beautiful bedecked in jewels and adorned with flowers sits waiting
for her Lord Krishna. When he comes, softly, stealthily, she asks
him for the celestial flower Parijata, knowing fully well that
he has presented it to Rukmini. Angered, Krishna leaves and
Satyabhamas anguish knows no bounds. She sighs, she can no
longer bear the cool rays of the moon, nor hear the sweet notes of
the cuckoo she loses interest in everything. The gentle breeze blows
down form the mountain, the rich fragrance of sandalwood comes
wafting by. Sayabhama is oblivious to all this. She sits in a
dejected state, eyes downcast, with a look of utter helplessness.
To lilting music, the
artist dances, portraying myriad emotions. Emotions both universal
and timeless. Emotions ranging from pride to anguish. Expressions
change in quick succession, interspersed with fast rhythmic footwork,
and songs sung by the dancer herself.
A typical rendering of
Bhama Kalapam the most beautiful item of the Kuchipudi
repertoire has been performed a countless number of times down the
years. Yet, each performance is undoubtedly different, unique in its
own way. For such is the range and the freedom of this lucid dance
style form Andhra Pradesh.
The origins of this dance
form, which gets its name from the kuchipudi village in the Krishna
district of Andhra date as far back as the 2nd century
B.C. Perhaps even earlier. However, excavations in this region
reveal the existence of dance and music rituals in temples since the
days of the Satavahana empire (2nd century B.C.).
Sculptures here tell us of two types of dancers, the devadasis who
performed in the temple precincts, and kelikas who performed
in the royal courts. Furthr, tradition has it that Srikakulam
believed to be original capital of the Satavahanas had almost 300
devdasi families living it.
These are but a few of
the disjointed leads we have. Not a very reliable base for
reconstructing the history for this style, yet a pointer to the fact,
that there was a continued tradition of dance in this region.
Undoubtedly this tradition ahs not been an unchanging one. Down the
ages new influences poured in, religious and secular. They were
absorbed. Consequently, variations were brought about and the style
slowly evolved into the form as we see it now.
The end of the Kakatiya
era ushered in the first major change in this dance form. The
austere order of the devdasis had fallen into disuse, and so
the Brahmin gurus, got together to preserve the art. The gurus who
hitherto never directly participated in the performances, now began
to do so. They staged dance-dramas with religious themes, thus
giving rise to the Bhagvata Mela tradition.
A leading role in
strengthening this tradition was played by Siddhendra Yogi. He
commanded the Brahmin boys to join in large numbers, forbade the
entry of women into his group and laid the foundation of the
Kuchipudi village. A strict code of discipline was prescribed for
the boys. They had to learn the Vedas, the shastras
(holy scriptures) the natya shastra (dance scripture) and
music and had to perform the sandhya vandana (evening hymn)
thrice a day. He thus initiated a systematic training pattern for
the dancers. So strong is the tradition started by Siddhendra Yogi
that every child born in this village even today, has a bell tied
around his waist as a mark of initiation.
Patronized by the
Vijaynagar rulers the Bhagvata Mela tradition flourished. The
Brahmins deeply versed in the shastras, now became the
custodians of the art. They started to move around nearby villages
entertaining people. The themes were drawn from the Shiva Puran,
the Mahabharata, and Bhagvata Puran. Devoting
themselves, entirely to the worship of god through dance, they came
to be known as bhagvatulus.
Not only did they spread
the message of God, but were also involved in social welfare. Once,
while performing at a place called Siddhavatam, the artists observed
that the local chieftain, used torture on the people to exhort large
sums of money. Later while performing for the Vijaynagar ruler, the
artists inserted a short dance sequence and through it narrated the
entire situation at Siddhavatan. The Emperor had the chieftain
beheaded. Such was the involvement of artists in the political and
social life of the day.
With the fall of
Vijaynagar the era of royal patronage came to an end. The
bhagvatulus now moved to Tanjore and formed a colony naming it
Achutapuram, after the reigning ruler Achutappa, (today known as
Among those who left for
Tanjore was Kshetranga, the celebrated composer of Muvva Gopala
Padams, love lyrics dedicated to Lord Krishna. Another was Narayana
Tirtha who composed the famous Krishna Leela Tarangini. He dramas
and padavarnas inspired the bhagavatulus, and the
Merattur Bhagvata Mela Natakam took shape.
Some artistes including
Siddhendra Yogi however, stayed back in Andhra. They performed
before the leading dignitaries of the day, including the Goloconda
Nawab, Abdul Hassen Tanisha. So pleased was he with their
performance that he gave the village of Kuchipudi as inam
(award) to the artistes. Siddhendra Yogi now became the moving
spirit behind the development of Kuchipudi. He composed the Parijata
Haranam, a klavya (poem) in the shringara (erotic) mood.
Influenced deeply by the Vaishnavite movement, Siddhendra Yogi firmly
believed that the ultimate aim of human existence was union with God
some thing which was reflected in his work. For, in his
Parijata Haranam, the flower theme is secondary. What is
emphasized is the love for Krishna and Satyabhaas anguish at
Alongside this tradition
the dance of the devadasis and rajnartakis (court
dancers) continued. And quite naturally each influenced the other,
enriching the style. An example of this fusion is Bhama Kalapam.
In this portrayal of the Parijata Haranam theme, we find the
character of the heroine more elaborate with greater stress on
abhinaya (acting). Then again new items were introduced such
as Pravesh Darus which were pure dance sequences. Another was
the sabda dramatic lyrics based on a theme.
Thus the repertoire was
slowly expanding, the style now giving full scope for nritta,
(pure dance) natya (drama) and nriya (dance with a
theme full of rasa), sequences. In the traditional Kuchipudi
dance dramas very little nritta (pure dance) was used and more
emphasis was laid on abhinaya. Today however, as it ahs
developed into a solo dance the nritta aspect has been
expanded, and we can see theermanams and intricate footwork
based on the traditional adavu system.
One feature unique to
Kuchipudi is, the practice of male dancers performing female roles,
something which continues even today. One of the best exponents in
this tradition of female impression, today is Vedantam Satyanarayana
Sharma. One of his exemplary portrayals is the role of Usha who sees
Aniruddha, the grandson of Lord Krishna in her dream. As Usha the
shy, naïve girl Vedantam is a transformed person. The abhinaya
where Usha ahs to wake the sleeping Aniruddha is rendered with such
skill, and with gestures so feminine and charming that very often the
audience have to be told that Usha is actually a man.
vachinkabhinaya or portrayal of emotions through the voice, is
predominant in this style. As a dance-drama system every artiste
used to sing with his own voice, with the main singer giving him only
marginal support. This practice is followed even today, although
only occasionally in performances such as those of Bhama Kalapam.
The sattvikabhinaya (facial expression) and aharyaabhinaya
(dress) was already well developed in this style. The introduction
of nritta pieces expanded the scope of angikabhinaya
(movement of limbs). Thus Kuchipudi today is the only classical
dance form which provides ample scope for the execution of the four
main types of abhinaya.
Kuchipudi, as we see it
today ahs greater fluidity and freedom than the other classical
forms. The lasya (delicate) form and the tandava
(vigorous) form can both be executed with equal ease. Having evolved
from the drama tradition realistic acting (lok dharmi) and
conventional acting (natya dharmi), balance adroitly.
Similarly Sukshmabhninaya (detailed gestures) and
sthulabhinaya (undetailed gestures) have a place in this
Strictly adhering to the
rules laid down in Bharatas Natya Shastra and Nandikeshwras
Abhinaya Darpana, Kuchipudi ahs all the salient features of a
classical dance. All its compositions are set to the Carnatic music.
Replete with graceful body movements and intricate footwork this
style is a vehicle for bhava (expression). All the nine rasas
find their way in to this idiom. A noteworthy item is Gollabhama
Kalapam composed by Ramiah Shastri. It is the conversation
between a milkmaid explains that, purity and goodness come from good
deeds in life and not by birth as a Brahmin. Although there is a
didactic message it is humour which plays an important role.
The major change in
traditional Kuchipudi dance is the evolving of the solo system, with
female dancers performing on stage. This development was started by
Vedantam Lakshminarayana shastry about 40 years ago. The repertoire
too has undergone a change. Besides the traditional items like
sabdams and tarangams, present day choreographers have
added a few more compositions. Purandardasa kirtanas, Hindi
bhajans, and tillanas of modern composers like Dr.
Balamurli Krishna have found their way into Kuchipudi performances.
Kuchipudi, performed as a
dance drama has survived till today. But here again change is
discernible. The choreo-creations of modern day gurus are slowly
displacing the old Kuchipudi dance-dramas. Although their themes are
mythological, the presentation lyrics, music, costumes, and
ornaments has taken a new shape. There are however a few gurus and
troupes who still believe in the old tradition. They still survive,
although without much recognition.
Thus with its renaissance
Kuchipudi, has evolved into an almost new form. Enveloping within
its fold new techniques, it has greatly enriched itself. Yet al the
while it has taken care to retain the essential features of its
traditional form. Philosophical in character and deeply emotional in
its dramatic presentation, Kuchipudi possesses an abundance of
variety. Today this graceful, fluid style has great appeal, not
merely because of the beauty of its vibrant enduring qualities but
because it ahs developed into a complete dramatic dance form.