Kuchipudi lec-dem by P Rama Devi 
- Padma Jayaraj, Thrissur 
e-mail: padmajayaraj@sancharnet.in 

January 10, 2006 

Bharatam, a cultural organization in Thrissur celebrated a three-day art festival in connection with its 3rd anniversary. P Rama Devi, an exponent of Kuchipudi, gave a lecture demonstration for the students of Natyakala Academy, Thrissur. Rama Devi took the audience down the lines to the very beginning of Kuchipudi, highlighted its evolution and demonstrated its salient features. 

Although a Keralite, she was brought up in Guntur District in Andhra Pradesh, close to the home of Kuchipudi. She learned the dance from her guru Mahankali Srimannarayana who belongs to a traditional family. Later she established Sri Sai Nataraja Academy of Kuchipudi dance in 1989 in Secunderabad. Rama Devi wrote ballet scripts, choreographed dance items and authored two books on Kuchipudi dance. Currently she is doing PhD in comparative aspects of Kathakali and Kuchipudi. She also won a senior Fellowship from the Central Govt. 

"Dance according to tradition is the fifth Veda, Panchama Veda. Sage Bharatha in his dramaturgy speaks of marga tradition." Rama Devi went to the beginning itself. Dance in ancient times were performed by men in thandava style. Of course the archetypal dancer is Nataraja. From myths and oral traditions, she moved to history. 13th c AD was the golden age of dance in Andhra, a period that saw regional styles. Kuchipudi as a dance form evolved during this period. It was then nattuva mela, a male oriented dance-drama tradition of Bhagavatas. With themes from epics, they dealt with history, culture and moral values attempting even social reformation (the evidence is Machupalli Kaifath). 

Yakshagana was the popular one-man narrative then. And the takeoff point for Kuchipudi was Kalapas. Kuchipudi owes its classical revival to Siddhendra Yogi. Well-versed in Vedas and Sastras, Siddhappa was a spontaneous poet who sang in a melodious voice. He chose sanyas and became a devotee of Lord Krishna. When Radha-Krishna love of Jayadeva was gaining popularity, Siddhendra Yogi focused on familial values, the love between Krishna and his consort, Satyabhama. His Bhama Kalapam deals with passionate love in highly refined language set to classical music. He gave a definite format, introduced stylized footwork. He initiated young Brahmin boys promising moksha to the practitioners of this sacred art. Female roles were impersonated by youths. He sang and danced his own compositions. This sensuous stream became 'Bhama Cult.' The jeevatma-paramatma concept is the mystical aspect of the Hindu Vedanta. 

Golla Kalapam is another traditional theme. Here, a milkmaid from the Yadav community establishes her superiority over a Brahmin during a chance encounter. Her sheer brilliance of wit and insight into life as lived by rural folk in India is the focal point of the item. 

With the concept of Kalapams, drama and characters entered the stage. With Sutradhara mediating between characters and the audience, Kuchipudi accepted entertainment as another function. Hasya and lokadharmi became the vehicles of entertainment. The exclusive feature of Kalapam is that it portrays character through song, dance and acting, bringing out the psychological and social nuances. 

Kuchipudi was fortunate to have stalwarts as Sutradharas whose contributions became guiding principles. Vedantam Lakshmi Narayana Sastry, an unparalleled maestro in the field, created a flutter by introducing women to Kuchipudi in 1930. Solo items were 
choreographed; compositions of eminent poets were taken and set to music. An eminent guru and Founder-Director of the Kuchipudi Art Academy, Madras, he brought Kuchipudi into the cultural map of India with single minded devotion and effort. It was Vempatti Chinna Satyam who added modifications and made it popular, performing around the globe. 

Abhinaya in Kuchipudi 
Kuchipudi adheres to four kinds of abhinaya: angika, vachika, aharya, and satvika. Angika abhinaya relates to body movements, gestures and expression of emotions. The basic unit is called 'Adagu,' which closely resembles karanas. The popular item, dancing on the rim of a plate with a pot of water on the head was introduced later in tharangam. It is pure nritta, not connected with the theme. Satvika is exclusive to Kuchipudi. It aims at revealing the psychic nature of the character physiologically. The dancer reveals the psychic condition through appropriate expressions to enrich the rasa state. 

Rama Devi demonstrated the three important types of nayikas, enacting the same situation-Khandita Avastha (The husband comes home in the early hours of the morning when the waiting nayika is almost asleep. Her man comes after a night's revelry with tell tale signs). Sweeya is a married woman, noble at heart, understanding, forgiving, and willing to transform her husband with love. In the same situation Parakeeya (a maiden) demands an explanation from her lover. Taking a feminist's stance she takes him to task. Capable of analytical thinking she is not willing to be abused. Samanya nayika is an amoral woman. Steeped in materialism untouched by love, money is what matters to her. Without any pangs she can dismiss men. The enactment revealed the psychological depth to which a dancer goes to reveal a character by using facial expression and body language. 

The unique stamp of Kuchipudi 
From 1950's Kuchipudi has become a popular classical dance form like Bharatanatyam, Odissi or Mohiniyattam in the south. If Mohiniyattam is marked by its swaying movements in circles and semicircles, Bharatanatyam is noted for its sharp angular gestures and quick movements. While Odissi is distinct with its tribhanga, the beauty of Kuchipudi lies in its spring-like moving up-and-down of the body that lends vigor and grace. 

The performance 
Her team performed the traditional items in the evening. The program started with a vinayaka stuti in natta raga, written and choreographed by Rama Devi and performed by Nivedita and Srividya. The second item was a Swati Thirunal keertana in hamsanandi raga that showed Lord Siva destroying Kamadeva for tempting him during his penance. A javali in kuranji raga set to adi tala projected the characteristics of Samanya Nayika. A Tyagaraja keertana was followed by Tarangam, an important item of Kuchipudi. The recital dramatised the childhood charms of Krishna. And the performance ended with a thillana in raga Faraz. 

Padma Jayaraj is a regular contributor to narthaki.com