Kuchpudi dance form in Guinness Book of World Records
|December 29, 2010
Over 2,800 Kuchipudi dancers, including 200 plus natya gurus created a Guinness Book of World Record on Sunday the 26th December 2010, performing Hindolam Tillana choreographed by Guru Vempati Chinna Satyam at GMC Balyogi Stadium, near Gachhi Bowli, University of Hyderabad. Some of us fortunate ones from the media including Shyamhari, correspondent of Hyderabad edition of The Hindu, KK Gopalakrishnan, correspondent of the Hindu from Trivandrum and now Director of Kudiyattam Kendra of Sangeet Natak Akademi, the renowned photographer Avinash Pasricha from New Delhi, Madhavi Puranam, assistant editor of Nartanam quarterly published from Hyderabad, Jayawant Naidu, correspondent from Deccan Post, a chartered accountant and versatile Hawaiian Guitar player and two Kuchipudi exponents (disciples of Vempati Chinna Satyam), Shanta Rati Mishra from Singapore and Rajyashree Ramesh from Berlin, watched with sheer delight the exposition with thousands in the stadium.
The 11 minute tillana performed to live music conducted by none else than Vempati Ravi Shankar, the son of Vempati Chinna Satyam, and danced in unison by two thousand eight hundred senior, young and tiny tots, surprised the vast gathering with their skill and discipline and the moment the dance concluded, a sea of people got up and gave them a standing ovation! There was a cheerful cry from the dancers and the crowd gave a deafening applause, when the lady officer from Guinness Book of World Records made the announcement of Kuchipudi winning the record. The President honoured Vempati Chinna Satyam for this amazing feat and also honoured Yamini Krishnamurty, Raja - Radha Reddy, Shoba Naidu for their contribution. It was indeed a sight for the Gods. Tears of joy trickled down from the eyes of the devotees of Vempati China Satyam.
Anand garu, as he is addressed in India, had come to India to meet the central and state government ministers, bureaucrats, Kuchipudi dancers, musicians, sponsors, media persons, to enlist support for the 1st Silicon Andhra International Kuchipudi Convention to be held in Cupertino, USA. Prior to that, he had held a series of singing of kritis of Annamacharya by thousands of devotees in Hyderabad. I had attended some of those bhajan sessions during the course of the day in Hyderabad and had marvelled at his organizational abilities. People followed him like 'a pied piper' and stood by him. He 'roped' me into curating academic sessions for the three day 1st Silicon Andhra Kuchipudi International Festival at Cupertino. We sat in a five star hotel conference room at Hyderabad, outlining the details with Pasumarti Keshav Prasad from Kuchipudi village, Vempati Venkat, elder son of Vempati Chinna Satyam, Dr Anuradha Jonnalagadda, Professor at S.N. School of Performing Arts and Communication and dancer Ananda Shankar Jayant.
Anuradha was entrusted to edit a souvenir for the conference which she did with her sound academic background. The performing artists including the traditional artists from Kuchipudi village with their Natya Mandali, celebrated exponents of Kuchipudi like Yamini Krishnamurty, Raja and Radha Reddy, Shoba Naidu, Uma Rama Rao, Manju Bhargavi, Kothapalli Padma, Jayarama Rao and his wife Vanashree, Anuradha Jonnalagadda, Ananda Shankar Jayant, Vyjayanthi Kashi and several exponents from India and USA including Ratna Kumar from Houston, Anuradha Nehru (nee Reddy) from Washington DC, Sasikala Penumarthi from Atlanta, Dr. Kamala Rajupet (nee Reddy) from Pittsburgh, Rama Bharadvaj from Los Angeles and several dancers, dance companies from different cities of USA, converged at Cupertino. Scholar, excellent orator, daughter of NT Rama Rao and holding an important portfolio in Central government in HRD Ministry, Purandeswari Devi, had also joined us. Vempati Chinna Satyam, though indisposed, was brought in a wheel chair.
Also the performances of dance-dramas from the Kuchipudi village and leading dancers like Shoba Naidu and her troupe, as well as those conducted by Vempati Ravi Shankar also went haywire because of long hours devoted to speeches which went beyond the time limits. However, Yamini Krishnamurty, when she danced impromptu to the nattuvangam by Raja Reddy and Jyotishmati, Yamini's younger sister, the audience was spellbound and gave her a standing ovation. People literally mobbed her, the young dancers went berserk wanting to be photographed with her and taking her autographs. After the event was over, there was the usual excitement and euphoria and with Guinness Book of World Records for Kuchipudi dance for Athana Jatiswaram, a feeling of great pride won over all participants!! After the convention was over, when we were taking the leave of Anand Kuchibhotla to return to India, we did share the feeling of 'na bhuto na bhavishyati', that such an event will never happen again!
He said with great confidence that after two years, in December 2010 in Hyderabad, he shall arrange for nearly 3000 dancers to perform some composition of Vempati China Satyam as a tribute to Siddhendra Yogi for 2nd Silicon Andhra International Kuchipudi Convention and we better be ready to attend it. True to his words, three months before this event in September, he landed up at the doorstep of my residence in New Delhi, unfolding the scheme that looked of such amazing dimension. I was dumbfounded.
Once again, I took him to Yamini Krishnamurty's residence and he assured her that she would bless him when she would see what dream he has nurtured for two years and he would await her arrival at Hyderabad on 23rd December night at Novotel Hotel where the Convention Hall is. I was on a tour of Kolkata, Cuttack, Bhubaneswar but had of course marked the dates 24th, 25th and 26th December for the 2nd Silicon Andhra International Kuchipudi Convention at Hyderabad. He remained in touch with me through phone calls, reminding me that I must see that Yamini Krishnamurty would join us. He left that responsibility to me. He had mentioned the venue of the Stadium near Gachhi Bowli also where the 'Mahabrinda Natyam' took place. I also received several reminders from Anuradha Jonnalagadda to send the detailed article on difficulties I had faced during my researches in Kuchipudi dance drama form when completing Ph. D program. I knew that he had managed to rope in Anuradha with his usual persuasive abilities to edit the 2nd souvenir to be released for the convention.
Vempati Venkat from Chennai and Pasumarti Keshav Prasad were asked to curate the parallel seminar sessions. The accent was on young generation - 'Yuvatha Kuchipudi bhavitha' - therefore young up and coming scholars/dancers were invited to give lec-dems and also the groups to give performances. The venue was the grand spacious Conventional Hall at HICC/HITAX, adjacent to Novotel Hotel and the spacious halls A, B, C for the breakfast, lunches and dinners. An army of volunteers was in attendance. An unending stream of people with their children, young daughters and their parents converged at Hitex city. They had registered by paying fee of Rs 500 per head and at one point it looked with so many people turning up, that this venue would be unable to accommodate such a vast crowd. The convention hall was full, as crowds had occupied the seats. The admission to the academic discourses and performances was free and the audiences were informed to collect the passes from reception centre of the convention hall.
Hundreds of Telugu speaking people filled the hall and the site was like the annual convention of the political ruling Congress party. In January 2003, I had attended Pravasi Bharatiya Diwas celebrations, and was familiar with the venue. Yamini Krishnamurty, myself, KK Gopalakrishnan, Shyamhari and photographer Avinash Pasricha were given accommodation in Novotel hotel which is adjacent to the Convention Centre. The academic sessions were held in the six halls on ground and second floor levels of the Convention Centre. The inauguration was scheduled at the main hall which I felt could accommodate 5,000 strong crowd!
There was unprecedented excitement and enthusiasm in the air. I met several friends including Sneha, who had assisted Anand garu and looked after Yamini Krishnamurty and me at Cupertino. Vempati Venkat and Pasumarti Keshav Prasad were everywhere, on the grand stage with statues of Lord Shiva, dancers, golden pillars - the vast stage was like what we see for Bollywood award events, with similar dazzling lights, high decibel sound and often smoke being released for dramatic effect. The performances by Shoba Naidu, Alekhya Punjala, Bala Kondala Rao, director of Kuchipudi Kalakshetra, Vizag, a branch of Kuchipudi Art Academy, Chennai, and several groups from different parts of India and USA were presented in a seamless manner. The manner in which one after another groups appeared on the stage was highly commendable. The person who was paying minute attention to all the details was none else than Vempati Venkat assisted by Sneha and Vasanta from Cupertino. He was seen backstage, managing the troupes to come on stage as soon as one troupe's performance was over, instructing the musicians to move out so another set of musicians could take their place. This phase of stage management on his part helped a lot in quick presentation without losing time. Neither Yamini Krishnamurty nor I had expected such organization.
Lunches were organized in a friendly atmosphere, in vast halls close to the main venue, and Andhra Pradesh delicacies were also served. People were seen sitting on the floor with children running around. From distant villages and towns, people had come and more were coming. Young girls were seen practicing everywhere, and a joyous atmosphere prevailed. We were amazed and had to accept that Anand garu and his team had done wonders. Everyone who attended the three-day 'dance marathon' wondered: “How did Anand Kuchibhotla manage this miracle”? The dance troupes from Ahmedabad, Bangalore, New Jersey, delegates from abroad and from within India, the participating 3000 dancers, and young ones were seen with their delegate badges so that they did not get lost after the performance. It was to say in nutshell, quite mind boggling.
Venkat and a few colleagues from Cupertino saw to it that there were very few glitches. Anand Kuchibhotla and his son Arun were seen requesting crowds of photographers not to block the view of audiences when dance performances were happening. At times it appeared that it was difficult to control parents who ran hither and thither to get their children photographed with the Chief Minister Kiran Kumar Reddy, Vempati Chinna Satyam garu, Smt. Purandeswari and Yamini Krishnamurty. Several children ran hither and thither taking photos in their small cameras and mobile phones. The crowds did pose a problem but were finally restrained from running around in front of the stage. However, this problem cannot be resolved unless special arrangements are made for television cameras and photographers so that they do not obstruct the view and disturb the audiences.
The event put the Commonwealth Games into shade in the organization and discipline. There were no ear splitting announcements to keep groups of dancers in their allotted space - at times it looked like Republic Day parade preparations, but there we see groups and floats passing one after another under the President's box, whereas here at GMC Balayogi Stadium, in the centre on a square platform, 200 gurus and dancers were performing and around that square closer to the spectators' galleries, all around were dancers ranging from age of 8 to average 40 and barring some gurus who were nearing 60, dancers clad in colourful Kuchipudi costumes were ready to perform at the signal given for the live music!
I am staying at Vempati Chinna Satyam's residence at Kuchipudi Art Academy in Chennai since last ten years whenever I come to Chennai for the season. I arrived in Chennai on 27th December morning from Hyderabad in order not to miss Odissi guru Mayadhar Raut's lec-dem at Krishna Gana Sabha. After attending it, I spoke to Venkat Vempati, as he was involved with this event from the word go for last six months. Anand Kuchibhotla had in consultation with Vempati Chinna Satyam finally worked out 11 minute Hindolam Tillana for group presentation of nearly 3,000 dancers. A video was taken of Vempati Venkat's wife Srimayi performing the said tillana. It was placed on the 'on line' website of Silicon Andhra and audio was also on online which could be downloaded. 800 video dvds were sent abroad and within India for practice and the various gurus had the number rehearsed at various places for more than 4 months for synchronization. Through e- mail, website, on line, group e- mail, letters, newspaper announcements, using all 'state of art' advanced electronic technology, word of mouth information, the registration was made, data base of gurus and dancers was prepared.
Tremendous effort had gone behind this project and only on Sunday morning of 26th December at 8am, all dancers with their respective gurus assembled at the stadium for three hours and had the run through. In the evening by 5pm, all were found standing in order. Young dancers aged 8 and 10 sat on the floor and after a while all sat till the final signal was given to perform. There was a riot of colours. Giant screens were strategically placed so that close up of dancers could be projected and often top view could be seen by the spectators and the President, the Chief Minister, the Governor, the Ministers and the VVIPs in the box where the President was seated.
Large spacious stadia have their own space logic for entries and exits. After the declaration of the award, Vempati Chinna Satyam was honoured by the President, and the spectators gave a standing ovation to the great guru. It was shown on the giant screen. Venkat like 'Pitrubhakta Shravana', as I have seen him doing at Vempati garu's residence, brought Vempati garu in wheel chair. Our eyes were filled with tears of joy seeing Vempati garu being honoured on this occasion. I have known Vempati garu from the year 1962, and have been his admirer and he is my 'manasi' guru. He has treated me like his younger brother and if I could write the book on Kuchipudi with Avinash Pasricha, the photographer as my co-author, we both owe him a debt of gratitude. He has given me insights into the intricacies of Kuchipudi dance form. Therefore to me and Avinash Pasricha, this was a moment of great emotional upsurge.
After 'Mahabrinda Natyam' as it was titled for presentation of Hindolam Tillana, followed Raja and Radha Reddy's choreographic works 'Subhasaampratikam' which reflected traditional composition in Devi Stuti in Sanskrit, a group work set to Western music to an English song, which was not exactly audible but suggested beauty of nature, flowers etc and concluded with rhythm which had five elements pancha mahabhuta etc. I thought Raja and Radha wanted to suggest in 'Subhasaampratikam,' the contemporary development of Kuchipudi from traditional content to present trends.
The excitement did not abate. Returning to Novotel Hotel we were full of joy and had a spring in our walk. Recollecting previous day's academic sessions, I recall Yamini's screening of her Kuchipudi dance in black and white video taken by Doordarshan; she looked stunning with sparkling eyes, youth coursing through her frame, dancing on the rim of a brass plate, and some sequences in colour, depicting her incomparable Krishna sabdam sung by Jyotishmati, devastating in erotic mood, beckoning the lover with amazing netrabhinaya. It cast spell even when it was only a dvd of a recording of yesteryears. The young generation of dancers and their parents, Yamini's admirers, after the screening circled her like tsunami, parents asking their kids to stand next to her to photograph them with her, young kids with autograph books begging Yamini to sign - it happened all the time whenever she arrived in the theatre or conference rooms after her demonstration on stage of Yaduvamshasudhambudhichandra, Krishna sabdam, to the accompaniment of Vempati Ravi's nattuvangam. The audience gave her a prolonged standing ovation - such unalloyed joy, transparent affection and appreciation of an artist of caliber of Yamini proved once again that she has carved a permanent niche and memory in the hearts of her audiences. And indeed the young generation had a glimpse of that magic.
At the request of Anand Kuchibhutla, Vempati Venkat, Yamini and admirers, Purandeswari agreed to perform basic adavu of Kuchipudi as she has studied Kuchipudi, and she won rounds of applause as she performed with a spirit of sportsmanship! Yamini complimented her and said once a dancer one never stops being one and embraced her with affection. The large gathering had never seen such display of spontaneous gestures. We shall cherish these moments for a long time.
Alekhya in her lec-dem of nayikas rendered a prologue of Satyabhama, describing her beauty in such a captivating manner with exquisite Telugu lyrics that I was bowled over. That she is generously endowed with rare physical charms, epitomizing Andhra's feminine beauty, as well known scientist and former director of Centre for Cellular and Molecular Biology (CCMB), Dr PM Bhargava says, and having presented her in Kal-ke-Kalakar in 1975 in Mumbai, I was indeed thrilled to see her progress in communicating nuances both through dance and words. She also moderated a session of dance critics and dancers in the main hall when Madhavi Puaranam, Avinash Pasricha, KK Gopalakrishnan, myself, Shyamhari, Uma Rama Rao, and Bala Kondala Rao spoke. Her mentor Uma Rama Rao complimented her for her lucid explanations and holding the attention of the audiences with great felicity.
In her lec dem, Uma Rama Rao's transmission of technique and training brought to the notice of large young generation of the students, how she has developed outreach programmes. Entertaining songs of nature set to Kuchipudi technique, involving young girls to dance and inspiring them to learn more was explained well. The students from Washington and Cupertino, Vijay Palaparty and Tejaswini Rao, respectively, spend four to five months to study from her. Her work on Pallaki seva prabandham and other texts is very illuminating. It was a great pleasure to learn so many facets of her lifelong work in Kuchipudi from her talk.
Lesser known speakers and scholars like Sridevi, completing her Ph. D, Dr Anita Rao working on Kuchipudi bhagavatulu, Uma Devulpalli on Kuchipudi natyam, Dr. D Sridevi on Kuchipudi Yakshaganamulu, traditional scholar like Pasumarti Seshu Babu on sangeet paddhati, Lakshmi Rangamani from Bangalore, Smita Shastri from Ahmedabad demonstrating CR Acharyalu's style, her choreographic works, B Shankar Rao on Annamacharya's Sankirtana, Kuppa Padmaja from Warangal on Krishnaleela Tarangini, Aruna Bhikshu, reader at SN School of Performing Arts and Communication on Satyabhama's patrapravesha, when Yamini Krishnamurty demonstrated at her request to illustrate subtle points, Vempati's disciple Sita Nagajyoti from Delhi on vritti in Kuchipudi, Raja Reddy's young daughter Yamini Reddy on lasya and tandava in Kuchipudi, Dr Venkateswarulu from Nagarjuna University on mridanga vinyasamu, Vempati's disciple Anupama Mohan who used to play role of Narada in Vempati's dance dramas, now settled in Kerala on Keralite abhiruchi for Kuchipudi, and many more dancers/scholars gave an excellent academic profile. What had upset me, Anuradha Jonnalagadda, Anuradha Nehru and dancers from Washington, Los Angeles and Houston, during the Cupertino convention was inadequate timings for such sessions. That was resolved wonderfully at Hyderabad with full houses brimming with dancers from various parts of Andhra and India and abroad. Congratulations are in order for curating these sessions to Pasumarti Keshav Prasad and Vampati Venkat.
Finally, a few remarks on the performances in the main hall. Despite the feedback speakers placed on stage blocking our view, high decibel sound, the performances were presented in a seamless manner, maintaining the time frame, which was not the case at Cupertino. Right from the inaugural session with Purva Rangam by traditional Kuchipudi artists conducted by Pasumarti Keshav Prasad, Satyabhama Pravesham by the one and only Shobha Naidu (Avinash Pasricha told me that she looked amazing even after thirty years, with exquisite mukhajabhinaya, facial expressions and her transformation with aharyabhinaya on stage), Devi Stuti by Alekhya Punjala with exquisite expressions, iconic sculpturesque images, followed by Silicon Production Kuchipudi Vaibhavam, choreographed by Madhurima Narla and Jayamu Jayamu by artists from Hyderabad, each presentation was sleek, brief and well choreographed.
Evening performances by Shobha Naidu's group, P Rajeswari's group from Warangal, Bala Kondala Rao's group from Vizag, Kuchipudi Bhagavatulu led by Vempati's disciple Kumar also from Wizag, Kuppa Padmaja's group from Warangal, Jilani Bhasha and group from Telangana, Uma Rama Rao's group from Hyderabad, Smita Shastri's group from Ahmedabad, Bhagavata Venkataram Sastry's group from Vijaywada and Madhusudanan's group from Kerala, gave one an idea of the horizontal growth of Kuchipudi on a national level.
Anand Kuchibhotla is definitely a passionate man to serve the cause of Kuchipudi arousing masses to take pride in their cultural legacy. In comparison with a dominant form like Bharatanatyam, Kuchipudi for a long time had suffered a status of a 'poor cousin' of Bharatanatyam. That notion was dispelled by a guru like Vempati Chinna Satyam whose influence has been seen nationally and internationally. He has been honoured on such a scale is something good for Kuchipudi, which he polished with his creative genius and through his innumerable disciples has globalized. This event has doubtless given a shot in arm for Kuchipudi. The screening and coverage of this event on television nationally and internationally is bound to make one aware of the immense potential of Kuchipudi as a dance form.
Concrete result of such events remain in souvenirs with articles edited by someone like young scholar Anuradha Jonnalagadda for 2nd International Kuchipudi Dance Convention which has been published in both Telugu and English language. If 'Yuvatha Kuchipudi Bhavitha' was the mantra for this convention, she has provided source material for future scholarship by the young scholars. The teamwork of editorial board consisting of GL Murthy, STA, Department of Physics University of Hyderabad, Devi G, Research scholar, Katyayani Thota, dancer and research scholar both from University of Hyderabad, and vocalist and music composer DSV Sastry deserve congratulations for their hard work. I like the Telugu title Suranjani-Kuchipudi Natya Manjari for 2nd International Kuchipudi Dance Convention 2010. I have no doubt that it will be a collector's item.
Dr. Sunil Kothari, dance historian, scholar, author, is a renowned dance critic, having written for The Times of India group of publications for more than 40 years. He is a regular contributor to Dance Magazine, New York. Dr. Kothari is a globetrotter, attending several national, international dance conferences and dance festivals. He has to his credit more than 14 definitive works on Indian classical dance forms. Kothari was a Fulbright Professor and has taught at the Dance Department, New York University; has lectured at several Universities in USA, UK, France, Australia, Indonesia and Japan. He has been Vice President of World Dance Alliance Asia Pacific (2000-2008) and is Vice President of World Dance Alliance Asia Pacific India chapter, based in New Delhi. A regular contributor to www.narthaki.com, Dr Kothari is honored by the President of India with the civil honor of Padma Shri and Sangeet Natak Akademi award. He recently received the Senior Critic award from Dance Critics Association, NYC.