Kuchipudi was introduced as a dance drama, but its present day dispensation tells a different story altogether. It has now been reduced only to dance form, with the drama missing completely. With proficient training and knowledge, the Kuchipudi dancers have started presenting the dance form in their individualistic ways, today. In the present timesd, majority of the Kuchipudi dancers are women. Kuchipudi dramas are enacted during nights, in open air, on improvised stages. The audience generally sits on the ground.
Kuchipudi originated from a hamlet in Andhra Pradesh, called
Kuchelapuri or Kuchelapuram, in the 3rd century B.C. This dance style,
like many other classical dance forms, was initially presented at
temples and was performed by the Brahmin men (known as Bhagavathalu).
These dances were meant to prove as offerings to the deities and women
were never allowed to participate in the dance group. The very first
group of Brahmin performers (Bhagavathalu) was formed in 1502 A.D.
Women Playing Male Parts
Siddhendra Yogi championed the cause of redefining the Kuchipudi dance
form, with the aim of eliminating exploitation of women. Owing to his
efforts, Kuchipudi came to be enriched by the advent of the female
dancers, with time. Renowned gurus, like Vedantam Lakshminarayana,
Chinta Krishnamurthy and Tadepalli Perayya, broadened the horizons of
the dance form further. The reforms brought in, at that time, have today
led to the women even playing the male parts in this dance form.
Rituals Before Kuchipudi
Before the dance drama of Kuchipudi, there are certain rituals that are
performed in front of the audience. After the rituals, the Soothradhara
or the conductor, with the supporting musicians, comes on stage, gives a
play of rhythm on the drums and cymbals and announces the title of the
dance drama. After this, two people enter, holding a curtain, behind
which is a dancer in the mask of Ganpati (the elephant headed god). The
dancer dances for some time, to worship Ganpati, so that the dance drama
goes on without hitches.
Introduction of Characters
In a Kuchipudi performance, each principal character introduces himself
or herself on the stage with a daru. A daru is a small composition of
dance and song specially designed for each character, to help him/her
reveal his/her identity and also to show his/her skill in the art. There
can be as many as 80 darus or dance sequences in a Kuchipudi
performance. All of them help set the mood of the drama as well as the
characters in it. Thereafter, the performance finally begins.
After the initial rituals as well the introduction of the characters is
complete, it is the time to finally begin the performance of Kuchipudi.
Through the show, the dance is accompanied by song, typically Carnatic
music. Accompanying the singer, in the performace, is by mridangam (a
classical South Indian percussion instrument), violin, flute and the
tambura (a drone instrument with strings which are plucked).
Make-up, Costumes and Music
Make-up and costumes are the unique characteristics of Kuchipudi dance
form. Apart from the make-up, the female characters also wear ornaments
and jewelry, such as Rakudi (head ornament), Chandra Vanki (arm
ornament), Adda Bhasa and Kasina Sara (neck ornament), and a long plait
decorated with flowers and jewelry. Most of the ornaments worn by the
artists are made of a light weight wood, called Boorugu.
Popular Kuchipudi Dance
The most popular Kuchipudi dance forms is the pot dance, in which a
dancer keeps a pot filled with water on his/her head, while the feet are
balanced on a brass plate. He/she moves on the stage, manipulating the
brass plate with the feet kept on its rim and doing some hand movements,
without spilling a drop of water on the ground. Bhama Kalapam,
Gollakalapam, Prahlada Charitam, Sashirekha and Parinaya are some of the
other famous dance dramas in Kuchipudi.