Kuchipudi (pronounced as ‘Koochipoodi’) is a Classical Indian dance form from Andhra Pradesh, a state of South India. Kuchipudi is the name of a small village in the Divi Taluq of Krishna district that borders the Bay of Bengal and with resident Brahmins practising this traditional dance form, it acquired the present name.
With the dance form attaining perfection by the time of Golconda king Abdul Hassan Tanesha, Kuchipudi brahmins are said to have received 600 acres (2.4 km²) of land as an endowment from Tanesha for the great presentation before him.
Siddhendra Yogi is said to be the first scholar to give it the current form of dance drama. Bhamakalapam is one of his celebrated compositions. He also reserved the art to males by teaching it to young brahmin boys of the village. However, in modern times, the art has been dominated by women.
The performance usually begins with some stage rites, after which each of the character comes on to the stage and introduces him/herself with a daru (a small composition of both song and dance) to introduce the identity, set the mood, of the character in the drama. The drama then begins. The dance is accompanied by song which is typically Carnatic music. The singer is accompanied by mridangam (a classical South Indian percussion instrument), violin, flute and the tambura (a drone instrument with strings which are plucked). Ornaments worn by the artists are generally made of a light weight wood called Boorugu.
Some of the well known people in this tradition are Dr. Vempati Chinna Satyam, Guru Jayarama Rao and Vanashree Rao Vedantam Lakshminarayana, Dr. Uma Rama Rao, Tadepalli Perayya, Chinta Krishna Murthy, Vedantam Sathya Narayana Sarma, Sobha Naidu, Pasumarthi Venu Gopala Krishna Sarma, Raja Reddy and Radha Reddyswagath kuchipiudi and Sarala Kumari Ghanta.
The prominence of Kuchipudi dance form is not limited to India alone. There are now a number of popular Kuchipudi teachers, choreographers and dancers in North America and Australia. Some of them include Nilimma Devi, Sasikala Penumarthi and Revathi Komanduri in Atlanta, Kamala Reddy in Pittsburgh, Ratna Papa in Texas, Jyothi Lakkaraju , Vaidehi Yellai, Himabindu Challa, and Madhuri Kishore in the San Francisco Bay Area, Sandhya Sree Atmakuri in Detroit, Divya Yeluri, Chandrika Ramprasad Yamijala in New York/New Jersey, Mallika Ramaprasad, Subha Maruvada, Mrinalini Sadananda, Lakshmi Babu, Anuradha Nehru in Maryland/Virginia/DC, and in Sydney, Australia Vimala Sarma.
The movements in Kuchipudi are quicksilver and scintillating, rounded and fleet-footed. Performed to classical Carnatic music, it shares many common elements with Bharatanatyam. In its solo exposition Kuchipudi numbers include ‘jatiswaram’ and ’tillana’ whereas in nritya it has several lyrical compositions reflecting the desire of a devotee to merge with God – symbolically the union of the soul with the super soul.
Beyond the stylistic differences of Kuchipudi and Bharatanatyam steps, there are certain types of dances that are unique to Kuchipudi. Specifically there is the Tarangam of Kuchipudi which is unique in that the dancer must dance upon a brass plate, placing the feet upon the raised edges. The dancer moves the plate with much balance as the indiviudal is traditionally dancing on the plate with two diyas (small oil-burning candles) in his or her hands while balancing a “kundi” (small vessel) containing water on their head. At the end of the dance, typically, the dancer extinguishes the candles and washes his or her hands with the water from the vessel.
There are also subtle differences in the costumes of both types of dances. Generally, Bharatanatyam dresses have three fans of differing heights that form the illusion of the spreading pleats of a sari. However, in Kuchipudi there is typically only one fan which tends to be longer than the longest of the three fans present on Bharatanatyam dresses.