it. People will expect the same level of dancing from me too. With time, both my sister and I have learnt to cope with it. I would like to establish myself as a solo dancer, maybe of the same level as my parents. Long term, I would like to create more awareness for arts and help create more jobs.
How do you cope with the pressure?
We’ve learnt to take criticism in a good way and improve ourselves. We tend to be criticized because we are Raja Reddy’s daughters, but we take it in the right way.
How open are you to fusion dance?
Fusion is good and art is always evolving. What we used to perform earlier, we do not perform now and it will keep changing. People are doing strange things in the name of fusion. I just hope people appreciate the right kind. But it is always to experiment. We’ve done our share of experimenting. I’ve performed to George Harrison ‘My sweet lord’. Dance is a universal language and there is a lot of scope in it.
Any particular dream that you would like to achieve?
I would like dance to be very famous just like the movies. I know it is a far-fetched dream but it would be good to have the same kind of attention. Dance has so much to offer and the ability to touch the heart. Dance can move you emotionally. I see some great artistes perishing with no income. With popularity such people will be able to survive. Culture brings about a lot of stability in society.
Do you see to more openness now as compared to earlier when it comes to youngsters learning Kuchipudi?
We have so many more options now. There is definitely more openness. We’ve to build interest.
Any memorable moment?
We were performing in Brazil and the auditoriums were full. They were whistling and clapping and totally enjoying the show. It was a great response.
Any message for the youngsters?
It is good to learn the western forms of art but we have to remember our roots. We need to take care of our roots.