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Andhranatyam: History and Revival
- Kalakrishna

October 18, 2017

(This is a condensed version of Guru Kalakrishna's presentation on June 1, 2017 at the seminar on '100 years of Nritya Bharateeyam' at Chennai)

As we know the dance traditions in India are categorised under Natya mela and Nattuva mela traditions. Andhranatyam belongs to the Nattuvamela tradition. Andhranatyam, the ancient classical dance form of Telugu region (Telangana, Rayalaseema and Andhra), has been in vogue for the past 2000 years. It may sound new to people but it is as old as the temples constructed. To start with, it was performed in the Buddhist Aramas, temples and royal courts by the cultured and dedicated female artistes of Telugu region.

Unlike other female dances like Bharatanatyam, temple and court dances, Andhranatyam had become inert at one point of time. It was later revived in 1970 and is being propagated for the last 47 years at national and international platforms, more particularly in the Telugu speaking regions.

Temples in the Telugu regions are architectural marvels on their own. The sculptures in these temples speak volumes about the temple dance tradition and performing arts of the Telugu regions supporting the very fact that a very distinct art form exists which needs to be patronized.

Prior to Hinduism, Andhra Pradesh state served as a major centre of Jainism and Buddhism. The symbolic relics and ancient sites strewn across the state serve as evidence of these religious sects. Sculptures of Amaravati, in Guntur district of Andhra Pradesh, have been widely recognized and associated with prominence by Buddhist followers. Dancing was prevalent during this era and the sculptures confirm the same.

The Satavahana Empire which lasted for over 450 years from 230 BCE to 220 BCE built the great city of Amaravati, which is renowned for its dancing sculptures. Later Andhra region was ruled by some prominent dynasties like Andhra Ikshavakus, Brihatpalayanas, Anandagotrikas, Salankayanas, Pallavas, Vishnukundinas and Eastern Chalukyas who were all great patrons of art and culture.

The Kakatiyan era in the 11th century brought Shaivism to prominence. Jayapa Senani who was the chief commander of elephant force in the army of Kakatiya during the reign of King Ganapati Deva, a scholar in arts himself, penned Nritta Ratnavali a dance epic, Geeta Ratnavali on music and Vadya Ratnavali on musical instruments, where he mentioned about the music and dance in desi styles. Performing arts of Telugu regions enthralled even the Islamic rulers who took great interest in preserving the regional art forms.

During the reign of such distinguished set of rulers in the Telugu region, performing arts gained a significant position. Most of the temples had dedicated performing artists who were referred with utmost respect as Deva Ganikas and they enjoyed a special status in society. According to research on temple inscriptions by the famous historian B. N. Sastry, there are many Sila Sasahanams (inscriptional pillars) that mentioned about Deva Ganikas and Raja Narthakis or the court dancers with much reverence. The research work on Sila Sasanams or the descriptive plaques at several temples in Andhra Pradesh do mention about the temple dancers.

Dance in that era is considered very sacred and was performed by specialists who were dedicated to the temples as "Deva Narthakis" or the temple dancers. Other terms that are used to refer to the temple dancers are Sanulu, Ganikalu and Devadasis.

Gudisani played a significant role in the temple rituals. The inscriptions of 1535 AD, 1545 AD and others reveal that the dancers Chikkayasani, Govindasani, Bejji Hanumasani and Lingasani dedicated their lives to the temple rituals. We can find many inscriptions from the 5th and 6th centuries, mentioning about the Deva Ganikas, Gudisanis, who contributed in the form of donations for the maintenance of the temple (Akhanda deepam) and also for the welfare of the village community.

The following are the notable temples where dance was part of rituals.

1. Mukhalingam - Siva temple
2. Srikurmam - Vishnu temple
3. Arasavilli - Surya temple
4. Simhachalam - Narasimha temple
5. Muramalla - Vireswara temple
6. Palivela - Koppeswara
7. Visweswara Agraharam - Visweswara
8. Ryali - Jaganmohinikesava
9. Korukonda - Narasimhaswami
10. Achanta - Achateswara
11. Antharvedi - Narasimha
12. Draksharamam - Bhimeswara
13. Samarlakota - Kumara Rameswara Swami
14. Palakollu - Kshirarameswara Swami
15. Gunipudi Bhimavaram - Someswara
16. Dwaraka Tirumala - Srivenkateswara
17. Bapatla - Bhavanarayana
18. Ponnuru - Bhavanarayana
19. Chebrolu - Bhavanarayana
20. Singarayakonda - Narasimha
21. Ballipadu - Madanagopalaswami
22. Pithapuram - Kunthimadhava
23. Nellore - Ranganadha
24. Tirupati - Srivenkateswara
25. Srikalahasti - Sri Kalahastiswara Swamy
26. Amaravati - Amaralingeswara
27. Srisailam - Mallikarjuna Swami
28. Alampuram - Jogulamba, Navabrahma
29. Cheyyuru - Sundareswara
30. Pillalamarri - Nameswara
31. Pillalamari - Erakeswara
32. Nagulapadu - Trikuta
33. Orugallu - Rudreswara
34. Palampeta - Ramappa
35. Kotagulla - Ghanapeswara
36. Panagallu - Chchayasomeswara
37. Panagallu - Pachchala Someswara
38. Pillalamarri - Someswara
39. Nagulapadu - Veerabhadra Swami
40. Nagulapadu - Haitheswara Trikuta
41. Kothapalli - Trikuta
42. Nagunuru - Trikuta
43. Bejjanki - Lakshmi Narasimha
44. Nandikandi - Ramalingeswara
45. Kalpagur - Trikuta
46. Alampur - Sangameswara
47. Koosumanchi - Ganapeswara
48. Dichpalli - Rama
49. Jainadh - Lakshmi Narayana
50. Alwal - Sri Venkateswaraswamy

Pancha aramas in AP:

1. Bhimeswara - Draksharama
2. Kumararama - Samarlakota
3. Somarama - Gunupudi
4. Kshirarama - Palakollu
5. Amararama - Amaravati

Inscriptional instance:
The Mukhalingeswara Temple located in Srikakulam district is known for dance worship during the Akhanda Deeparadhana ritual by Deva Ganikas as per the temple inscriptions dating back to 8th century AD.

In the Saka year 1057, an inscription mentioned about the donation to Sthanapathi. The dancers were Manasani, Yeriyaka, Kavasani, Mallasani, Brahmasani, Bollasani, Vidiyasani and others.

The Devanartakis (temple dancers) of Andhra Pradesh claim to be descendants of Urvashi, who was born as an amsa of Maha Vishnu. Therefore, they have the privilege to perform ritual dance in the temples. Those who participate in katcheri and kalapas belong to the lineage of Rambha and Menaka. This was disclosed by the temple dancers themselves.

Evidence of Dance and Dancers in literary works:
In the Telugu literature, from the 10th century to 19th century, various Padyakavyas (poetry), Gadyakavyas (prose) have descriptions about the styles of dances performed in the courts of the kings by the Rajanarthakis.

In the 12th century, literary works like Basavapuranam, Panditharadhya Charithra, Thikkana's Telugu translation of Srimad Mahabharata and others, not only have narratives about dances, but also the technique of the dance item which is being portrayed by the dancers. Some poets even mentioned about the dance treatises, technical expressions etc. The entrance of the dancer, Kutupa Vinyasam, Melaprapthi was illustrated in a picturesque style by the Telugu poets.

Some of the literary works which mentioned about dance are:

1. Srimadaandhra Mahabharatam - 1022 AD - 1063 AD - Nannaya
2. Kumara Sambhavam - 1150 AD - Nannecholudu
3. Srimadaandhra Mahabharatam - 1250 AD - Thikkana
4. Nirvachanottara Ramayana - 1250 AD - Thikkana
5. Nrisimha Puranam - 1322 AD - 1349 AD - Errapragada
6. Kashikhandamu - 1440 AD - Srinadha Kavi
7. Kreedabhiramam - 1423 AD - 1445 AD - Srinadha Kavi
8. Vyjayanthi Vilasam - 1581 AD - 1611 AD - Sarangu Thammaya
9. Sringara Naishadam - 1415 AD - Srinadha Kavi
10. Hamsavimshathi - 1770 AD - 1775 AD - Ayyalaraju Narayanamathyudu
11. Charuchadrodayam - 1615 AD - 1675 AD - Chennamaraju
12. Parijathapaharanam - 1509 AD - 1532 AD - Nandi Thimmaya

More than 60 kavyas can be taken into account.

The sculpturesque evidence of temple dance:
Near Srisailam in the Ahobilam temple, the sculpture of a dancer offering Pushpanjali is exquisitely carved. The rich ornamentation of the dancer with Vaishnava Namam can be observed in this sculpture.

Deva Ganikas and temples:
One of the famous Deva Ganikas entwined with Andhra Pradesh state history and religious place is Manikyamba, of Draksharamam temple in East Godavari district. Manikyamba served as the Deva Ganika in the Bhimeswaram temple, who performed dance as a temple ritual. The locals believe that she is the reincarnation of that temple goddess Devi Manikyamba, who was born to serve the main deity Shiva. This temple dates back to mid-800 AD.

Sri Koormam Temple of Srikakulam district housed a Deva Ganika named Venkata Ratnamma who shared her dancing ritual details with Dr. Nataraja Ramakrishna during his research on temple dance traditions of Andhra Pradesh. The temple inscription dates back to 1281 AD.

Kunti Madhava Swami Temple in Pithapuram is famous for dance worship by Deva Ganikas for over 300 years. Macharla in Guntur district is home for Chennakesava and Veera Bhadra temples in 12th century AD. During the rule of Brahma Nayudu, who belonged to Hari-Hara religion, the legend goes by stating that the devotees' wishes will be fulfilled after bathing in Chandravanka River, offering prayers at Chennakesava Temple and watching Chandram dance ritual of the temple performed by a famous Deva Ganika named Chandramukhi.

Some of the famous Rajanarthakis or court dancers who served the rulers of Andhra region were Machal Devi during Kakatiyan period, Lakuma Devi in Kondaveeti Reddys Samsthaanam, Kuppaayi, Tirumallama and Muthu Chandra Rekha from Vijayanagara era to name a few.

20th century dancers:
Some of the famous court and temple dancers of 20th century are Nayudupeta Rajamma, Cheyyooru Sarada, Madhurantakam Andaallu, Thiruttani Ranganayaki, Kaluvai Nagamani, Macherla Radha, Poola Mahalakshmi, Jeediguntla Nagamani, Chedalavada Samrajyam, Chataparru Balatripura Sundari, Marempalli Vaidehi, Induvadana, Koormam Bade Venkata Ratnam, Annabathula Reddy Shastri, Annabathula Buli Venkata Ratnamma, Chinta Veera Bhadram, Chinta Chinigani Raju, Koone Chitti Raju, Saride Manikyamma, Jeeva Rathnamma and several others who promoted and propagated lasya dance traditions of Andhra Pradesh.

There are many references with dates and historical evidences pertaining to Deva Ganikas and Rajanarthakis in the published works of Dr. Nataraja Ramakrishna who is instrumental in bringing these ancient dance traditions to light along with some of its performers.

Devadasi act:
Dance in a temple was an auspicious offering to the presiding deity. So for this reason only a Gudisani (temple dancer) who had dedicated her life to the service of the temple had to lead a pious life as mentioned in the scriptures. Formerly they used to spend their pious life as with complete devotion and dedication to god as Tapaswinis. Later on the social, political and economic influences dominantly affected their lifestyle and tempted them to have a hereditary right to perform temple duties, so that they could enjoy the land, the temple. So the temple dancers used to adopt their relative's children and dedicate them for the temple service. This situation gradually changed. Instead of adopting others' children they wanted to have their own children. The heads and chiefs of the villages or towns exploited this situation for their selfish ends. This caused the gradual degradation of the social status of Gudisanis, who were previously having much regard in the hearts of the people. This situation created a separate class of dancing girls.

The impact of the degradation of Gudisani had influence on the dance art. This resulted in the fall of dance art particularly in the temple. So dance art was driven out of the temple. The dance art in the temple and dedication of dancing girls was abolished in the beginning of the 20th century. The influence of the Devadasi Act made the dancers give up dance and seek other professions. Even then they were identified as Kalavanthulu. The impact of Devadasi Act reflected in two ways. In one way it gave a new life to those communities of dancers who were looked down upon, in other way the art of dance lost its grandeur, greatness and prestige. The elite of the society and art lovers like C. Sambamurthy, E. Krishna Iyer and Rukmini Devi Arundale took revolutionary steps to promote the dance art in Tamilnadu. They revived and developed the 'Sadir,' the Devadasi dance tradition of Tamilnadu by giving a new name 'Bharatanatyam.' They strived hard to make the people understand the richness of the dance art in India and its spirituality, aesthetics and science.

Like E. Krishna Iyer, Dr. Nataraja Ramakrishna has strived hard to promote the dance traditions of Telugu regions for the last four decades. This urge of his promoting dance in the Telugu regions influenced some of the lasya dance artistes. Induvadana and Vaidehi of Marampalli who participated in Kuchipudi Seminar to prove 'Kuchipudi' dance as classical one at National level in 1958, requested Dr. Nataraja Ramakrishna to promote their lasya style of dancing which is distinct from Kuchipudi. So, Dr. Nataraja Ramakrishna convened a seminar of lasya dance artistes in 1970 at Rajahmundry on behalf of Andhra Pradesh Sangeet Nataka Academy.

Revival of Andhranatyam:
To fulfill this promise, Dr. Nataraja Ramakrishna focused his research towards reviving most of the ancient dance forms of Andhra Pradesh performed by women. This included interacting and compiling the research reports on dance styles and traditions of several temple dancers and court dancers while closely interacting with prominent dance exponents who stopped performing in temples and courts due to the implementation of Devadasi Act in 1947. These dancers then were on the verge of giving up the dance profession due to lack of patronage, and were practicing Mejuvani and Kalaapams for general public in temple festivals for survival.

1st conference on Nattuva Mela traditions of Telugu region in the name of Abhinaya Sadassu:
Dr. Nataraja Ramakrishna was supported for this cause by another enthusiastic dance exponent Annabathula Buli Venkataratnamma, a famous abhinaya and prabandha style dancer. She played an important role in interacting and convincing other exponents from temple and court dances to join the revival of Nattuva Mela traditions of Andhra Pradesh. "Abhinaya Sadassu" conference and seminar held on 22nd and 23rd of August 1970 at Lalitha Kala Niketan in Rajamundry was attended by 31 elderly artistes who were between the age group of sixty five and eighty, who practiced dance their whole life in the temples and courts, besides Late Pasala Suryachandra Rao, former President, AP Sangeet Nataka Academy, Late SBPBK Satyanarayana Rao, Zamindar of Kapileswarapuram, Late T. Bullaiah, Navabharat Gurukulam, Rajahmundry and Late Nataraja Ramakrishna.

The conference focused on lasya tradition of dances from Andhra Pradesh, with discussions interspersed with lecture-demonstrations and performances in Temple, Kaccheri and Bhagavata styles. Some of the several points discussed that stand out and form the core essentials of Nattuva Mela tradition of Andhra Pradesh are:

Training system followed in temple dance tradition
Choreography concepts in Kaccheri style
Identifying the differences between Kaccheri and Bhagavata traditions and adavu system
Abhinaya aspects in both Lasya and Tandava in Bhagavatha tradition and abhinaya by female artistes.

This was a historic seminar which unanimously decided for the first time that the Lasya Nartana practiced by these artistes till then should adopt a new name Andhranatyam, since it was known variously as Agamanartanam, Kelika, Darbar ata, Katcheri ata, Karnatakam, Nattuvamelam, Mezuvani, etc. However serious deliberations by experts and scholars on dance were continued after this seminar.

1st Andhranatyam workshop:
With the result of the inspiration from 1970 seminar, the Andhra Pradesh Sangeet Nataka Academy conducted three months training in Andhranatyam from January to April in 1973, in Kala Bhavan - Ravindra Bharathi. In this, the artistes from other States, countries like Germany, USA also were trained under experts like Annabattula Buli Venkataratnamma (Katcheri and Kalapam), Saride Manikyamma (Agamam - Adhyatma Ramayanam), Duggirala Jagadamba (Kshetrayya Padabhinayam), Nataraja Ramakrishna (theoretical and practical aspects of the dance).

Meeting to prepare repertoire and syllabus for Andhranatyam:
The necessity of writing syllabus for the training and performance generated a need for another seminar which was held from 25 to 27 February 1974. In this seminar the temple dancers, court dancers and prabandha dancers - a total of 19 members from all over the Telugu region attended to formulate the syllabus. For this purpose Nataraja Ramakrishna had to take the responsibility to propagate Andhranatyam, as the artistes were all female artistes who were looked down upon by the society. So they didn't want to come out to propagate the art form. Nataraja Ramakrishna introduced this dance form in his institution Nrityaniketan at Hyderabad and made his disciples learn, even though they were learning Bharatanatyam, Kuchipudi from him. He requested some of the core dancers to come and stay in his institution to train his disciples. Gudigunta Nagamanamma, Saride Manikyamma, Duggirala Jagadamba, Gaddibhukta Jeevartnamma, Jampa Mutyam gave training to his disciples.

Executive committee meeting to formulate syllabus for Andhranatyam with some changes: 16th September 1982
At the time of this meeting several artistes who had shared their ideas originally in framing the syllabus in 1974 meeting were no more. Hence, a new committee was formed with members Saride Manikyamma, Chinta Chiniganiraju, Duggirala Jagadamba and Jampa Mutyam for conducting a refresher course to prepare the new syllabus for students of Andhranatyam. Korada Narasimha Rao was the convenor for the syllabus committee to introduce Andhranatyam for a six year course in various colleges and universities for academic pursuits. Some of the prominent Kuchipudi gurus like Vedantam Satyanarayana Sarma and Sumathy Kaushal were part of the core committee, who approved and officiated the recognition of Andhranatyam. The same was officially recorded by the then Nritya Academy.

Conference in Vijayawada organised by Ramakrishna Nritya Kalakshetram on 17th July 1994:
During this seminar, Dr. Nataraja Ramakrishna, Sarada Ramakrishna, Guru Kalakrishna and several prominent artists discussed about the historical details related to Andhranatyam, by compiling the list of ancient dancers in history of Andhra Pradesh. A special discussion was also about Narasaraopeta tradition of performing style. Dr. Mikkilineni Radhakrishna Murthy recapped the history of temple sculptures in relation to performing arts. Dr. Nataraja Ramakrishna emphasized on the lasya tradition of performance and Navajanardana Parijatam. Viswanatha Satyanarayana mentioned about the historical details of Andhranatyam and Deva Ganikas. Sappa Durga Prasad detailed about the Agama nritya style in temples of the Andhra region. Perini Kumar spoke about Yoga sadhana in relation to Perini dance. Sarada Ramakrishna organised the meeting in Vijayawada.

National conference at St. Dominic School, Andhranatyam & Perini Research Centre, Hyderabad, 24-25 Sept 1994:
In 1994, 24th to 25th September a National Seminar was conducted in Andhranatyam at Hyderabad with some outstanding participants like Dr. Sunil Kothari, Dr. PSR Appa Rao, Usha Malik, Uma Rama Rao along with noteworthy Andhranatyam exponents like Pula Adi Lakshmi, Puvvula Lakshmikantamma, Saride Manikyamma, Annabattula Satyabhama etc.

And 1995, two festivals were held with Andhranatyam performances at Vijayawada and Hyderabad to propagate the art form. In the same year a G.O. was passed by Andhra Pradesh state government to include Andhranatyam as syllabus for students at Telugu University and its affiliated colleges enabling the students to pursue Certificate and Diploma courses in Andhranatyam.

A 9-day festival was attended by some eminent artists, historians and scholars like Sharon Lowen, B.N. Sastry, Kala Subba Rao and Gidugu Ramamurty who unanimously agreed that Andhranatyam needs to be propagated across India.

Since then, thousands of students attained certificate and diploma certifications from Potti Sreeramulu Telugu University. In 2002, Andhranatyam was introduced at post-graduation level in Potti Sreeramulu Telugu University. Every year a minimum of 5 students graduate from the University. Under the guidance of Guru Dr. Nataraja Ramakrishna, Dr. Suvarchala Devi holds the first PhD in Andhranatyam from the University of Hyderabad.

Elements of Andhranatyam:
Andhranatyam includes beautiful, delicate body movements with graceful gestures and slenderness of the Kaisiki Vritti, performed by the female artistes. It has Agama, Asthana and Prabandha styles in it. It is performed in Marga tradition in temples as prescribed in Agama sastras. With a tinge of the Desi tradition, it is performed in classical style in temple asthanas and courts of kings, which is called Kacheri, Darbar ata etc. The prabandha style is famous for its classical regional rendition with lokadharmi.

Andhranatyam is a combination of Agama, asthana and prabandha traditions which can be showcased by a female artiste on the same stage and in the same performance. It is an Eka Patra Kelika i.e., solo performance by a female artiste. It has been designed and is being depicted as one of the earliest female oriented dance tradition, with a well-knit repertoire to suit the modern theatre.

Repertoire of Andhranatyam:
The distinct feature of Andhranatyam is the process which depicts the old tradition to suit the modern stage. The repertoire contains the three traditions: Agama nartanam, Asthana nartanam, and Prabandha nartanam.

Agama nartanam: More nritta based items

1. Kumbhaharathi
2. Pushpanjali
3. Additha chari vinyasam
4. Kauthams
5. Kaivarams
6. Ashtadikpalaka Aaradhana
7. Navasandhi
8. Adhyatma Ramayana Keerthanas, etc.

In the Asthana sampradaya, selected items like Sabda, Swara, Sahithya Pallavis, Sabdam or salam jatis, Padavarnams, Padams, Javalis, Slokas, etc are performed. Asthana kelika in a temple is different to a kelika in the court of a king. The former leads the audience towards spiritualism whereas the latter is for entertainment for the kings and scholars, intellectuals and others according to the king's taste. Saatvikabhinayam predominates in the depiction of Padam. Slokabhinayam is unique with the version of "Anvayam." Padyams are also performed as part of the repertoire.

Prabandha nartanam:
Kalapams are performed as part of the Prabandha nartanam. The kalapams are: Bhamakalapam, Gollakalapam, Radhamadhavam, etc. In Nattuva mela tradition the Bhamakalapam was performed for nine nights outside the temple and thus was called Navajanardhana Parijatham. Earlier it was performed for nine consecutive nights at Kunti Madhava Temple by Late Pendyela Satyabhama and artistes from the same family of Pithapuram.

Navajanardana Parijatam is a special subject which is included for its distinct nature of presentation in the Prabandha part.

Kalakrishna is a leading exponent of Andhranatyam. He is one of the senior most disciples of Guru Nataraja Ramakrishna under who he specialised in Kuchipudi dance, Andhranatyam, Navajanardana Parijatam and other Temple dance traditions of Andhra in Guru Shishya Parampara. Kalakrishna runs his own school Hari Hara Nrithya Niketan in Hyderabad. He is presently serving as a visiting lecturer at the University of Hyderabad and Telugu University.

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