Kuchipudi, a dance form prominently practised in Andhra Pradesh, with its origins dating back to the 7th century A.D, initially served as a medium to propagate the Bhakti movement. Mostly performed in groups, the emphasis of the dance was generally on drama with rapt focus on Abhinaya (expression) too.
In terms of nomenclature, Kuchipudi gets its name after Kuchelapuram, a town 65 kms away from Vijaywada, where Siddhendra Yogi (1350 – 1450), a Srikakulam-based orphan who was raised in the town during the late 14th century had imposed upon himself to revive the waning dance-form, assimilating devotion in addition to expression in the same. During his time, he brought refinity to Kuchipudi with the help of an organised structure and a pattern,taking it forward from where his predecessors left. He tutored a select group of boys from the Brahmin community who had pledged to popularise the dance further.
As it is with most dance-forms, Kuchipudi’s basis is primarily on the principles put forward by Bharatamuni in his treatise, Natya Shastra. While the early days of Kuchipudi featured a lot of ritual dances by Shivaite men, the dance form had to wait for subtler romanticism of Vaishnavism to strike until the later periods.
It differs with Bharatanatyam in the sense that it has equal importance for Vachakabhinayam (speech), which isn’t the case for the former. With Kuchipudi, the space is more utilised to convey an emotion, as part of the mythological stories put to display. Here, the individual is less significant than the story, whereas, Bharatanatyam has scope to bring more personal touches, even if they are not in coherence with the tale being narrated.
Kuchipudi comes across as an interesting mix of Nritta, (mostly focusing on foot-work and its synchronisation),Nritya (combination of gestures using hands/fingers, also called Hastamudras and facial expressions, better known as Abhinaya) and Natya (the dramatic element of dance bringing together Nritta and Nritya at once).
The dramas in Kuchipudi are based on a single episode or a series of episodes with specific items such as Sabdam, Bhama kalapam (based on Satyabhama’s path towards love and devotion),Padams and Tarangams. The latter (Tarangam) is an element to watch out for, as the dancer here balances his/her feet on the edge of the brass plate while also holding diyas in their hands. The basis of the same comes from Narayana Teertha’s Srikrishna Leela Tarangini.
Lesser known facts
Kuchipudi was a tool for Social Upliftment in the 16th Century
There have been instances in the past that Kuchipudi was also put to use as a social-upliftment tool. The most popular of them happens to be the play during the times of a king called Immadi Narasa Nayaka in the early 16th century. This had the artistes indicating the unfair treatment meted out to them by another local king and thanks to their moving depiction of the same, they were fittingly freed from his practices in a matter of time, only after they had to be guarded by the army at a certain phase for security.
Kuchipudi Originated Before Bharatanatyam
Kuchipudi, as per historians, is told to have originated at least 300 years earlier to Bharatanatyam. The techniques in Kuchipudi bear close resemblance to elements of folk art, whereas Bharatanatyam’s revival only happened in Tanjore when the Marathas ruled in the 19th century. The earthiness of Kuchipudi confirms that it was born in the street in contrast to present-day Bharatanatyam that seemed to have born in the court.
With time, the dance-form, as it is with every form of art, has undergone changes, with most solo performances today, being taken up by female dancers. The dilution of the Rasa, the drama element has been more apparent. The prominence of ‘Shringar’/romance is more visible now.
Kuchipudi is Ever Changing with Modern Elements
In its early days, Kuchipudi was orchestrated by Mridanga, Madala and a pair of cymbals. A Sutradhar, more prominent as the person who themes, organises and sometimes even stages the dance, announces the commencement, after a deity blesses the performers. For its need to be more secular in the modern times, these methods have been done away with.
Noted filmmaker and dialogue-writer Jandhyala, in 1983, directed a blingual Ananda Bhairavi,that was themed around the origin of Kuchipudi, also putting forward the fact that the gender or any caste barriers weren’t a roadblock in propagating the dance-form. The film also won the Nandi Award for the Best Film (Gold) category that year in addition to the maker also receiving a pat for his efforts a director (Nandi Award for the Best director).
In addition to Jandhyala, the maker synonymous in making art a quintessential element of his films, was K Vishwanath, whose films Sagarasangamam and Swarnakamalam were equally polished attempts with plots surrounding the waning significance to intricacies in Kuchipudi.
Prominent Kuchipudi dancers from Andhra
Vempati Chinna Satyam – Kuchipudi, Andhra Pradesh (Responsible for making the form closer to the principles of Natya Shastra, also credited with starting the Kuchipudi Art Academy in 1963)
Yamini Krishnamurthy-Madanapalli, Andhra Pradesh ( Honoured with the Padma Shree-1968 and the Padma Bhushan-2001 for her contributions to propogate Kuchipudi and Bharatanatyam, owns Yamini Schol of Dance, Hauz Khas, New Delhi )
Shobha Naidu-Anakapalle, Andhra Pradesh ( Kuchipudi dancer from young ages, Principal of Kuchipudi Art Academy, Hyderabad since 1980-Won the title,Nritya Choodamani awarded by Krishna Gana Sabha of Madras, and an award by Central Sangeeta Nataka Kala Academy in 1991)
Raja & Radha Reddy (Globally renowned couple and practioners of Kuchipudi winning Padma Sri in 1984, the Sahitya Kala Parishad Award in 1990, Sangeet Natak Award in 1992, the Padma Bhushan award, individually but simultaneously in the year 2000)