Natya Sampradhyam: Dance journey of Bhagavathas
- Sudha Sridhar
Photos: S. Raguraam

November 6, 2016

‘Natya Sampradhayam – Dance journey of Bhagavathas,’ a four day festival was organized by International Dance Research and Training Center (IDRTC), Kuchipudi, in association with Andhra Bhavan, from October 20 to 23, 2016 at Andhra Bhavan, New Delhi. The festival was supported by Sangeet Natak Akademi and Indian Council for Cultural Relations.

The Bhagavathas of Kuchipudi, one of the natya mela traditions of the country, wherein the male members of the traditional families who were adept Kuchipudi artists well versed in the nuances of the art form used to travel extensively at times for months together to perform various Kuchipudi Yakshaganas. They had some outstanding and well appreciated melas like Chinta vari melam, Mahankali vari melam, etc, a commendable self sustaining effort from the traditional families of Kuchipudi totally dedicated to the art form.

The advent of various cultural bodies post Independence saw the shift in patronage pattern from royalty and the affluent to the more organized cultural festivals by both Government and NGOs. Further, with the efforts of some constituents of the Bhagavathas, the Kuchipudi art form itself spread across the length and breadth of the globe opening the doors to the distaff side. It paved way for institutionalized way of teaching to that of the gurukul system followed hitherto and saw quite a few luminaries from the general populace too take centre stage much to the credit of the Bhagavathas’ magnanimity in sharing their art form. However, in the bargain, the Kuchipudi Yakshaganam and the Bhagavathas, the progenitor, were sidelined from the mainstream and the solo style has come to be synonymous with the art form itself.

It is in this background, that the current initiative by the Kuchipudi Bhagavathas’ effort through the IDRTC president Vedantam Raghava and its director Tadepalli Dr. Satyanarayana Sharma (Festival Director) is very commendable. A long overdue concerted effort in both showcasing the richness of the art form as well as laying a foundation to re-establish the glorious ‘Dance Journey of Bhagavathas’ through a dedicated festival, that too at the capital city was akin to how among innumerable rain drops only a few get to become a pearl.

On all the days the organizer stuck to the Kuchipudi Bhagavathas’ tradition of first Nritya Archana as salutation to Lord Nataraja followed by the traditional lamp lighting by the guests / dignitaries of the evening. The proceedings of the festival started with an excellent performance by Pasumarthi Mrutyunjaya Sarma. Keeping the tradition of starting any event with invocation to Lord Ganesha, he started with a krithi by Saint Thyagaraja, ‘Sri Ganapathini sevimpa rare’ followed by Prahalada Pattabhikesha sabdam and Ananda Tandavam as a finale. Mrutyunjaya’s performance literally set the momentum for the festival.

This was followed by a performance by Abhinaya Nagajyothi and group from Delhi. She started with Annamaiyya’s keertana “Emani pogadudhu” followed by ‘Mahishasura mardini.’ In her Guru Seetha Nagajyothi’s choreography in Brindavana sarangi, Abhinaya performed jathis on plate rendered in paran style of taranas in Kathak almost on similar lines to how Vempati Chinna Satyam had shown gati bhedas in his most famous Hindola tillana.

The first day evening saw the much acclaimed ‘Bhama Kalapam’, the masterpiece of the seer of Kuchipudi, Siddendra Yogi, led by Pasumarthi Rattaiah Sarma as Madhavi, Vedantam Venkata Nagachalapati as Bhama and Vempati Satyaprasad as Lord Krishna. The experience of Rattaiah Sarma was more evident than the age one should say, his role of Madhavi was enjoyed to the hilt by the audience with his situational spot comedy and that too very much in the context of the Kalapam. Most of the daruvus of the Kalapam was presented much to the delight of the connoisseurs. Since the singer Suryanarayana Rao was found wanting during the evening, Bhama character had to sing and perform at times during the Kalapam.

Bhama Kalapam

Mohini Bhasmasura

Day two saw performances by artists from the capital city. T Reddy Lakshmi with her very brisk presentation set the ball rolling for the second day’s performances with an invocation to Goddess Durga, followed by a Swati Tirunal bhajan in praise of Lord Krishna in Hindi adapted to Kuchipudi with dramatization. She concluded with a tarangam on Lord Shiva. Her depiction and abhinaya were good in all the three numbers which were choreographies of her Guru Jayarama Rao. This was followed by a performance of young talented M S Vaishnavi, disciple of Seetha Nagajyothi, New Delhi. She brought to stage Krishna Sabdam followed by Atana Jathiswaram.

The prime slot of the second evening saw the nritya nataka ‘Mohini Bhasmasura’ reportedly the last dance drama production by the Kuchipudi legend Vedantam Satyanarayana Sarma. The main character of the drama, Basmasura, as well as the lead artist who played the dominant role Chinta Ravi Balakrishna stole the show and the hearts of the audience. The need to deserve before receiving higher aspects of life was beautifully brought out through the dance drama by the group.

The third evening saw Niressha Sannareddy start her performance with the famous ‘Jeyamu Jeyamu’, an invocation to Kuchipudi Goddess Balatripurasundari. This was followed by Lakshmi ashtakam, a composition of her Guru Vempati Ravishankar. She has a promising future being under the wings of a great teacher.

The evening saw an exquisite production, ‘Sri Krishna Parijatham’ by Vempati Ravishankar. He brought back the work of his illustrious father Vempati Chinna Satyam to life ably assisted by the melodious rendering by the vocalist D.S.V. Sastry, raising the hopes of continuing the legacy of the doyen. The famous dance drama saw Mrutyunjaya Sarma as Sage Narada, Vempati Priyanka as Satyabhama, Ravalli as Sri Krishna and Aruna Khaleel as Rukmini enacting their  roles to perfection.

Sri Krishna Parijatham

Bhakta Prahalada

The fourth day saw Krishnakumar’s team comprising of young budding energetic artists perform Ramadas keerthana “Adigo bhadradri” and Annamaiyya’s “Tandanana ahi” followed by Shiva ashtakam setting the tone for the final evening. Next to take centre stage were the dancing couple Girish Chandra and Devi Girish. A stuthi on lord Surya and ‘Alokaye tarangam’ were perfect and one can see hard work behind their performance. It was a sight to see Vempati Ravishankar, the composer of the numbers, showcasing his expertise as a choreographer and also rendering admirable vocal support.

The best was reserved for the grand finale of the festival, a Kuchipudi Yakshaganam, ‘Bhakta Prahalada.’ Exhilarating performance by Vedantam Venkata Nagachalapathi as Hiranyakasipu and captivating supporting role played by the rest of the group. Veteran Rattaiah Sarma as sutradhari, Mrutyunjaya Sarma in female personification role as queen Leelavathi, Vedantam Hasita as Prahalad, Vempati Satyaprasad and Tadepalli Saikrishna in dual role as vethrahasta and demon along with Tadepalli as Narasimha avatar, ensured that the Yakshaganam was a memorable treat which will be etched in the memory of the audience for a long time.

The festival had a very insightful photo exhibition highlighting the various architects of the Bhagavathas in different mode in their dance journey through the centuries. The carefully selected photos gave a glimpse of the rich cultural heritage that the Kuchipudi Bhagavathas represent. The organizers had thoughtfully dedicated the photo exhibition to the first doctorate of the Bhagavathas, Dr. Chinta Ramanatham, son of the Yakshagana pithamaha legendary Chinta Krishnamurthy.

The motto of the festival was to showcase that Kuchipudi is not all about solos and restart the glorious journey of the Bhagavathas and that is exactly what it achieved. The festival had apart from Vyasta Nruthyaamsam (solo), Yugala Narthanam (duet), Nritya Nataka (dance drama), Nritya Rupakam (ballet), Kalapam (unique to Kuchipudi art form) and the spectacular Kuchipudi Yakshaganam all in the course of the four evenings which saw jam packed auditorium graced by many celebrities, scholars, academicians, foreign delegates and art lovers. It was definitely a pleasant sight to see the eagerness with which they enjoyed the fare.
With the success at the capital city, the ‘Natya Sampradhayam’ festival is set to be taken to more venues, which augurs well for re-establishing the Dance Journey of the resilient Bhagavathas and an impending visual treat for the discerning art lovers spread over the length and the breadth of the country.

Sudha Sridhar, a double graduate in Law & Dance is a cultural activist working on advocacy efforts to preserve, promote and propagate art forms and for the cultural rights and welfare measures for artists. Currently her main focus is on Kuchipudi heritage village and promotion of all the three streams of South Indian Yakshagana - Karnataka Yakshagana, Kuchipudi Yakshaganam and Melattur Bhagavathamela.