Dance Forms: Kuchipudi

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Dance Forms: Kuchipudi

Legend has it that in Andhra Pradesh at Kuchipudi village, Siddhendra Yogi, a devotee of Lord Krishna, devised this dramatic dance, and a number of Brahman male actors vowed that they would perpetuate this Kuchipudi tradition as bhakti, or devotion, for Krishna. Several inscriptional and literary sources support the existence of this form of dance-drama, which seems to have evolved in the sixteenth century from earlier musical dramas called yakshagana that combined elements of opera and dance. A performance was arranged for the nawāb of Golconda, Abdul Hasan Tahnishah, in 1678. He was so pleased that he gave Kuchipudi village to the Brahmans who took part in the play. Their families and descendants have carried on the tradition to the present day.

The most popular Kuchipudi drama is the story of Lord Krishna's most jealous wife, Satyabhama, who so hates having to share her divine husband with any of his sixteen thousand other consorts that she petulantly sulks and enters the "anger-closet" in Krishna's palace, vowing never to emerge. Sutradhara, the musical conductor, plays the role of Madhavi, the good and wise mediator who works so hard ot reconcile Satyabhama and Lord Krishna, finally bringing him down to lure Satyabhama back up to his bed chamber with sweet promises. Vachikabhianaya, spoken dialogue, is articulated by the participants in this drama, known as Bhamakalapam, the most popular dance-drama of modern India. Traditionally, the female roles are all played by men. Satyabhama's role is the most coveted one. Other popular Kuchipudi plays are Usha Parinayam, Prahlad Charitram, and Golla Kalapam.

Kuchipudi, like all classical dance forms, has elements of nritta (pure dance), nritya (expressional dance), and natya, (drama). There are songs for the entrance of each main character, in which the actor introduces him-or herself. The tradition is a living tradition, and members of the society in Kuchipudi village continue to stage their plays annually. The movements are quicksilver, lively and sensuous, with a delightful grammar all its own. It has moved from its first tiny South Indian rural temple to the largest urban and metropolitan centers of modern India, including New Delhi.

Lashminarayan Sastri, the great master of dancing and abhinaya, or expressions, taught this dance-drama to female exponents. He personally introduced several new numbers, like tarangams, balancing on the rim of a brass plate while dancing. These solo performances were introduced as entertainment between acts. His disciple Vempati Chinna Satyam followed in his footsteps, moving to Chennai (Madras) and opening schools for young female dancers. Vempati devised a solo dance form, on the lines of Bharata Natyam, beginning with rangapravesh, entrance on the stage; then jatiswaram, a pure dance number; followed by excerpts from the dance-dramas, like Satyabhama; and then javalis and padams, expressional numbers for abhinaya (mime), tillana (pure dance), and tarangams. He has also choreographed several dance-dramas.

Vedantam Satyam is well known for traditional female impersonation, but that tradition is slowly fading. Yamini Krishnamurty, Sobha Naidu, Raja Radha Reddy, Swapna Sundari, and Mallika Sarabhai are some of the best-known exponents of Kuchipudi.

Sunil Kothari


Jonnalagadda, Anuradha. "Traditions and Innovations in Kuchipudi Dance." Ph.D. diss., University of Hyderabad, 1996.

Kothari, Sunil. "Dance-Drama Tradition of Kuchipudi, Bhagavata Mela Nataka and Kuravanji with Special Reference to the Rasa Theory as Expounded in Bharata's Nātyashāstra." Ph.D. diss., Maharaja Sayajirao University,1977.

Kothari, Sunil, and Avinash Pasricha. Kuchipudi-Indian Classical Dance Art. New Delhi: Abhinav Publications, 2001.