by David Courtney, Ph.D.
is the classical dance form from the South-East Indian
state of Andhra Pradesh. It derives its name from the
village of Kuchelapuram, a small village about 65 kms
from Vijaywada. It is known for its graceful movements
and its strong narrative / dramatic character.
is a legend concerning the origins of Kuchipudi. It is
said that there was once an orphan of Srikakulam who was
raised by the village. These kind people had him married
at childhood as was the custom of the time. However, for
his training he went to Udipi for Vedic studies. During
his study he acquired the name Sidhendra Yogi.
Pallavi in Kuscipudi Pose
After a time he returned to Srikakulam. However, the village
elders ordered him to go to his wife's house to assume
his family responsibilities. On the journey he came upon
a river. As he was swimming across the river he suddenly
realised that he could swim no further. He then prayed
to God to give him the strength to make it across. He
did make it, and upon reaching the shore he vowed to become
a sanyasi (renunciate) and devote his life to religious
then settled in the village of Kuchelapuram and started
teaching. Here, he instructed Brahmin boys in devotional
dance dramas based upon religious themes. These religious
plays were presented as offerings to God in the tradition
of the Natya Shastra.
flourished as a dramatic form of dance for hundreds of
years. It was held in high esteem by the rules of the
Deccan. For instance Tana Shah in 1678 granted the lands
around Kuchipudi to the Brahmins who performed the dance.
At times the dancers could even wield political and social
power. One example was a play-cum-social commentary performed
in 1502. It seems that a group of artists performed before
Immadi Narasa Nayaka. In this play, they indicated that
the people were being unfairly treated by a local raja.
The dancers succeeded in freeing the people form the abusive
practices of the raja, but the artists at one point even
required the protection of the army.
Kuchipudi acquired its present form in the 20th century.
A number of people were responsible for moving it from
the villages to the performance stage. One of the most
notable was guru Lakshminarayan Shastry. After him, a
number of other luminaries would mould it into its present
shape. Some notable names are Vempati Chinna Satyam, C.R.
Acharyalu, and Dr. Nataraja Ramakrishna.
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