Kuchipudi – Classical Dance Of Andhra Pradesh

Kuchipudi is known for its impressive, quick footwork, dramatic characterization, expressive eye movements and spirited narrative

Kuchipudi an established dance form originated in Andhra Pradesh. This classical dance is named after a village Kuchelapuram, 65 Kms from Vijaywada in Andhra Pradesh and became popular due to the patronage of the Brahmins practicing it.

Kuchipudi is known for its impressive, quick footwork, dramatic characterization, expressive eye movements and spirited narrative. It is a blend of tandava and lasya elements. A distinctive feature of this dance is the execution on a brass plate and moving the plate to the accompaniment of carnatic music. The Kuchipudi performer apart from being a dancer and actor has to be skilled in Sanskrit and Telugu languages, music and manuscripts of the performance.

It takes at least seven to ten years to master this art form. There were two parallel dance forms Nattuva Mela and Natya Mela. The former developed into Bharathanatyam and Natya Mela into Kuchipudi – usually performed by both women and men in conjunction.
The Kuchipudi is a dance-drama of Nritta, Nritya and Natya. The Nritta consists of Theermanams and Jatis, the Nritya of Sabdams, and the Natya of acting with Mudras (hand gestures) for the songs. Nritta encompasses steps and movements in the form of patterns of dance which, though beautiful, have no meaning to convey. While fast becoming a solo presentation, Kuchipudi still has strong ties to the dance-drama tradition. It combines the elements of speech, mime and pure dance.

History Of Kuchipudi

The dance is named after the village of its birth, Kuchelapuram or Kuseelavapuri in Andhra Pradesh. The Kuseelavas (or Kuchigallu) were groups of actors going from village to village. Kuchipudi is the colloquial form of the Sanskrit term ‘Kuseelavapuri’.

Kuchipudi dance form may be traced to the dance-dramas enacted by brahmins in temples. It was traditionally a male preserve. Under the impact of Vaishnavism, the themes began to be based on the Bhagavat Purana. It was Siddhendra Yogi who, in the fourteenth/fifteenth centuries, inspired the revival of Kuchipudi which had faded into obscurity.

He composed the Bhama Kalapam which has now become a part and parcel of the Kuchipudi repertoire. He prevailed upon young brahmin boys to dedicate themselves to devotional dances that would lead them to salvation, and they were known as ‘Bhagavatulu’.

The Vijayanagara kings patronised the dance form as did the Golconda rulers after them. Some of the leading families of Kuchipudi dancers were given land shares in the village. Gurus of these families have preserved and handed the art traditions down the generations. Two famous names are Vedantam and Vempati.

Kuchipudi, however, remained confined to remote village temples of Andhra Pradesh till the early twentieth century when Balasaraswathi and Esther Sherman (Ragini Devi) helped to bring it out of obscurity. Indrani Rehman played a pioneering role in popularising the dance form. The strictly male preserve was brought to the people by famous female dancers—Yamini Krishnamurthi, Swapnasundari and Shobha Naidu. Vempati Chinna Satyam and Vedantam Satyanarayana became great gurus as well as dancers.

Kuchipudi combined lasya and tandava elements, folk and classical shades. Prescribed costumes and ornaments are strictly followed. Besides dance dramas, there are solo items such as Manduka shabadam (story of the frog maiden), Balagopala taranga (involving dancing with the feet on the edges of a brass plate) and Tala chitra nritya in which dancers draw pictures on the floor with their dancing toes.

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