India - Kuchipudi

by V.A.Ponmelil (All rights reserved by the author)

Kuchipudi Dance Form of India

The Kuchipudi dance form derives its name from the village of Kuchelapuram or Kuchelapuri of Krishna district which is about 32 miles from Vijayawada in Andhra Pradesh, South India. It is in this region, Kuchipudi grew as a form of the Bhakti Movement.
The genesis of Kuchipudi art as of most Indian classical dances is associated with religions. For a long time, the art was presented only at temples and that too only for annual festivals of certain temples in Andhra. According to tradition, Kuchipudi dance was originally performed only by men and they all belonged to the Brahmin community. These Brahmin families were known popularly as Bhagavathalu of Kuchipudi. The very first group of Brahmin Bhagavathulu of Kuchipudi was formed in 1502 AD. Their programmes were offerings to the deities and they never allowed women in their groups.

In an era of the degeneration of dance due to exploitation of female dancers, an ascetic, Siddhendra Yogi redefined the dance form. Siddhendra Yogi’s former name was Siddhappa who was an orphan Brahmin. Later, he was married also, but his small bride stayed with her parents. He was very fond of dances. When Narahari Tirtha was the head of the Udupi Math at Srikakulam, Siddappa used to stay there. One night, dreaming of Krishna dancing, he woke up crying the name of Krishna. Narahari Thirta was deeply moved and sent this homeless boy to Principle Math at Udupi.

During those 12 years in Udupi Math, Siddhappa became a profound scholar and dedicated artist with Natya Shastra becoming a part of his life. Later he returned to Srikakulam Math and received the blessings of the elders who also directed him to join his wife. When he was swimming in the river Krishna to go to his father in law’s house, suddenly thunderstorm started and he was entrapped in midstream. In sheer panic, he promised Sri Krishna that if he spared his life, he would renounce all the worldly ties and adopt the life of Sanyasi. Miraculously, he was saved and went to his father in law’s house where he was received with great enthusiasm. He forgets his promise and approaches his wife. But the girl sees him as a saint and faints.

Now Siddhappa remembers his promise, accepts Sanyasatva and becomes Siddhendra Yogi. He began to propagate the Bhama cult, also known as Madhura Bhakti, like Satyabhama, every devotee imagines Lord Krishna to be the Supreme Lover, the Lokabharata, and himself to be cast in the image of Satyabhama, longing to unite with Sri Krishna and keep him entirely to herself. These songs compiled together became the vehicle of a dance drama of unsurpassed beauty and came to be called Bhamakalapam. He brought fifteen Brahmin families to the place of Kuchipudi which was a waste land then and converted it into an abode of dancers. Siddhendra Yogi also broke new ground by adapting the format of the existing Yakshagana folk dance dramas. This was a departure from the usual practice of the then current dance firm the Bhagavatha Mela Kataka devoted to the worship of Vishnu. Bhagavatha Mela Nataka was a product of the Natyamela Nataka traditions dedicated to the worship of Shiva.

In Bhagavatha Mela Natakas the dancers confined themselves to the interpretation of Sanskrit Slokas. There was little for rhythmic virtuosity, Siddhendra Yogi broad based Bhamakalapam by bringing in some of the element basic to the Yakshagan tradition such as Pravesa Daruvu or "Entrance Dance".

Jathis are rhythmic passages and songs set to lively rhythm. He also integrated the folk tradition into the classical format neatly and enlarged the horizons of the existing dance forms. Indeed he was father of the Kuchipudi style, which is at once stately and sensuous, esoteric and earthy. These Brahmin families of Kudhipudi have carried on the tradition for more than five centuries. Other renowned gurus like Vedantam Lakshminarayana, Chinta Krishna Murthy and Tadepalli Perayya enriched the dance form by bringing women. Dr Vempati Chinna Satyam added several dance dramas and choreographed many solo performances, thus broadening the horizons of the dance form. The transition has been great from a time when men played female parts to the present when women play even the male parts.

The Kuchipudi is a dance-drama of Nritta, Nritya and Natya. The Nritta consists of teermanams and jatis, the Nritya of Sabdams, and the Natya of acting with mudras for the songs. Nritta encompasses steps and movements in the form of patterns of dance. Kuchipudi combines speech, mime and pure dance.

The Kuchipudi dancer is a multiple person on the stage and this multiplicity is achieved by the swift change of mime which depends more on the combination of the naturalism of the dramatic content and the symbolism of the poetic intensity of feeling of an episode. The consequence of this is the emphasis laid on the dynamics of movement and expressionism of feeling.

Kuchipudi dance drama is sometimes known as Ata Bhagavatham. Today it is performed either as a solo or a group presentation, but historically it was performed as a dance drama, with several dancers taking different roles.

The most popular Kuchipudi dance is the pot dance in which a dancer keeps a pot filled with water on her head and feet kept on a brass plate. She moves on the stage manipulating the brass plate, with the feet kept on its rim and doing some hand movements without spilling a drop of water on the ground thus astounding the audience. Apart from Bhama Kalapam, the other famous dance dramas are Gollakalapam by Bhagavatha Ramayya, Prahlada Charitam by Tirumala Narayanacharyalu, Sashirekha Parinaya etc.

Kuchipudi is accompanied by Carnatic music. A typical orchestra for a Kuchipudi recital includes the mridangam, flute and violin. A vocalist sings the lyrics, and the nattuvanar conducts the orchestra and recites the rhythmic patterns. Today, Kuchipudi has become a dance from its original dance-drama style, from an uplifting theatre experience to a routine stage affair.


For More Articles, visit Back to INDIA INFO Home