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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


Lyrics & Music:

Kuchipudi performance is traditionally accompanied by Carnatic music. A typical orchestra for any dance recital includes mridangam, flute and violin. A vocalist sings the lyrics, and the Nattuvanar conducts the orchestra and recites the rhythmic patterns.

Kuchipudi tradition evolved under the patronage of several dynasties from times immemorial and exists as a testimony to the flourishing economies. Many of today’s lyrical compositions include legendary works authored by great poets/vaggeyakaras of the region: Sri Jayadeva, Sri Annamacharya, Sri Narayana Tirdha, Sri Siddendra Yogi, Sri Kshetrayya, Sri Bhakta Ramadasa, Sri Thyagaraja, Sri Syama Sastry, Sri Munipalle Subrahmanya Kavi, Sri Muthuswami Dikshitar, many disciples and followers of their traditions contributed to the evolution of rich lyrical tradition over the past millennium. The lyrical compositions were initially in Sanskrit until Telugu compositions started emerging in the 15th Century AD. Later on Tamil language based compositions and other language based solo-items were also incorporated.



Traditional Kuchipudi costume has a long pleat in the center with a border, a back katcham (dhoti style) and a side small fan that makes this a typical Kuchipudi style costume. A katcham at the back makes the difference between Kuchipudi and Bharathanatyam costume. Cross-pleated costume is used for both Bharathanatyam and Kuchipudi. It is best suited for male artists, whereas cross-fan costume can also be used for devotional characters like Karthikeya & Krishna.



The first three persons described here are considered the Kuchipudi Murthi Triamu (Trio) who revitalized the art with their thorough knowledge of the Natya Sastra, gave performances that were widely acclaimed all over the country while exhibiting unwavering dedication in training traditional and non-traditional artistes during late 19th to mid 20th centuries. 


Sri Chinta Venkataramayya (1860-1949) –

Sri Chinta Venkataramayya
Sri Chinta Venkataramayya

First in the trio, also given the honorary name, Yakshagana Pitamaha; learned dance under his elder brother Chita Rattayya and Sri Yeleswarapu Narayanappa. He specialized in the natakas, Bhakta Prahlada, Usha Parinayam, Harischandra, Sasirekha Parinayam, and popularized them all over India. His disciples include many successful artists including, Vedantam Chalapathi, Adinarayana, Bharata Kala Prapurna Vedantam Raghavayya, Vempati Satyanarayana Sarma (Pedda Satyam), Pasumarthi Krishna Murthy, Vedantam Parvathisam, Bhagavathulu Ramakotayya, Pasumarthi Venugopala Sarma, Vemu Purnachandra Rao, and his son, Bharata Kala Prapurna Chinta Krishna Murthy. 


Sri Vempati Venkata Narayana (1871-1935) –

Sri Vempati Venkata Narayana
Sri Vempati Venkata Narayana

Second in the trio, first famous dancers in the Vempati family, trained under his father at a very early age and became proficient in Bhagavata performance at the age of 12. He was an exponent in roles such as Satyabhama, Dadinamma etc., and performed in royal courts to their acclaim. He is credited to have performed Bhamakalapam all over Andhra Pradesh and beyond for over 1000 times during his life time. Dadinamma is a rare dance drama that he was an exponent of; it is performed while half of the body is tied to a bed and the artist performs with upper body mostly involving several hours of Abhinaya sequences. 


 Sri Vedantam Lakshmi Narayana Sastry (1886-1956) –

Sri Vedantam Lakshmi Narayana Sastry
Sri Vedantam Lakshmi Narayana Sastry

Third in the trio, decorated with the name, Shatbharata Sastra Kalanidhi. He introduced many innovations that initiated transformation of Kuchipudi style to accommodate changing social structures. He made several radical modifications that laid the foundation for the evolution of Kuchipudi solo form that included women artists. He taught Gollakalapams to women artists and choreographed several Ashtapadis & Javalis, as well as Tarangam, Pushpabana Vilasam, etc. Many famous artistes trained under his direct tutelage including Smt Bala Saraswathi, Vempati Pedda Satyam, Vempati Chinna Satyam, Vedantam Raghavayya, and C.R. Acharya. 


Vempati Chinna Satyam–

Sri Vempati Chinna Satyam
Sri Vempati Chinna Satyam

Born in 1929, received training under gurus Tadepalli Perayya Sastri, Pasumarthi Kondala Rayudu, Vempati Pedda Satyam, and Vedantam Lakshmi Narayana Sastry of which, he was influenced by the later because of his approach and scholastic abilities. He was very keen on bringing Kuchipudi on par with other recognized classical dance forms at the time and was instrumental in bringing changes that would help realize this goal. He classified various jathis and dance patterns and correlated them with Natya Sastra, emphasizing the principled nature of Kuchipudi dance form. He choreographed numerous jathiswarams, thillanas, and varnams. Besides solo-items, he composed many dance-dramas such as Chandalika, Padmavathi Srinivasa Kalyanam, Rukmini Kalyanam, Hara Vilasam, Siva Dhanurbanam, Menaka Viswamitra, etc. He trained many classical dancers and celebrated dancers who in turn helped spreading the art from throughout the world. Many of these artistes initiated dance academies all over India and abroad. He received innumerable recognitions, honorable doctorates, and is praised as Abhinava Siddendra Yogi for his immense contribution in this field. 


Yeleswarapu Nageswara Sarma–

Sri Yeleswarapu Nageswara Sarma
Sri Yeleswarapu Nageswara Sarma

Another family that made dedicated contributions to Kuchipudi art form by way of their excellence in dance & Abhinaya as well as sincere teaching efforts in preparing further generations of well-trained artists. He was trained under Vedantam Lakshmi Narayana Sastry, Vedantam Parvatisam and Pasumarthi Venugopalakrishna Sarma. He choreographed several dance dramas based on mythological stories. Besides performing he taught for more than three decades at Jawahar Bala Bhavan in Machilipatnam. He established his own school, Nritya Kala Parishad in 1983. Many accomplished disciples such as, Andhra Sisters, Brindavan Sisters, Vemuri Sisters, Yeleswarapu Poornachandra Rao, Chandrakala, Vijaya Prasad, Padmini Kantety, and many others trained under him. He was recognized by the Sangeet Natak Academy for his life-time contributions through a Presidential Award. 


Yeleswarapu Purnachandra Rao–

Sri Yeleswarapu Purnachandra Rao
Sri Yeleswarapu Purnachandra Rao

Born in 1965 in Kuchipudi village, he received training under Mahankali Suryanarayana Murthy, Yeleswarapu Nageswara Sarma and other outstanding gurus in Kuchipudi & Machilipatnam. He obtained a Diploma in Yakshagama tradition under Pasumarthy Rattaiah Sarma from Andhra Pradesh Cultural & Technical Education and Masters Degree in Kuchipudi Dance from Telugu University. He is known to exhibit clean technique, abhinaya and an excellent performer overall. He is well known for Sivatandavam. He has been teaching in Machilipatnam for nearly three decades and trained over 2000 students and awarded by Andhra Saraswatha Samiti for his outstanding contributions. 


Padmini Kantety–

Smt. Padmini Kantety
Smt. Padmini Kantety

Born in Machilipatnam; took to dance from a very young age and did her Rangapravesam at the age of 10 years. She received training under Yeleswarapu Nageswara Sarma, and Yeleswarapu Purnachandra Rao. She won prizes several times from Andhra Pradesh Balala Academy’s district level competitions. She is also an awardee in All India Kuchipudi competitions conducted by Akhilabharata Kuchipudi Natya Mandali and received praises from renowned Kuchipudi exponents. She accompanied her gurus in several performances and became a role model and a challenge to many artists. She performed in several dance ballets in lead roles such as, Sutradhari; Sita in Seeta Rama Kalyanam; Parvathi in Girija Kalyanam; and Rukmini in Rukmini Kalyanam. She is an original thinker and has choreographed many classical and contemporary dances throughout her career. She has been training future generation of Kuchipudi artistes in the USA since 1997. She founded Center for Kuchipudi Art in Huntsville, Alabama with a mission to share the beauty, complexity and depth of Kuchipudi to the future generations in multi-cultural societies through regular training, focused camps, and organized performances.

Because of the scope of the article, it would not be possible to describe all the exponents and artistes. However, several names deserve mention here so the reader may learn more about them through other resources: Mahankali Suryanarayana Murthy, Swapna Sundari, Shobha Naidu, Vyjayanthi Kashi, Raja & Radha Reddy.

With over 2000 years of documented history and survival through so many geo-political and social challenges, it only appears as if the art of Kuchipudi chooses some individuals to serve the humanity.



  1. Kuchipudi: Indian Classical Dance Art – by Sunil Kothari and Avinash Pasricha. Abhinav Publications, 2001.
  2. Kuchipudi Natya Manjari – by Munukuntla Samba Siva. Nishumbitha Publications 1994.
  3. Dakshinatyula Natyakala Charitra – by Nataraja Ramakrishna. Visalandhra Publishing House 1968.
  4. Nataraj: Indian dances through the ages; History, Theory and Practical Guidance – by Ram Avtar Veer. Pankaj Publications 1982.
  5. Kuchipudi Melakarthalu: Bharata Vyakaranamu – Adavasamu. by Vedantam Parvatisam. 1990.
  6. An informative website maintained by Guru Sri Vempati Chinna Satyam’s Dance Academy.

Original publication date: July 3, 2010