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Sunday, February 06, 2011

Kuchipudi: Indian Classical Dance form of Andhra Pradesh

My Title

-by Padmini Kantety, Director of Center for Kuchipudi Art, Huntsville, Alabama


Kuchipudi's cousins:

During 16th to 19th centuries, Thanjavur region was under the Telugu Nayaka kings and later under the Maratha rulers. After the fall of Vijayanagara Empire in mid 17th Century, some Kuchipudi performing families migrated to Tanjavur region where they continued their original tradition and retained majority of the aspects. Their dance is recognized today as Tanjavur Bhagavatars or Melattur Bhagavatars. However, cultural interaction between Telugu scholars and the Tamil exponents of Tanjavur region during 17th to 19th centuries resulted in the growth of Karnatic music and Sadir Natyam which is now called Bharatnatyam with most songs written in Telugu.


Kuchipudi's Repertoire:

Purvaranga: Carrying of Kuttilaka & Indra-dhvaja, offering of prayers by Sutradhara as part of stage rights performed to ward off evil.
Purvaranga: Carrying of Kuttilaka & Indra-dhvaja, offering of prayers by Sutradhara as part of stage rights performed to ward off evil.

Kuchipudi dance begins with worship rituals as laid down in the Natya Shastra. As a part of purvaranga, one of the dancers move about sprinkling holy water, offering of incense, colorful flowers, and blessings are sought from the Ranga Adidevata. Indra-dhvaja (the flagstaff of the god Indra) is planted on the stage to guard the performance against outside interference or a dancer might run it across the stage to drive evil forces away. Women sing and dance with worship lamps, followed by the worship of Ganesha, the elephant god or the god of obstacles, who is traditionally petitioned for success before all enterprises. The bhagavatha (stage manager-singer) sings invocations to the goddesses Saraswati (Arts and Education), Lakshmi (Wealth), and Parashakti(Parent Energy), in between chanting of drum syllables.

Invocatory dance depicting Lord Ganesha,
Invocatory dance depicting Lord Ganesha, "Tandava Nritya kari"

Then each principal character introduces himself/herself on the stage with a daru. A daru is a small composition of dance and song specially designed for each character to help the artist reveal his or her identity and also to show the performer's skill in the art. There are nearly 80 darus or dance sequences in a traditional Kuchipudi dance drama. Another convention is the dance of Ganapati, where a dancer wears a mask and dances to the song, Tandava Nritya kari Gajanana, or Vinayaka Kautham. Purvaranga may be performed either elaborately or in a simple fashion depending on the theme of the play that is followed. For example; a love theme having delicate set may have a simpler version as opposed to a vigorous set. These conventions generally reflect the scheme of Bharata towards the realization of rasa.

The repertoire of Kuchipudi is unique for Kalapas and Yakshaganas. The Kalapas have a few characters with theme revolving around a single incident or a character. Yakshaganas are dance forms evolved from more ancient tradition. This form of dance involves more characters, and gives a more dramatic essence to the dance. Unlike Bhamakalapam, which is centered on a female character - Satya Bhama, the colorful second consort of Lord Krishna, Yakshaganas involve more than one character to bring out the story of the dance. Bhakta Phrahalda, Usha Parinayam, Sasirekha Parinayam, and Rama Natakam are some of the popular Yakshaganas that are still in practice. Gollakalapam is a creation based on social theme, a discussion between an orthodox Brahmin and a clever Milkmaid – Gollabhama. Another unique feature of Kuchipudi is the Tarangam, in which the performer dances on the edges of a brass plate, executing complicated rhythmic patterns with dexterity, while sometimes also balancing a pot of water on the head.



Vedantam Satyanarayana Sarma
Vedantam Satyanarayana Sarma

Bhamakalapam is the most popular dance-drama in the Kuchipudi repertoire and is ascribed to Siddendra Yogi. The story revolves around the main character, Satyabhama, consort of Lord Krishna, and her confidante, Madhavi.

Satyabhama enters the stage with her back to the audience and her braid hanging from a beautiful curtain held by two people. The conversation in Telugu is intended to spread humor and evokes hasya, laughter.

Vedantam Satyanarayana Sarma as Satyabhama
Vedantam Satyanarayana Sarma as Satyabhama

The legendary impersonation of Satyabhama’s character by Vedantam Satyanarayana Sarma has received universal acclamation. His transformation into this character and abhinaya of subtleties are unmatched thus far. Though the traditional version is a week-long performance, in recent times, it is presented in a shorter version and in its solo style.

Recently, Kuchipudi dance has taken a different shape in the world of art. Ekapatra Kelika – a solo dance system emerged to accommodate female artists, irrespective of religion, caste and creed. It is a full-fledged technique with rich traditional and historical background and strict application of pure theory based on Natya Shastra, and Nandikeswara's Abhinaya Darpanam, made this form beautiful and artistic. Tarangam, one of the attractive solo items of Kuchipudi was added to the repertoire during this transformation. It was incorporated as a “plate dance” for Oothukadu Venkata Subbiah’s lyrical composition, Marakatha Manimaya in Arabhi ragam. Sri Vedantam Lakshmi Narayana Sastry – an exponent from a Kuchipudi traditional family was responsible for these great innovations.

During the 20th century, which saw India’s struggle for Independence and the consequent formation of Independent India and its linguistic states, like other classical dance forms, Kuchipudi underwent many changes.

Yamini Krishnamurthi enacting Krishna Sabdam, a solo-item full of subtle expressions.
Yamini Krishnamurthi enacting Krishna Sabdam, a solo-item full of subtle expressions.

Some of the significant among them are: 

- Introducing women into the dance form, - People other than the originally practicing families started learning the form, - Emergence of the present day (shortened) dance drama and a strong solo repertoire, among other improvements.

Kuchipudi stands apart in several aspects for reasons mentioned earlier even in its solo form; it maintains the aesthetics and fundamental elements of its dramatic nature. It is a moving spirit, traveling from ancient to modern times and working for the promotion of welfare of the society while preserving entertainment values.


Style and Technique:

The technique of Kuchipudi makes use of fast rhythmic footwork and sculpturesque body movements, stylized mime using hand gestures and subtle facial expression. It is combined with more realistic acting, including dialogues spoken by the dancers based on occasion.