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Performing Arts – Andhra Pradesh

Dance, drama and music in Andhra Pradesh were a part of life, from the Satavahana times (1st century). Ancient temple sculptures bear witness to this. They provide extensive examples of the dance prevalent in those times and earlier.

Jarappa Senani, a Kakatiya commander wrote three treatises on music, dance and instrumental music. The one on dance, Nrittaratnavali (13th century) was translated into Telugu by Rallapalli Anantakrishna Sharma a few decades ago. Another important growth center was the Thanjavur region which was under the Telegu Nayaka kings and later under the Maratha kings during the 16th and 19th centuries. Fruitful interaction between the migrant Telugu scholars and the local Tamil exponents produced the Carnatic music and Sadir Natyam (now called Bharathanatyam) with most of the songs written in Telugu.

The famous dance dramas of Melattur, a village donated by the Telugu king Achyutappa Nayaka, written in Telugu by Melattur Venkatarama Sastri (pre-Thyagaraja) are practiced till today by the descendants whoa re now naturalized Tamils. Members of these troupes descend on Melattur from wherever they are. During May every year they celebrate Nrisimha Jyanti by presenting Prahalada Charitam and other dramas of Sastri for ten days in front of the nrisimha/Varadaraja Perumal temples. The pure Carnatic music an Bharathanatyam style of these Telugu language dramas are preserved with religious zeal by these dedicated non-professional artistes, though they cannot speak or understand Telugu.

Bharathanatym which is common to the entire south took a back seat in Andhra Pradesh what with emphasis shifting to Kuchipudi.

Kuchipudi dance style of exclusive Andhra origin, derived its name from the village Kuchipudi in Krishan district. The village was gifted to the Brahmin community who were practicing this art as their family profession for generations, by Abul Hasan Tanashah of Golconda (17th century) through a fireman. Siddhender yogi was the father of this dance style. His Bhamakalapam used to be a nine night show of music and dance filled with occasional humour attracting multitudes wherever it was presented. Other Yakshaganas like Usha Parinayam were added gradually. The all-male troupes used to tour the entire south, impressing the kings, regional chieftains and winning laurels with their dance dramas on themes drawn mainly from Bhagavatham which served as informal education also a Vedic philosophy, occult sciences and mythology to a public at a time where the formal education was not generally available to the working classes and women. The Kuchipudi dance style also drew from other literary works liked Krishan Leela Tarangini of Narayana Teertha and Geeta Govindam of Jayadeva. The Tarangas of Narayana Teertha formed an attractive ingredient of Kuchipudi dance dramas and are noted for the specialized dancing on a brass plate with a brass pitcher full of water balanced on the dancer’s head without spilling a drop. This exercise was not a mere gimmick and was explained as symbolic of the precarious balance required to be maintained by every human without violating dharma or moral law (suggested by the brass plate) and with moksha or salvation (symbolized by the water pitcher) as the ultimate goal.

Once exclusively presented by males who also portrayed female roles, Kuchipudi style has opened itself about five decades ago to women who have all but monopolized it. The government/dance colleges, college of Tirupati, Telugu University and Hyderabad University, and a host of private institutions, noted among which is the Kuchipudi Arts Academy of Dr Vempati Chinna Satyam in Chennai, provide training in Kuchipudi dance along with other styles. Andhra natyam, so named in recent decades, is a host of temple dances for entertainment revived by Dr Nataraja Ramakrishna about twenty-five years ago. He took these from the few surviving exponents of yore. Perini Siva Tandavam is another ingredient of Andhra Natyam which is an exclusively male dance form, vigorous and fast, reconstructed painfully by Nataraja Ramakrishna from the dance sculptures of Ramappa temples and Jayappa Senani’s description in Nritta Ratnavali. Navajanardana Parijatham, a variation of Bhama Kalapam practiced in East

Godaveri is another attractive item of Andhra Natyam.

Swapna Sundari of Delhi, a multi style dancer and innovator, also revived some items of temple dances an kelika (entertainment dances) with cooperation from veteran dancer Maddula Lakshminarayana and the style is named Vilasini Natyam. Some other ancient temple dances owe their revival to C.R.Acharya (Ahmedabad’s Darpana fame) and his daughter, Voleti Rangamani. These include the Chitra Bandha Nritya (figure dances) like simhand\andini, Mayura Kavutham and Lakshmi Samudhbhavam.

The number of folk dance styles of Andhra Pradesh is vast. Specific castes have been practicing these dance styles as their family profession. Colourful and lively, these dances are witnessed during festivals all over Andhra Pradesh.

Drama in the Andhra (Telugu speaking) region developed mostly in the form of folk arts. Bharatha’s Natya Sastra was a treatise on drama with chapters on dance and music. Drama was intended and enjoined to follow and truly reflect people lives and experiences, serve as a model or to inspire. Every aspect of drama, like rasa, (moods), abhinaya (mime or action), aharya (costumes, make-up), ranga (stage) were clearly defined and explained in Sanskrit texts which were translated and commented upon. Manjari Madhukariyam, the first play, (Korada Ramachandra Sastri, 1860) was well conceived and had ingredients like suspense, thought not regarded as suitable for staging. Kokkonda Venkataratnam Pantulu, Kandukuri Veeresalingam Pantulu and Vedam Vemkataraya Sastry, were some other playwrights. Kandukuri was a social reformer and humorist but his plays were in the pedantic style. Gurajada wrote the first spoken language style play, Kanyasulkam (1892), which was a path breaking one aiming at social reform. Its characters were true reflections of contemporary society with living parallels still found. Unfortunately, the model did not inspire similar works. The only drawback of this play was its length. But this did not seem to be a drawback of this play was its length. But this did not seem to be a drawback in those days when there was no cinema and entertainment was an all-night affair. The drama is still being presented in an abridged form and for sheer readability, quotable quotes, and vision far ahead of its times the play has yet to be excelled.

Telugu play production started with the mythological. It was the late 20th century which witnessed the emergence of several mythological plays written by Dharamavaram Krishnamacharyulu, Sripada krishnamurthy Sastri, Panuganti Lakshminarasimham (Paaduka) Chilakamarthi Lakshminarasimham., (Gayopakhyanam which sold over a 100,000 copies), Balijepalli Lakshmikantam (Harischandra, still going strong), Kallakuri Narayana Rao (Cintamani still popular but Varavkrayam on dowry evil has receded into the background though still relevant), Tirupati Venkata Kavulu (Rayabaram, Udyoga Vijayam, the most staged play in Telugu), and a host of others. There were also patriotic and historical plays and Padyams (verses), an exclusive feature of Telugu dramas, whence they were called Padya Natakams. These verses had to be sung showing excellence both in music and revealing the essence. But few observed this in spirit, the music dominating while the content and its meaning being lost on the audience. This led to degeneration and the first one to revolt against the trend was Bellary Ravhava, a scholar in English and known for his English plays also, who discouraged verse as dispensable. Great singers like Tungala Chalapati Rao, Kapilavarya Ramanadha Sastry, Jonnavithula Seshagiri Rao, Addanki, Parupalli Eelapata Raghuramayya, Sthanam Narshimha Rao (female roles) were among the noted crowd pullers. While Dr.P S R Apparao’s Telugu Nataka Vikasamu contains lists of plays, playwrights, actors (town wise), Mikkilineni Radhakrishanamurthy wrote the who’s who of Telugu stage actors and actress with over a thousand names from early 19th century onwards.

In 1892, the Surabhi Nataka Sangham was established by Vanarasa Govindarao as a family theatre group in which every member of the participating families theatre group in which every member of the participant families acted. Their spectacular plays were noted for showmanship, trick scenes and perfect singing, acting and dialogue. The group had an early growth rising to as many as 36 different groups of about 30 members each self-reliant in every aspect from state and temporary auditorium construction, screens, costumes, ornaments, training and even their own commissioned script writers. With the advent of cinema, now TV as the last straw on the camel’s back, Surabhi withered down to a mere four troupes. Surabhi held on and till holds on to its family profession of theatre till the last and, with the gradual spread of cinema TV and cable TV to rural areas, which was the area of operation for Surabhi, this age old family theatre stands elbowed out. Now threatened with closure every passing day, Surbhi is struggling even to eke out a living despite its low priced tickets.

Modern Telugu play, dealing with social subjects and written in simple spoken style sans verses, made its appearance with the gradual decline of mythologicals and dwindling of singing talent, Pinisetti, Atreya N R Nandi, Bhamidipati Kameswara Rao’s translations of French comedies of Moliere, Bhamidipati Radhakrishna, Korrapati Gangadhararao, Narala Chiranjeevi, D.V.Narasaraju, Sunkara Vasireddy (Maabhoomi, a revolutionary play, which was banned by the British), Somanchi Yagnanna Sastry, are some of the noted playwrights of modern drama.

The Andhra Nataka Kala Parishat was established in 1915. Gradually, the so called Parishat culture competitions held annually by diverse groups which proliferated all over Andhra Pradesh was born. The Parishat disappeared but not the culture competition. Ironically, it is the competitions and theatre festivals that has been keeping the theatre activity alive. It is the amateur theatre comparising of white collar employees drawn from government department departments, public industrial undertakings, nationalized banks and insurance which are financed by a system of grants-in-aid that has been keeping theatre activity alive since the ticket system disappeared with cinema raking in all the money there is to be gathered from the public. Only the play called Raktakanneeru (Palagummi Padmaraju) fetched revenue for the consummate actor, Raktakanneeru Nagabhushanam. A cine actor Rasaranjani, started a movement, Nitya Natakam, five yeas ago restricting admission to ticket buyers but running, with little success. It has kept up its promises of staging plays at a fixed auditorium, punctuality, etc but receives little response from the public. Its recent production, Janamejayam, set the boxes tingling a bit, whether this trend will continue remains to be seen.

The Andhra Pradesh Sangeet Natak Akademi was set up in the late fifties. It served the interests of music, dance and drama, held festivals, competitions, brought out a journal, some publications, gave pensions to indigent and retired artistes. It was trifurcated into separate academies for music, dance and drama in 178. But all these were wound up in 1983. The Telugu University was set up with a Lalita Kala Peetham as the umbrella for all fine arts including theatre. The Andhra Pradesh Department of Culture is doing its bit, taking up and continuing what the Sangeet Natak Akademi did. Andhra University set up the theatre arts department in the sixties. The need of the hour is good scripts and competent directors. There is adequate acting talent. A system of theatre clubs, with membership for raising finances committed cooperative interaction among similar clubs in the same city or those in close proximity for affording a chance for a single play to be staged in all the member clubs, deserves to be tried. While the state could provide theatre houses and other infrastructure, besides pensions to retired artistes who have no other sustenance. Remaining agencies like corporate sector could provide financial support as they do for sport.

Music in Andhra Pradesh has a hoary tradition. The Telugu kingdom extended for beyond its present borders, covering parts of Tamil Nadu, Karnataka, Orissa, etc. The Satavahana rule extended even north of the Vindhyas. The Vijayanagar Empire (14th-16th century) founded by sage Vidyaranya (who hailed from the Warangal region) was insulated against alien influences from the north. There was thus a continuum in the development of the fine arts right from the first century AD. Sri Krishnadevarya of Vijayanagar called himself Karnata-Andhra and wrote works in Telugu. The word Karnataka meant a land mass covered by sea on three sides and not just the present Karnataka state, according to scholars. The music and dance of the area was called Karnatakam. Music is still called by the same name. The bulk of present day concert music repertoire was written in Telugu about 250 years ago. Thyagaraja and the two other composers, Shayama Sastry, and Dikshitar, who are together called the great musical trinity of the south, wrote the singing material afresh so as to conform to the texts and also have all the ingredients and scope for Manodharma (spontaneous) exposition and creativity. Thyagraja and Shyama Sastry wrote entirely in Telugu, while Dikshitar wrote mainly in Sanskrit. They were all based in the Thanjavur region which was then ruled by the Telugu Nayaka kings, (16th-18th century). During this period, the Telugu ancestors of Thyagaraja moved from Rayalaseema area down to the south seeking the patronage of the Telugu rulers. The fruitful interaction between the immigrant Telugus and Tamil genius of the Thanjavur region led to the development of the present Carnatic style of music, which reached its zenith in the time of Thyagaraja, the saint composer of unequalled brilliance.

The growth centres of music situated in the are laying in present Andhra Pradeshwer in the coastal belt, eg. Vizianagaram (famed for Prof. Dwaram Venkataswamy Naidu, the violin maestro). During this century, the second and third generation disciples of Thyagaraja propagated his music in the Krishna-Guntur region.

Folk music developed in every region of Andhra Pradesh despite historical upheavals. These very upheavals become the subjects for folk ballads. Folk melodies inspired corresponding classical melodies. Street beggars and minstrels in this area sang Ramadas Kirtans, Adhyatma Ramayana, in their original tunes, some of wh9ich remain to this day. These songs traveled deep south. Thyagaraja was believed to have learnt these songs at his mother’s knee.

Presently, classical music in Andhra Pradesh is at a lower ebb as compared to neighboring Tamil Nadu. Till the forties, musical activities were confined to a few zamindaris (estates) and from the late forties All India Radio(AIR) came to the rescue of classical music, providing a few opportunities annually to the dwindling tribe of classical singers. AIR broadcast classical music lessons for over three decades (fifties to eighties) which were popularized by the late Voleti Venkateswarlu. There are as many as 12 music/schools situated in various important centers in Andhra Pradesh.

Musical activity in Andhra Pradesh is also sustained round the year in its festivals like Thyagaraja Aaraadhana (January), Ramanavami (April), Annamacharya fest (May), Ganesh Chaturthi and Dussehra (September-October). There are a few music societies in cities and towns which arrange monthly concerts/annual festivals. The TTD (Tirumala Tirupati Devasthanams) with its Annamacharya Projects and SV College of music/dance has also being training young talent in music, bringing out music publication with the help of scholars like Dr Sripada Pinakapani. Spic Macay (Society for Promotion of Indian Classical Music and Culture Among Youth) has been trying to instill interest in students by taking music/dance straight to schools and colleges with the cooperation of well known artists, arranging concerts and lectures. The Andhra Pradesh Department of Culture has also been providing opportunities to young talent through concerts and commemorative festivals of Telugu composers. Dr. M.Balamurthy Krishna has popularized classical music among youth and common people.