Kuchipudi Dancers and Dance in India

Kuchipudi is a classical dance form, exclusive to the South-East Indian state of Andhra Pradesh. Kuchipudi is Indian classical art form which requires perfect balance of grace and potency, advancement and sensuality, besides balance and wildness. During its heydays, the classical dance form of Kuchipudi was conducted and displayed as dance dramas. The purpose during this time was to instruct divine trance which appeals unforgettable bliss and brings an individual nearer to the path of redemption. Kuchipudi is purely classical in nature and employs Lasya, Thandava and Abinaya with the purpose of interpretation of Slokas. The classical Indian art also includes Samyutha, Asamyutha Hasthas, Karana, Chari, Angahara, Mandala, Nrutha Hasthas etc. It is unique dance form in the sense that it makes intricate use of four Abhinayas namely Angika, Vachika, Aaharya and Satvica respectively.


Kuchipudi Dance

Uma Muralikrishna, a Kuchipudi dancer performing at IIM Bangalore (Image credit: Vasanthakumarep / Wikipedia)

The use of Vachikabhinayam is a distinct feature in the Kuchipudi and the dancer not only dances on the traditional background music but also acts with gestures as well as words. It would not take less than 10 yearsfor an ordinary styled dancer for mastering this dance and take it to the levels where he/she can easily express Bhava (emotions) through eyes and rhythm using smart movement of foot work.


Nattuva Mela and Natya Mela are two popular schools of dance in India. Nattuva Mela gradually transformed into Bharathanatyam (or the performing solo items) and Natya Mela ultimately transformed into Kuchipudi dance initiated as the dance drama style. Natya mela is usually performed by both men and women dancers in conjunction. Their collection comprises dance dramas through input of themes, which may or may not be religious, but ultimately has the purpose of entertaining the audience. It is this form of dance that is known as the forerunner of the present day Kuchipudi dance.


Kuchipudi dancers perform the classical dance form Kuchipudi which has the origination in the village of Kuchipudi, lying in Southern India. For quite some time, Kuchipudi was only enacted by dancers in the temples and that too on certain religious and other auspicious festivals. Originally, all the Kuchipudi dancers were makes from the Brahmin families, and such families were known as Bhagavathalu of Kuchipudi.


Legend Associated with Kuchipudi

The dance form derives its name from the native village of Kuchelapuram, which is small village of 65 kms from Vijaywada. Kuchipudi classical dance is famous for its nimble movements and its resilient narrative as well as dramatic characterization.


Local legends allude and as the story flows, there was once orphan in Srikakulam who was raised by the village people. As per the local custom prevailing at that time in Srikakulam, the orphan was married at childhood by the villagers. Later for acquiring the knowledge of Vedic studies, he went to Udipi and started living as Sidhendra Yogi.


After completing his Vedic studies, Sidhendra returned to village, where the village elders guided him to move to his wife’s house and take the family responsibilities. He began to move to his wife’s native village and on journey came across the river. After swimming the river to certain point, he found that it was difficult to swim any further. He began praying to god to provide him the strength to cross the river. God provided him the strength and he swam across the river and reached the banks.


Upon reaching the river bank, Sidhendra thanked god and decided to become yogi and devote his life to religious affairs. He settled in the village of Kuchelapuram and became involved in teaching the Brahmin boys on devotional dance dramas which were later presented as offerings to God as Natya Shastra.


The pioneer group of Brahmain Bhagavathulu of Kuchipudi came up in the year 1502 AD and these Kuchipudi dancers offered their oblation to deities. Women were never allowed to participate in the groups.


Siddhendra Yogi is considered as the pioneer of Kuchipudi dancers. Well-known Kuchipudi dancers like Vedantam Lakshmi NarayanaSastry, Chinta Krishnamurthy and Tadepalli Perayya, extended the horizons of the classical dance. There were reforms in the Kuchipudi and as the result of these reforms, women were allowed to participate and initiate the dances. The popular Kuchipudi dancers of India include Raja & Radha Reddy, Bhavana Reddy, Yamini Reddy, and Kaushalya Reddy


Kuchipudi as Dramatic Form

Kuchipudi became popular as the dramatic dance form. It was considered to be the revered classical dance form and there are also instances in history wherein the Brahmins who practiced this art form and mastery in it, were granted lands around the Kuchipudi.


Over the years, the dramatic classic dance form has moved out of villages and stage performances are enacted by several reputed Kuchipudi dancers.


Kuchipudi and Musical Instruments Used

Listed below are the musical instruments which are used in the dance performance of Kuchipudi:

  • Mridangam
  • Manjira
  • SaraswatiVina (South Indian Vina)
  • Violin
  • Kanjira
  • Surpeti
  • Venu
  • Tanpura