What is the dance drama tradition of Andhra Pradesh?

Kuchipudi, the classical dance style of Andhra Pradesh, is accepted as a solo dance but evolved from the dance-drama tradition of Bhagaveta Mela Natakam. Stories from Hindu mythology, particularly Vaishnava Sampradaya (cult of Lord Vishnu), are interpreted through the medium of stylized and rhythmic movements, typical hasta mudras (hand gestures) and expressional dancing. Kuchipudi lays equal emphasis to elegance and vibrant movements and is performed by both men and women.

Evolution and history

The word Kuchipudi comes from the village Kuchelapuram in Krishna district of Andhra Pradesh. The Sanskrit word Kusilava-puram refers to the village of actors, travelling bards or dancers. The authoritative text of dance and dramaturgy, written by Bharata Muni, known as Natya Sastra with 6,000 verses in 36 chapters, studied version, evolved during 500 BCE to 500 CE, that mentions the graceful movements known as Kaishiki Vritti. Pre-2nd century text calls one raga (musical melody) as Andhri (Andhra), related to Gandhari Arsabhi. The 1st milllenium Sanskrit text by Bruna Nettle credits its origin to 3rd century.

The copper inscriptions, from 10th to 15th century of Machupalli kaifat refers to Kuchipudi dance. According to Manohar Varadpande, Kuchipudi emerged in the late 13th century during the reign of the Ganga rulers of Kalinga; however, the dancers enjoyed royal patronage during the reign of King Krishnadevaraya in the Vijayanagara empire.

In 1678, the last Shia Muslim Sultan of Golkonda, Abul Hasan Qutub Shah, gifted the Kuchipudi village to the dancers, as he was impressed with their brilliant performance; however, during the reign of Aurangzeb, he was completely against arts and artistes and destroyed the musical instruments, too. The British, too, did not approve of classical dancers and performing art forms suffered a setback.

Pioneer mentors and technique

The foremost pioneers were Vedantam Lakshminarayana Sastri (1886-1956), Vempatti Venkataramaya Sastri and Chinta Ventaramayya Sastri. Prior to the Bhagavata nataka tradition, dancers interpreted stories related to Shaivism and were known as Brahmana Melas. According to the tradition, Natttuva Melas pertained to the invocatory Puja dance and the Kalika dance in the Kalyana mandapa, the Natya Mela pertained to ritual dances, Kalika dance for intellectuals and Bhagavatam for commoners.

Teertha Narayana Yati, who wrote the Krishna Leela Tarangani, was a sanyasin (sage) of the Advaita Vedanta and his disciple Siddhendra Yogi founded the systematised version in the 17th century. He also induced young Brahmin boys to take up Kuchipudi dance as he felt that if females danced, the purity of the dance will be affected.

Vempatti Chinna Satyam further refurbished the Kuchipudi dance and placed it on the international map. The technique is similar to Bharata Natyam but unlike Bharata Natyam, Kuchipudi dancers are quite light footed with spring-like and bouncing movements that differs in the style of presentation.

Performance and music

Bhama Kalapam, an extract from Krishna Leela Tarangani, forms the mainstay of the Kuchipudi repertoire, besides Golla Kalapam of Ramiah Sastri which is an ethical satire between the Gopis and the Brahmins. Kritis of Tyagaraja and Padams of Kshtreyya, etc., are also part of the performance.

American Esther Sharman, renamed as Ragini Devi, whose daughter Indrani Bajpai or Indrani Rehman, and Yamini Krishnamurti, are among the foremost exponents. Leading exponents, Raja Radha and Kausalya Reddy, Swapna Sundari, Sobha Naidu, Vyjayanthi Kashi, Jayarama and Vanashree Rao, Narasimha Chari, Anuradha J., and young brilliant dancers including Yamini and Bhavana Reddy, Prateeksha Kashi, Avijit Das, Alekhya Punjala, etc.

Traditionally a Kuchipudi performance commences with invocations to Lord Ganesha, Lord Nataraja and Goddess Parvati, while paying salutations; the dancer also receives blessings for the successful performance without any hindrance whatsoever. After the Jatiswaram is performed which is a fine combination of music, melody and rhythm, interwoven with jatis, the display of rhythmic complex patterns of varied movements, followed with the Sabdam, Padam, Varnam, another Padam or Bhajan and finally the Thillana or the Tarangam which is the dance on the rim of the brass plate.

Performances are solo and dance dramas like Rukmini Kalyanam or Sreenivasa Kalyanam and other dramas pertaining to Lord Shiva, Rama, Kartikeya and Ganapati are also enacted and presented.

It was believed that if you have to please Lord Krishna, you have to don female attire at least once. During the 19th century, females were barred from performing Kuchipudi. Hence the tradition developed wherein male dancers attired like females, interpreting both masculine and feminine characters.

One of the mainstays of the Kuchipudi repertoire is the interpretation of Bhama Kalapam or the story of Satyabhama. Satyabhama, like other women, was in love with Krishna; she was a royal and beautiful lady but arrogant. Krishna wanted to teach her a lesson, hence asked her as to who was more beautiful, Satyabhama or Krishna. As expected, Satyabhama claimed that she was the most beautiful woman. Krishna argued with her and angrily drifted away. Satyabhama realised her mistake and asked for forgiveness. Bhama Kalapam is an extract from Krishna Leela Tarangani written by saint composer Narayana Teertha.

It is interesting to narrate here one of the Kuchipudi performances rendered by the renowned and dynamic Yamini Krishnamurti. She was interpreting the number Swami Ra Ra (Please come, My Lord) wherein the dancer as the heroine requests the Lord to come as soon as possible as she is unable to bear the pangs of separation. While interpreting this number with large expressive eyes, a Sardarji went up to the stage. The dancer responded, saying: "I am calling my Swami, My Lord, you are not He!"

Credit : Guru Vijay Shanker (The Teenager Today)

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Which is the classical dance style of Orissa?

Odissi is one of the most elegant classical dance styles of India based on the feminine style of dancing known as Lasya, hailing from Orissa. Prevailing for more than 2,000 years, evidence proves that Odissi existed in the 2nd century, but over the centuries went through various stages of both progression and regression like other classical dances of India. Through the medium of varied movements and expressions, different stories of Hindu mythology are portrayed, particularly Vaishnavism. Nevertheless, stories from other religions are also interpreted in Odissi. Hence, Odissi is a fine representation of secularism and spiritualism.

Evolution and History

Odishee (original name) archeological sites related to Hinduism, Buddhism and Jainism and the carvings of dance and music in the Manchapuri Cave in Udayagiri, reveal that Odissi existed in the 1st to 2nd century during the reign of Jain king Kharavela. Hathigumpha inscriptions further ascertain the fact of the existence of this lyrical and graceful classical dance of India.

The "Shilpa prakasha", Odia architecture and sculptures at the Lord Jagannath Temple, the Konark Temple with a "nritya mandapa", the Brahmeshwara temple in Bhubaneshwar, are other evidences of the Odissi form. The 8th century saw the emergence of the saint composer and philosopher Shankaracharya, and in the 12th century, the saint-composer Jayadeva wrote the immortal classic Geet Govinda which is considered the mainstay of Odissi repertoire.

Odissi dancers were referred to as Maharis (devadasis). The dancers used to perform inside the sanctum sanctorum of the temple and there were other dancers who danced in the temple courtyards and further moved on to rich landlords and palaces, hence the degradation of dance started for which not only the dancers but also the society is responsible. Alongside, the traditional emergence of Gotipua (boy dancers) prevailed wherein young boys danced dressed as girls.

Technique and music

Like other classical dance styles, Odissi is also based on the text of dance and dramaturgy, Bharata Muni's Natya Sastra and Nandikesvaroa's Abhinaya Darpana. Natya Sastra mentions four vrittis (methods of expressive delivery) in vogue like Avanti, Dakshinatya, Panchali and Odra-Magadhi. Odra refers to Odissi. The Odissi technique comprises various bhangas (symmetry body bends), torso deflections and hand movements. It all starts, with the chauka (basic stance) followed by other movements in different rhythmic beats. Broadly, Odissi can be divided into two sections: movements known as pure dance and abhinaya (expressional dancing). Students start learning at an early age as it is not easy to master this art of geometrical symmetry and stylized movements.

Classical and folk music with Odia lyrics forms the music with raags like Kalyana, Nata, Baradi, Karnata, Bhairavi, Saveri, etc., are used. Musical composers like Jayadeva, Dinakrisha Dasa, Kabi Samrata, Upendra Bhanja, Banmali Dasa and Kavichandra Kalicharan Patnaik form the mainstay of the Odissi repertoire.

The performance normally begins with an invocation to Lord Jagannath known as Mangalacharan, followed with a rhythmic pure dance item known as Pallavi, a fine combination of rhythm, music and melody, Abhinaya numbers like Dashaavataram, Ashtapadis from Geet Govinda, and finally Moksham, that symbolises the union of the human soul (jeevatma) with divine soul (parmatma).

Pioneer mentors and repertoire

The pioneer mentors of Odissi are Kelucharan Mohapatra, Gangadhar Pradhan, Pankaj Charan Das and Raghunath Dutta, top dancers like Sanjukta Panigrahi, Sonal Mansingh, Ragini Devi, placed Odissi on the international platform followed with Dr Priyambada Mohanty, Laxmipriya Mohapatra and Kum Kum Mohanty and Kasturi Pattnaik further enhanced the repertoire by increasing the numbers with new choreographic items. Sharon Lowen from America and Illeana Citaristi from Italy are recognized as devoted performers.

Some of the professional dancers from Mumbai are Jhelum Paranjape, Daksha Mashruwala, Shubhada Varadkar and Debi Basu. Young talented dancers include Madhur Gupta, Vinod Kevin Bachan (disciple of Padmashri Ranjana Gauhar), Ankur Balal and Debasis Patnaik.

Credit : Guru Vijay Shanker (The Teenager Today)

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How important are the types of dances in the world?


Energetic or graceful, dancers use athletic skill and flexibility to perform a series of movements, often in time to music. Dancing is a form of expression that may be a type of performing art, part of a special ritual, or a fun social activity. The earliest dancers used movement to worship gods and spirits and to act out stories. In performances, dancers often follow a pre-planned series of steps and movements devised by a choreographer.

BALLET: Ballet is a theatrical dance with graceful moves. Dancers undergo rigorous training and wear special hard-toed ballet shoes in order to dance en pointe - on the tip of their toes.

DISCO: In the 1970s, pop songs with strong dance beats ruled the airwaves and people gathered in clubs to disco dance. Some dances had set steps; others were created by the dancers themselves, perhaps inspired by the film Saturday Night Fever.

CHINESE DRAGON DANCE: In this ceremonial dance, dating back to the Han Dynasty (206 BCE-220 CE), a team of performers carries a colourful dragon, held up with poles. They lift and lower the poles to make the dragon dance. This dance is a key part of Chinese New Year celebrations.

BHARATANATYAM: In ancient times, Hindu temple dancers in south India performed a set of moves and postures to tell the stories of the gods. These evolved into the Bharatanatyam dance style. In this dance, certain poses - especially hand gestures -are held to represent different meanings.

TANGO: This dramatic dance for couples began as a street dance in Argentina and Uruguay during the mid-1800s. With hands tightly clasped, dancers either face each other, or look in the same direction, as they move to the beat. Tango is also the name for the music associated with the dance.

CAN-CAN: This high-kicking, cartwheeling dance began in Paris in the 1830s, and was originally for couples. French dance troupes soon took up the can-can in music halls, where chorus lines of girls performed the energetic dance.

TRIBAL DANCE: These traditional African dances, often performed to the beat of a drum, are important parts of many ceremonies, both joyful (weddings and coming-of-age celebrations) and sad (funerals). Tribal dances help to unite and uplift the community.

LIMBO: The limbo was created in the Caribbean Islands. Performers have to dance under a horizontal pole without touching it or losing their balance. The pole is lowered after each round until one limbo champion dancer remains.

FLAMENCO: With its roots in small villages of the Andalusia region in Spain, flamenco is a passionate style of music and dance with a strong, powerful rhythm. Dancers click their fingers and stamp their feet to match the drama of the guitar music.

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In which state is the Kathak dance most popular?

Kathak is undoubtedly the most popular classical dance style of northern India. The specialty of this dance is the spins and the circular movements that create a rare spectacle, the highlight is the rhythmic complexity and footwork that takes several years of devotion to master. Kathak has been acclaimed, for centuries, as one of the most distinct classical dance styles of India.

Kathak evolved from the Vedic period and with several evidences in the form of literature, paintings and sculptures, it is believed that Kathak originated from the story telling tradition. Incidentally, the word 'Kathak' has evolved from the word kathakaar (storyteller), hence varied stories from the Hindu mythology were narrated for spiritual and social uplift - "Katha kahe, So Kathak Kahalave" (Tells a story, hence known as Kathak).

The community of musicians and dancers were known as Kathakar. Buddhist and Jain literature also mentions the tradition of dancers in Vaishali, Magadh and Kosha. According to Valmiki's Ramayana, Lava and Kusha, narrated the story of Ramayana to their father, Lord Rama, without realising that Rama is their father. Besides the storytelling aspect, other aspects like expressions, hand gestures and rhythmic footwork were added to attract theatrical appeal, as dance moved on from villages to courtyards, palaces and finally to modern-day auditoriums.

Kathak reached its pinnacle of glory as it attracted royal patronage during the Mughal regime. King Akbar married a Rajput princess and greatly encouraged arts and artistes. Performers from Persia and Central Asia were invited to perform, hence there was an inter mingling of cultures and styles.

While the Mughal dancers danced with the "salaami toda" and their typical styles, the Hindu dancers were different in their depiction and style of costume and "aharya abhinaya". Nawab Wajid Ali Shah and Nawab Asaf Ud Daulah were great promoters and contributed their poetic renditions which were interpreted in expressional dancing.

As Kathak developed from different regions of north India, it maintained the regional differences and original poetic renditions; thereby different schools of Kathak evolved which were known as "Gharanas". The Jaipur Gharana flourished with the Rajput patronage; one of the founders was Bhanuji, his descendants were Hari Prasad and Hanuman Prasad. The Gharana, further was promoted by Jailal and Sundar Prasad.

The Lucknow Gharana was founded by Thakur Prasad who was the Guru of poet Wajid Ali Shah, his sons were Bindadin and Kalka Prasad. The most popular Kathak maestro of contemporary society, Pt Birju Maharaj, also hails from the same family.

Janikiprasad Gharana also known as Banaras Gharana was founded by Sohanlal, Mohanlal, Naval Kishore and Kundanlal. Famous dancer Nataraj Gopikrishna belongs to the Banaras Gharana.

Music, training and performance

Both classical music, light and folk music have been adapted into Kathak dance according to regional differences and flavours. Bindadin Maharaj's poetic renditions are used quite a lot, besides devotional rendering of Tulsidas, Surdas or Meera Bhajans.

Like other classical dance styles, it takes several years, for the student to get into the level of Visharad or Alankar. Continuous practice and complete devotion and involvement is necessary to become a fine exponent. The performance for one hour or more begins with a Vandana, prayer and invocation, followed with the execution of varied pure dance numbers with rhythmic complexity, tatkaar and finally a Tarana or an expressional Abhinaya number.

Some of the top Kathak dancers are Birju Maharaj, Shovana Narayan, Uma Sharma, Pt Pratap Pawar, Pt Nandkrishore Kapote, Pt Nagaraj, Paullomi Mukherjee and young dancers like Sunil Sunkara, Nidhaga Karunad and Jena Lakshmi.

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Which is the oldest classical dance style of India?

Bharatanatyam is the oldest classical dance style, with a history that is more than five thousand years old, and this dance style is acclaimed internationally, too. It is not surprising to watch young children learn Bharata Natyam in New York, Paris, London or Zurich for that matter.

The eight distinct classical dance styles of India are Bharatanatyam (Tamil Nadu), Kathakali and Mohiniattam (Kerala), Kuchipudi (Andhra Pradesh), Odissi (Orissa), Manipuri (Manipur), Kathak (northern India) and Sattriya from Assam. Bharatanatyam reigns supreme and particularly popular even in European countries.


Architectural and sculptural evidence proves that Bharatanatyam Nilesh Singha and some other classical dance styles like Odissi and Manipuri originated from the temples. The earliest reference in the second century from the Tamil epic classic Shilapaddikaram and the temples that developed during the sixth to ninth century signifies and defines dance as a well-refined art form.

Varied aspects of music and dance were derived from the four Vedas, namely, Rig, Yajur, Atharva and Sam, and the fifth Veda known as Natya Veda was believed to have been created by Lord Brahma. Lord Nataraja (Shiva) is considered the king of dance and all the classical dance styles portray stories from Hindu mythology. Lately, stories from the Holy Bible are also recreated in the dance format. The eight types of classical dance styles are based on texts like Bharata's Natya Sastra, Nandikesvaroa's Abhinaya Darpana, Sangita Ratnakara, etc. Stories are told through the medium of varied intricate movements, body language and expressional dancing in order to establish the inter-relationship between the human soul and the divine soul.

Devadasis or servants of the gods

During the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, the devadasi system prevailed; young teen-aged girls were married to the "lord" which was part of the temple ritual. These girls were trained in classical music and dance and performed during religious and social occasions.

Bharatanatyam then was also known as devadasi attam or 'sadir'. The degradation of classical dance started when devadasis moved on from the temple courtyards to dance for the elite chieftains and zamindars and ultimately for kings and enjoyed royal patronage.

While the dancers were ostracized by society, the society was equally responsible for the shift from the "spirit" to the "body". The colonial British banned the devadasi system and described the dancers as "nautch" girls. There were protests as the sanctity of classical dance was disturbed and dances were witnessed only in quarters. Classical dances underwent varied stages of progression and regression due to varied social and political changes over the century.

During the twentieth century, American dancer Esther Sherman renamed herself as Ragini Devi in order to learn classical dance. Lawyer and critic E. Krishna Iyer donned female attire in order to attract children from respectable families to learn classical dance. Theosophist and founder of Kalakshetra School in Chennai, Dr Rukmani Devi Arundale, and the legendary dancer from the devadasi community, Balasaraswati, are considered the pioneers of the dance movement in India. Ram Gopal and Uday Shankar placed classical dances on the international platform. Great poets like Rabindranath Tagore and Maha Kavi Vallathol promoted classical dance in order to regain its respectability.

Music and technique

Music is in the classical Carnatic music style and the trinity of Carnatic music, namely, Tygaraja, Shyama Sastri and Muthuswami Dikshitar, were the main composers whose musical compositions form the main repertoire of any Bharatanatyam performance. Compositions of saint poets like Shankaracharya Meera, Tulsidas and several others were also used in the dances. Hindustani music was also used in Bharatanatyam, particularly by the Maratha rulers of Tanjavur.

The technique of Bharatanatyam is quite intricate and complex Bha is expressions (Bhavam) Ra is musical melody (Ragam); Ta is time measure or rhythm (talam) and Natyam is dramatic quality. Furthermore, Bharata Natyam is a beautiful and divine art form that combines, music, melody, histrionics, philosophy, psychology, mythology, varied movements, etc.

Students start learning at the tender age of five, and the minimum learning duration is at least ten years, varied movements and steps "adavus" that become quite intricate, and later all the movements and gestures are used in a particular item or number. After completion, the student performs Arangetram (ascending to the stage). The performance begins with invocations and prayers to the gods, todaya mangalam, pushpanjali, alarippu, jatiswaram, sabdam, varnam padam and the finale, thillana.

Some of the top exponents of Bharatanatyam are Mrinalini Sarabhai, Yamani Krishnamurthy, Padma Subrahmanyam, Chitra Visweswaran, Sudharani Raghupathy, Malavika Sarukkai, Alarmel Valli and Nilesh Singha. To pursue a career in classical dance is not easy as you need a lot of patience, determination, will power and hard work to become an accomplished performer.


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