About Kuchipudi

Kuchipudi is a native form of dance from Andhra Pradesh. This dance form took its birth in a small village called Kuchelapuram near Krishna district in the state of Andhra Pradesh.  It derives many of its present day features from the earlier dance drama traditions of Andhra Pradesh.

The cultural history of Andhra Pradesh can boast of witnessing the energetic artistic expression of its people through its varied performing traditions. Some of these were, the dances of the consecrated female temple dancers, the Bhagavatam group traditions of male Brahmin and other community dance-actors, the Daylight Theatre tradition, the balladeer traditions and so on… Out of these, the most enduring has been the Bhagavatam of the male Brahmins, which has evolved into present day Kuchipudi. During this process, it has interacted with and absorbed elements from parallel traditions.

 

Through the last two centuries this Bhagavatam troupe has concentrated on the performance of “Bhama Kalapam” (the quelling of the pride of Satyabhama, Krishna’s junior queen) and a host of other medieval literature. Traditionally, the propagation of bhakti was the central purpose of this dance, which was mainly addressed to a rural audience. Eventually the same dance form came to be referred as “Kuchipudi”. How a “Bhagavatam” came to be recognized as “Kuchipudi” also is an interesting tale. It is generally believed that a certain ascetic named “Siddengra yogi” visited the area where talented Brahmin actors were active. He taught them the tenets of formal dance and gave them the libretto of “Bhama Kalapam” so that they may effectively spread the message of “Bhakti” across Andhra region, through its performance. Accordingly the ‘Bhagavatam’ troupe went about its mission. Being nomadic, the group of Brahmin families had no home; a scion of the rulers of Golkonda, Abul Hasantani Shan happened to witness a performance of the Brahmin Bhagavatam. Moved by their plight, he presented them with a village where they had lived ever since. The village, earlier called ‘Kuchela Puram’ came to be known as ‘Kuchipudi’ in later decades. In order that the ‘Bhagavatam’ of the Brahmins be distinguished from other ‘Bhagavatams’, the prefix ‘Kuchipudi for this Bhagavatam’ became necessary. Gradually, as the dance added the solo tradition, the title too changed from ‘Kuchipudi Bhagavatam’ to just ‘Kuchipudi’ dance. 

 

In its journey from dance drama to solo format, Kuchipudi dance further altered course from being addressed to a largely rural audience to a mainly urban one; perhaps due to the changed context of its performance. The past fifty years have seen it expand outside Andhra Pradesh and the emergence of various teaching centers in multiple Indian cities, and also the setting up of formal degree courses in academic institutions and universities.

 

From its earlier form of missionary group tradition, Kuchipudi has evolved into being a highly entertaining and technically complex, sophisticated and a stylized solo dance form. Thus enjoys the added artistic advantage of a large space for histrionic improvisations.

 

Technique

The technique of Kuchipudi closely follows the tenets laid down in the ‘Natya Shastra.’ There is some mingling of the folk idiom, which makes it highly appealing to a wide spectrum of viewers.  Like any other classical dance forms of India the content of Kuchipudi was also based on Hindu mythology. This dance form sets itself apart with its vigorous and quick foot movements and scintillating facial expressions.

The present day Kuchipudi dance form can be classified into three different genres:

  • Yakshagana – Natyamelam
  • Solo dance  - Nattuvvamelam
  • Kalapa - Prabhananda

 

Among these three dance forms the state of Andhra Pradesh has nurtured only two distinct dance genres: Natyamelam and Nattuvvamelam. In Natyamelam, men adorn the female roles and dance. It is also essentially a dance drama. The solo dance genre practiced by women is popularly known a Nattuvvamelam. This classical dance of Kuchipudi emerged from the Natyamelam tradition.

 

There are four traditional concepts of abhinaya (histrionics) as mentioned in the Natya Shastra, aims at invoking rasa (emotion) in the spectator.  The Natya Shastra refers to the four Abhinaya(s) - Angika, Vachika, Aharya and Satvika. These four abhinayas constitute the nritya in a Kuchipudi repertoire for solo exposition. 

 

In the Natya Shastra every movement of the anga(s), the upanga(s) and the pratyanga(s) and their relation to the emotions has been explored in the development of Kuchipudi idiom. 

  • Anghikabhinaya is a dramatic and complex form of communication with body postures, facial expressions and hand gestures.
  • Vachikabhinaya is an important feature of the Kuchipudi dance, which deals with the singing, and delivery of the dialogues.  In contemporary practice the vocalist sings the song and, the dancer expresses it in mime. 
  • Aharyabhinaya refers to the costumes and jewelry worn by the dancer. In traditional ballet the dancer wears specific costumes to fit the character played. In the case of a solo performance, the dancer wears a specifically designed and stitched costume.  This type of costume has come to stay as a standard costume for solo exposition for dancers.  
  • Satvikabhinaya is an appropriate expression that is in keeping with the import of the song to create the right mood.

 

In accordance with the imperative of classical dance, Kuchipudi is evenly balanced between the three aspects of dance: Natya, Nritya and Nritta without one element overshadowing another.

 

Natya

Natya corresponds to drama i.e. a play that is being produced on the stage. The word Natya in Natya Shastra denotes the script of the play as well as its production, which includes speech, music and dancing.  This usually has some traditional story for its theme

 

Nritya

Nritya corresponds to the mime performed to the song. In other words, it is the interpretative dance.  A dancer employs all the four Abhinaya(s) to express the navarasas (nine emotions). These nine emotions are shringara (love), vira (heroic), karuna (pathos), haasya (laughter), adbutha (wonder), raudra (furious), bhaya (fear), bibhatsa (disgust) and, shanta (quietude).

 

Nritta

Nritta corresponds to the pure dance steps performed rhythmically based on tala and laya. Here the movements of the body do not convey any mood or meaning and its purpose is just creating beauty by making various patterns, lines in space and time. According to Abhinaya Darpanam, this dance does not relate to any Psychological State (bhaava).

 

Music in Kuchipudi dance – dramas

Telugu is the main language spoken in Andhra Pradesh and is therefore, employed in accompanying lyrics for Kuchipudi, along with Sanskrit. The music primarily follows the Carnatic style of music although a number of regional trends are often employed in delineating the ragas. The orchestra consists of the Nattuvanar (conductor) with his hand-held cymbals, the vocalist, mridangam (drum), violin, flute and veena (a stringed instrument).

 

The yakshaganas and music dance plays of Kuchipudi starts with a kirtana containing Amba stuti.  A song in praise of Amba is followed by a traditional, devotional song, which starts with Jaya Jaya, which is also known as thodayamangalam.  Every daruvu usually starts with Konugolu Sabdas like Tadhigina Tom, Doddodindam, with a jati in the beginning and at the end along with the mridanga, jallari… and other Laya Vadyas.